Thursday, August 11, 2011

In Defense of Peace: Fierce Love in the Age of Reunion

fuck peace. keep holding hands while kids starve, ecosystems dissolve, and the poor continue to cop the bullets... maybe if we give enough hugs and kisses to each other all this shit will stop. Please... fuck everything about this post. R E S I S T !

When planning a form of action you should take into account if you are actually accomplishing anything. How will my actions effectively stop civilization from destroying life?

Why advocate peace when the planet is being destroyed? Shouldn’t we be resisting against the status quo, taking any measures necessary- including violent rebellion- to bring down the systems in place?

In Defense of Peace: Fierce Love in the Age of Reunion

The following quote is from Vietnamese Buddhist leader, Thich Nhat Hanh:

“If we want to end the war in the world, we need to first end the war in our own hearts; our hearts need to be fully compelled to act with hope and compassion.”

The current state of humanity is one of imbalance. We are experiencing a convergence of different crises, which are all really part of the same crisis of consciousness, of spirit, of the human sense of self. It is what Julia Butterfly Hill calls “disconnected consciousness,” which makes it possible for us to clear cut forests, drop bombs on human beings, and view the world as “other”, as something separate from ourselves. In this way, the content of our hearts and minds - our thoughts, our beliefs, our perceptions, our emotions- and the essence of how we understand who we are constantly work to shape our external relationships and the actions that manifest in the physical plane. If someone looks at a tree and sees dollar bills, she will view that tree in a certain way. If someone looks at the same tree and sees a living, breathing sentient being with which she forms a sacred, interdependent relationship, she will view that tree in a different way.

Our separation goes very deep and we all feel, on some level, that something is very wrong around here. Most of us respond with despair, cynicism, numbness, and detachment as we watch a world spiral into catastrophe- both the physical and immaterial infrastructures of a culture built on separation have begun to crumble and fall to pieces as economies and governments falter, ecosystems collapse, and a new story of being begins to emerge. But the old story of self and of world has left us with deep, aching wounds; the paradox is that, despite the excessiveness of a culture obsessed with accumulation of the material, we are left with stinging fissures of emptiness as we lack what we truly desire: connection, community, authenticity, passion, and vital relationships with ourselves, with one another, and with the planet. We can’t create these new stories without fully feeling and unraveling the depths of the world’s wounds, without fully appreciating the roots of ourselves. One of my friends puts it this way,

My gut reaction [to war, suffering, sadness, greed, etc.] is to cry, to be in touch with the pain… to be really sad about how broken the system is and how broken we are. I can get really pissed and angry. But there is something redeeming in pain and suffering. Whenever I’ve felt pain, and made myself vulnerable to expose the brokenness, it’s been a really powerful experience of connection and healing- experiencing the suffering to transcend and operate from our deeper selves.
The criticism of the Pittsburgh Peace Gathering overlooks the psychology of living through this culture of separation, and it disregards the need for our wounded minds and hearts to heal. There is a spiritual dimension to the planetary crisis: a collective shift out of humanity’s separation is intimately related to a parallel shift in our individual self-conception. Something like the upcoming Peace Gathering on August 14 helps to reweave the tattered threads of the separate self into the fabric of community and connection- indeed, it means asserting oneself as part of a greater whole. There is a place for action- perhaps fierce, radical, revolutionary action- but if it does not grow out of a FIERCE LOVE, for the planet, for oneself, for the gift called “Living on Planet Earth”, it becomes weak, infused with indignation, bitterness, and resentment. What inspires us most is not anger towards suffering, but the profound love we have for creating a more beautiful world. There’s a place for anger; however, as a stimulus for action it pales in comparison to what we can achieve through compassion. The anarcho-primitivist rhetoric is usually replete with cynicism and condemnation, frequently resulting in the claim: “What you’re doing is useless and trivial because the real problem is civilization itself, so if you’re not directly involved in attacking or resisting its structures, your actions are meaningless.” But IS civilization inherently unsustainable? Author Charles Eisenstein asks: Is genocide and ecocide the inevitable price of civilization's magnificence? Need the most sublime achievements of art, music, literature, science, and technology be built upon the wreckage of the natural world and the misery of its inhabitants? Can the microchip come without the oil slick, the strip mine, the toxic waste dump? In other words, can the gift of technology and culture somehow be separated from the curse?
In his beautiful work, THE ASCENT OF HUMANITY, Charles talks about civilization as an organic process of becoming, rather than a monstrously wrong turn in human history. Certainly the domestication of plants and animals was a momentous event that perhaps has forever transformed the planet, but so has tool making. So has fire building. So has the migration of life from the oceans to the land. So has the formation of cell walls and multicellular organisms. So has the cooling of the primeval universe to assemble atomic structures. The universe has been complexifying since its first manifestations, to the point where today, we monkeys have created extraordinary works of culture, language, art, ideas, technology, communication, and all the other achievements that make us human. In one sense, it seems that civilization was an inescapable path, an essential step in the process of our evolution. Or rather, that humanity needed to embark on the journey of separation to learn how to live properly (again) in an ever-changing/developing universe. Perhaps the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural society marked the birth of an epoch, whereby humanity was reborn into childhood, into a ‘take’ relationship with MOTHER earth. Charles Eisenstein writes that, just as a child takes and takes from a mother without reciprocating, as characterized by the growth of any organism, we have been taking from the Earth without giving back, without forming a mutual relationship with her. The crises facing us today are the birth pangs of a new humanity, which is transitioning from childhood to adulthood, from the disconnected consciousness of the take relationship to the connected self, through which we desire to give back and enter into a partnership with what Charles calls, LOVER EARTH.

