Integrating Sacred Medicines, from Mystical Highs to Cynical Lows
It has been more than 2 years since my journey to Peru to explore the healing properties of the sacred plant medicines traditionally used by the people of the region, Ayahuasca and Huachuma. My exploration of entheogens continued upon my return to the US with the therapeutic use of plants and substances available here such as Peyote, Psilocybin, MDMA and LSD. Following many months of deep work while using such a wide range of medicine the benefits were certainly evident and the next step in the process was to integrate all those amazing experiences into a functional daily routine while introducing my friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers to the new me. The primary challenge of my integration has consisted mostly of finding my place in a society that I have become increasingly cynical of. As I discovered, swallowing those foul tasting brews, leaving my job and stepping into the unknown were actually the easy parts. Coming back was the real challenge...
For me the entheogen experience can be divided into two distinct phases, the healing phase and the mystical phase, although they can both occur simultaneously. For a majority of my first ceremonies (therapies) the focus always seemed to be on healing and it wasn't until later that I began having more mystical experiences. My belief is that the human system must be repaired before it is capable of reaching these higher states consistently. First we need to process past traumas, feel suppressed emotions, release stored energies, and look closely in the mirror to recognize the role our ego plays. This is all difficult to say the least, yet also extremely beneficial and it paves the way for the next phase to begin. In the mystical phase we can move beyond healing and explore the true potential of humans. We can understand that there is so much more to life than we have ever known. Through Ayahuasca I have seen the world as if for the first time, like being reborn with eyes wide open. Through mushrooms I have sat in an ancient redwood forest and felt as though I was connected to the wisdom of the mycelial network directly beneath me. Through MDMA I experienced the Power of Now as ego and time dissolved and I met my true blissful self. I'm sure many of you have mystical stories of your own, stories of timelessness, connectedness, contact with entities, and amazing visions that are beyond words.
What I'm describing here is more than just seeing pretty visions and getting high for a single afternoon. Entheogens can be the key that unlock the highest levels of human potential. They are tools that can solve some of our most advanced problems, or better yet, we can learn to stop producing these problems to solve. They can help us appreciate this amazing natural world we inherited rather than seeing it as a resource to conquer and profit from. Perhaps most importantly they can teach us to communicate better and live together peacefully. Entheogens are a gift that show us what our future could look like if we followed the path of the evolution of human consciousness. I'm talking about creativity, hope and inspiration. How does a person deal with seeing this extreme beauty and then return to the ugly conflicts we have here on Earth? It can be frustrating and disappointing to say the least. We live in a society where people expect to find more happiness in a shopping mall than an old growth rainforest. Where a majority of available jobs are meaningless and the workers are treated poorly. Where people don't understand the environmental consequences of their lifestyles. This has been the challenge of my integration, and I'm sure it is different for all, but I suspect many have experienced a similar transition, especially coming out of a long healing retreat. Simply stated, it has been quite painful to witness us squandering this opportunity to thrive.
Despite all this talk of creating heaven on Earth, let's not forget about a more simple goal. I see millions of people living to work rather than working to live. Doing some job they hate for 30 years, always in a rush to the next appointment, under rested, deeply in debt to own a big house overflowing with unused possessions, stressed, distracting themselves along the way with TV, fast food and alcohol, taking pharmaceuticals for the resulting anxiety and depression, all while counting down the days until they can retire and play golf every day. Is this any way to live?
Ayahuasca ice cream
Some people truly struggle in the days, weeks and even months following deep work, myself included. Critics might suggest this post therapy frustration with the world is a reason not to consume entheogens. I disagree. Despite being inconvenient and feeling uncomfortable this is a necessary and hopefully temporary phase to endure on the path towards a more healthy and meaningful existence. Our disappointment signals a melting of the cold hard walls that protected our heart from feeling, a release of the death grip society had around our throat preventing us from speaking the truth, and an opening of our third eye allowing us to see the world unfiltered. Would you rather be disappointed yet disillusioned, or content with confusion? If the bliss of ignorance tastes sweet then I choose the bitter taste of awareness. There's a reason that foul tasting brew known as Ayahuasca doesn't taste like caramel ice cream, and the reason is you need to really want it in order to swallow. Let's not forget that despite all the legal and cultural obstacles, we persevered and gathered the courage to seek the medicine because we suspected there must be more to life than the current reality.
Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, has said that when the hero hears "the call" he/she must choose whether to answer or refuse it. Campbell goes on to say that many challenges await those who answer the call, leave the comfort of the village and venture into the wilderness of the unknown. One of the most important steps along the hero's journey is the return to the village. As the hero returns with his gift, stories of adventure and knowledge from far away, he find an audience unchanged relative to his radical personal transformation. Those who never heard the call may not understand why somebody would leave the comforts of home, and they may not appreciate the gift brought by the hero. Even though Campbell was not specifically referring to entheogens in his book, the parallels are incredible and the choice of his title becomes apparent as one of those "thousand faces" is certainly a hero who uses entheogens to explore consciousness. If you answered the call of entheogens and ventured out to drink that foul tasting brew, if you faced your fears and the dangerous beasts within your subconscious, if you now struggle to return to the village of our society to share your gift, then rest assured that this is all part of the hero's journey. It is supposed to happen this way. In fact Campbell states that the worst choice you can make is to refuse the call. Those who refuse the call actually suffer more while remaining in the security of the village than they would have in the wilderness of the unknown.
Writing an article like this is part of my integration process. It helps me see where I am struggling and how I am dealing with it. I suppose the toughest lesson for me to learn has been to accept that creating this dream world may not be possible, at least not anytime soon. If spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle were to offer me advice, he would probably say in his German accent, the world is as it is, so stop trying to resist what already is, because this is where your suffering comes from. There is very little I can actually do to change the world, but I can change how I respond to it. All the pain and problems of life serve as opportunities to learn from. For example, accepting a less than ideal temporary job has forced me to deal with people I would normally avoid, and it motivates me to find a better source of income. Most importantly, I am reminded that we are all on different levels of awakening and some of the annoying things people do now, I was also doing 20 years ago, and even today I must do things that 20 years from now I will look back and wonder how I could have been so asleep. I don't know if the integration process ever ends completely, but I'm happy to report the majority of it has passed and the cynicism has reduced. Although I appreciate this relief, my concern is of gradually becoming numb to my surroundings. I believe that is the challenge, to adapt to a hostile and insane world without becoming desensitized to it. For this reason I'll be sure to sit in ceremony soon enough to avoid becoming comfortably numb.
TheTransformers were one of my favorite cartoons as a child. One of my toys was a robot named Astrotrain that could change into a spaceship and a train. Humanity now appears to be a speeding freight train heading straight for the cliff. At this point it is far too late to use the brakes, we are simply too big and too fast to slow down in time. Either we tumble to our death, or miraculously transform into a spaceship at the edge of the cliff. Anything is possible, and if ever there was a catalyst that could produce such an instant reaction then entheogens definitely have that capability. If they can help desperate people recover from addiction and PTSD when all else has failed then they can help a desperate society wake up from the nightmare of war and environmental disasters. In the race between human potential versus self destruction it appears as though human potential is losing, but as I always say before an Ayahuasca ceremony, expect the unexpected.