I don’t think the appropriate question is: How will my actions effectively stop civilization from destroying life? But rather: Are my actions contributing to healing or destruction? Empowering communities through peace gatherings is more effective than blowing up a dam, or a bank, or the NYSE, because this empowerment is imbued with the consciousness that says “Yes” to the world, rather than no, rather than viewing our situation as doomed to failure and ourselves as insignificant agents of social change. Eisenstein says:
No matter how complete the despair, no matter how bitter the cynicism, a possibility beckons of a world more beautiful and a life more magnificent than what we know today. Though we may rationalize it, it is not rational. We become aware of it in moments, gaps in the rush and press of modern life. These moments come to us alone in nature, or with a baby, making love, playing with children, caring for a dying person, making music for the sake of music or beauty for the sake of beauty. At such times, a simple and easy joy shows us the futility of the vast, life-consuming program of management and control.
We intuit also that something similar is possible collectively. Some of us may have experienced it when we find ourselves cooperating naturally and effortlessly, instruments of a purpose greater than ourselves that, paradoxically, makes us individually more and not less when we abandon ourselves to it.

There is a healthy, positive energy that comes from creating instead of resisting. Or rather, resisting in the form of creating and collaborating, resisting in the form of manifesting peaceful relationships and peaceful solutions. Being the change we want to see in the world means acting with compassion and organizing peacefully. There is no one who does not want peace. And if you can’t find it where you’re standing, where do you hope to run in search of it? The solutions exist already- the challenge is for us to inspire one another to listen to our hearts. In other words, to become ourselves again, and in so doing become something much larger than ourselves.

Acting peacefully in the face of such calamity reminds me of Taoist or Zen Buddhist philosophy, whereby what is malleable is always superior to that which is immovable.
Many aspects of human civilization are inflicting great harm upon this planet, yet there is something that feels right about yielding to the suffering, ingesting it in our hearts and minds to fully feel the sorrow, and to intimately experience its pain. I call it “The Zen of Creating the More Beautiful World We All Know is Possible in our Hearts;” it involves accepting what is and creating joyful alternatives rather than furiously resisting what is. It is flexible, supple, and adaptable. It is letting the muddy water of our minds be still to become clear.

Lao Tzu says:

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong. Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

It is from this way of being that the right actions emerge. This doesn’t mean sit around meditating while the world around us is being pillaged, as represented in one of Derrick Jensen’s cartoons. It means acting through acceptance. It means moving through the world with a soft heart and a clear mind, and letting your actions flow smoothly and effortlessly out of the joy of being, of living, of creating.

The passionate human being that was criticizing the Peace Gathering continues:

I guess I just don't see the point in a celebration. How can you celebrate at a time like this? I feel if you are going to celebrate, you should earn the celebration. Do something that is effective, and then celebrate the victory.

I think that part of the transition into a new humanity means celebrating LIFE in all of its manifestations- the leaves and the laughter, the sky and the sorrow, the birds and the just being. Any movement that dissuades us from being happy and enjoying life’s pleasures just doesn’t feel right. Happiness is totally compatible with change. Many beings are suffering, but many are waking up OUT of suffering. Many ecosystems are being destroyed, but many are being rehabilitated. Many cultural stories are ending, but many are just beginning. We can celebrate and show gratitude for all that is, while simultaneously acknowledging suffering. They need not be separate. We can’t get there from here, without being ourselves.


Thursday, July 7, 2011


Le Bois Sacré:
Ancient Ways of Knowing in Modern Cultural Contexts

Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness. And so to whatever degree any one of us, can bring back a small piece of the picture and contribute it to the building of the new paradigm, then we participate in the redemption of the human spirit, and that, after all, it what it's really all about.

We have been to the moon, we have charted the depths of the ocean and the heart of the atom, but we have a fear of looking inward to ourselves because we sense that is where all the contradictions flow together.
-Terence Mckenna

            Culture is arbitrary. I mean to say that, if one identifies herself with a certain set of beliefs about the nature of reality, she is already precluded from believing in the opposite. The world that we perceive is but a tiny fraction of the world that we can perceive, which is a tiny fraction of the perceivable world. And so we operate on a very narrow slice of this reality, based upon time- and space- specific cultural conventions, stories, cosmologies, interpretations, and generational perspectives that help construct our identities and ways of relating to the universe.

            In Western Industrial Civilization, and increasingly in other parts of the world, we have developed a reservoir of fundamental beliefs- Robert Anton Wilson calls them ‘reality tunnels’- which have pushed Planet earth to the brink of collapse. Modern technological hubris, while having facilitated the triumph of nature’s temporal and spatial boundaries, continues to be used for the exploitation and pillage of the earth’s ecosystems. Contemporary science and engineering have harnessed nature is ways never before imagined: we cut and splice genes under a microscope, synthesize life in a laboratory, and launch rockets into the outer reaches of the Milky Way galaxy with the touch of a button. And yet this ‘Ascent of Humanity’ has ineluctably resulted in a splintering chasm: between mind and body, spirit and matter (if spirit exists at all), self and other. But this separation did not always exist. Despite the Western mind’s ardent attempts at smothering ways of thinking, being, and relating that differ from its own, other ways of knowing still remain, scattered in delicate pockets of indigenous culture where spirits loom and manifest themselves within the fabric of existence and sunlight drips down through thick, lush layers of primordial forest. In these cultures (mostly hunter-gatherer, before the advent of agriculture), chances are one will find a complex array of botanical knowledge, and more specifically a remarkable sagacity of plants that help the people maneuver the ‘inner space’, where archaic worlds of consciousness and meaning coalesce, ooze, and cascade into awareness, and through which cultural stories and interpretations of reality are born. Preserved in pockets of the undeveloped world, shielded from the rapid ravages of modernization by dense jungles or mountains, it is still possible to encounter intact shamanic cultures. Among these people, plants that induce visions are the center of spiritual life and tradition. They believe that these plants are sentient beings, supernatural emissaries. They ascribe their music and medicine, their cosmology and extensive botanical knowledge to the visions given to them in psychedelic trance. For tribes in Africa, Siberia, North and South America, and many other regions, rejection of the visionary knowledge offered by the botanical world would be a form of insanity (Pinchbeck 2002: 2):

... Hallucinogens have been part and parcel of man's cultural baggage for thousands of years; moreover, as the other contributors to this volume document, hallucinogenic or psychoactive plants have been of great significance in the ideology and religious practices of a wide variety of peoples the world over, and in some traditional cultures continue to play such a role today. The native peoples of the New World, especially those of Middle and South America, alone utilized nearly a hundred different botanical species for their psychoactive properties, not counting scores of plants used for the brewing of alcoholic beverages to induce ritual intoxication. Anthropologist Weston La Barre ... attributes this phenomenon to a kind of cultural programming for personal ecstatic experiences reaching back to the American Indians' ideological roots in the shamanistic religion of the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic hunting and gathering cultures of northeastern Asia. If La Barre is right-and the cumulative evidence tends to support him-this would take the practice and, more important, its philosophical underpinnings back at least fifteen or twenty thousand years ... (Furst 1972: viii)

A Brief History of Iboga, the Sacred Root of Equatorial West Africa

Iboga takes its name from the word boghaga, which in the Tsogo language means, “to care for.” The Tsogo are a Bantu people from the south-central region of Gabon. According to legend, Bantu ethnic groups like the Tsogo were taught the ritualized use of iboga by the Pygmies, who utilized iboga for centuries before revealing its power to the neighboring Bantu- the Pygmies hoped that by divulging the sacred lessons of the plant, the Bantu, who kept attacking and forcing Pygmies further into the interior jungle, would discover their place in the spirit world and lose interest in waging wars (Ravalec and Paicheler 2007: 6; Pinchbeck 19). Iboga is found from Cameroon to the Congo but it is in Gabon that it grows best, in the midst of luxuriant vegetation, in the heat and humidity. It is the exterior surface of the root of the shrub Tabernanthe iboga that one ingests, having first scraped off the bark and shredded it into a fine gray powder. The shrub itself grows five to eight feet high and has large leaves about six inches long with clusters of white flowers tinged with pink, which turn into a bright orange fruit that is sticky, tasteless, and without psychotropic effect (Ravalec and Paicheler 112).

The Tsogo and Pinji ethnic groups reappropriated the first ritualized usage from the Pygmies, after which it spread to other groups like the Sira, Punu, Masango, Vuvi, and most notably in recent times, the Fang and Mitsogho. This transmission of iboga occurred and was accelerated in the melting pot environment of lumber operations during European colonization, by which indigenous groups were forcibly removed from their land and amalgamated to work for companies extracting raw materials from Gabon’s rich, old-growth forests (which in the 18th century covered 70% of Gabon’s land area) (Ravalec and Paicheler 19). Iboga was thus employed in small doses as a stimulant because of its capacity to enable sustained effort in the work camps by suppressing symptoms of fatigue; this occurred in the early 20th century as well by German colonial authorities in Cameroon, quite outside any context of religious movement (Fernandez 2001: 237). Colonial controls were pervasive and effective, and many West Africans had the experience of ‘placelessness’, of being uprooted and of being alien in their own land. Colonial and postcolonial administrators, missionaries and the religious elite (Christian priests and pastors), regularly attacked traditional iboga use as an “’addictive religion,’ both in the metaphoric sense, in that its rituals and philosophy were irresistibly attractive and absorbing, and in the literal sense, that iboga was the heart of that addiction” (Fernandez 236). Violent backlash and repression from Christian communities forced Bwiti (ritualized practice of iboga use) members into clandestine operations, however, over time Christianity and Bwiti began to form a syncretic relationship of overlapping premises and seamless integration (the Fang brand of Bwiti is an example of such synthesis). Today, 95% of Gabonese are Christian while 20% are Bwitist, so there is a large space of interaction (Fernandez 1982: 66; Binet 1972: 201; Ravalec and Paicheler 20).

An Overview of the Bwiti Logic: Ideology, Belief, and Culture

“In the west, the real loss is forgetting that inside the body there is spirit.”
 –Mallendi, traditional Bwiti healer

             Bwiti, ebweta, means “to arrive, reach, end up at, or to emerge from one spot into another.” It is the religious or spiritual practice through which different West African ethnic groups construct their own cultural interpretations of the universe, their place and relationship in/to it. Iboga is eaten frequently in Bwiti, during significant seasonal changes and patterns, to mark birth and death, and, most notably to initiate teenagers into the spirit realms of the ‘ethnoscape’, the complex metaphysical matrix of Bwiti thought. Initiation in Bwiti is a voyage of birth toward death and then of rebirth of a new being, following the path of clairvoyance and knowledge of the mysteries of the world. During his (or her, in the healing circles of groups like the Mitsogho) initiatory voyage under the influence of iboga, the initiate undertakes an ascent toward the original world, the world above which is that of the dead and the newly born. He has visions of his present, past, and future. The aim of initiation is to have him be reborn first of all in the world of the dead and then in the lower world in his most perfect form: it is of course a question of creating a new man or woman worthy of being part of the community of Bwitists (Ravalec and Paicheler 61). “Iboga allows the initiate to see more than the ordinary world and to reconsider his present life. Before the stage of visions, iboga provokes questions and answers about oneself. It obliges one to face up to oneself, and the work is of a psychoanalytical nature- an ascent toward the past that helps the subject to discover himself.” For Mallendi, every man or woman has a layer of dark clouds in his or her brain: at the time of initiation, iboga clears away these dark clouds to reach the ‘starry part’, the luminous part of the brain, and to permit seeing across emptiness:
Naitre c'est mourir, mourir c'est naitre, voila bien le premier message de tout scenario initiatique, et puisque tout homme, dans la logique rétrospective du rite, se découvre ((mort-né' )), il ne reste plus, pour faire vivre le cycle qui donne son sens a l'existence, qu'a mourir pour naitre, ce que lui propose en un sens l'initiation. Poser la naissance et la mort comme deux valeurs a la fois opposées et complémentaires, c'est induire du même coup le principe de leur permutation et l'inversion des signes positifs ou négatifs qui s'attachent a ces deux versants de l'existence (Mary 1988 : 236)

Bwiti is a religion, in part animist, because the plants are trees are considered to be inhabited by spirits, but also universalist, since there is no God in human form but an amorphous, abstract power present in the hearts of every person and every thing. It is also a science of nature, a university of the forest: bwiti apprenticeship includes the knowledge of plants and their therapeutic and magical properties. Iboga allows a particular relationship with nature. It makes tangible the direct link that unites people, barefoot on the earth, with the transcendence of places and things charged with spirits. Images, face and body painting, feathers, and animal hides from the forest form the décor of the ceremonies. During his or her initiation, each person receives a name based on a natural element, whether from an animal or the sky, such as lightning or rain.

The Bwiti initiation is carried out over three days, which correspond to birth, death, and rebirth. Initiates are adorned with loin cloths, with necklaces of cowry shells and bracelets of small bells, their bodies painted, and traditional instruments echoing into the night sky (iboga is mostly eaten at night). The neophyte’s head is shaved and powdered with a red wood. He is then led into a special guardship temple where he swallows movengo, a concoction mixed with the grinded root to make him vomit more easily. The initiate vomits into his pail, often until bile first appears, this white liquid that they say is the first milk that the newborn received. The procedure follows in this manner, imbued with the symbolism of female genitalia, rebirth, and ‘seeing what could not previously be seen’ (Ravalec and Paicheler 70), all actualized and manifested through the consumption of this excruciatingly bitter root. Anthropologist Vincent Revalec comments on the taste:

“Why do you think that is [that it tastes so bad]? The first reason is security. If such powerful substances could be swallowed like maple syrup, there would be accidents. And second, knowledge is worth something. It’s always like that. Wherever you go in the world it’s the same. Whatever is called a way of initiation requires effort. Whether it’s in the East, in South America, in Freemasonry or among the Papuans of Papua New Guinea- in order to learn you have to pay. And pay with oneself. It’s the rule” (11)

The path to ‘arriving’ in the Bwiti world, like other indigenous rituals with substances like Peyote and Ayahuasca, is marked by great struggle, exertion, and pain, both physically and psychologically. The process involves spiritual and existential growth; iboga is not a drug nor an entertainment, it is first and foremost a key that gives access to other modes of being, other ‘reality tunnels’ of the world and of consciousness. Plants like iboga are sacred tools for interpreting one’s own existence. As French chemist Robert Goutarel says, “Iboga brings about the visual, tactile, and auditory certainty of the irrefutable existence of the beyond… Physical death loses all meaning because it is nothing but a new life, another existence. It is [the root] that conditions the several existences” (Pinchbeck 34).


Addressing Ecological Crises and Redefining Human-Earth Identities

We are experiencing, as a human race and as a planet, a radical convergence of crises that spans across all aspects of planetary society and species, from economic pitfalls, social upheaval, and political chaos, to desertification, the ubiquitous disappearance of bees, forests, clean air and water, and the acute deterioration of ecosystems’ ability to sustain life. Old stories about who we are as human beings and about how we relate to- and interact with- the world around us are falling apart. History has never witnessed suffering on such a large scale; humanity’s dogmatic efforts to control and manipulate nature, ‘red and tooth in claw’, have culminated in the complexly woven globalized systems of economy, politics, technology, culture and thought we witness today- a vast machine of human cognition that has transformed the planet, fueling a ruthless, anthropocentric exploitation of other life forms to substantiate our own achievement. Despite producing extraordinary marvels like the Internet, technologies that have essentially transfigured and revolutionized the way we move, act, and think on this planet, our audacious attempts to command the universe as ‘lords and possessors of nature’ have pushed the earth’s carrying capacity to the brink of collapse. Many social and environmental activists fail to enact lasting change because they neglect how powerful our existing stories are, and how deeply the psychology of separation (from ourselves, one another, and the planet) has been ingrained within the collective consciousness. 
Permaculture is a fascinating alternative to these conventional paradigms of consumption and exploitation because it seeks to address the physical and metaphysical, the challenges of both ecological imbalance and spiritual, or existential, disharmony. Permaculture, or ‘permanent (agri)culture’, was “developed” (indigenous peoples have been practicing their own forms for thousands of years) by Bill Mollison in 1959 while observing marsupials browsing the floor of a Tanzanian forest, noticing the seamless brilliance of natural ecosystems compared to our contemporary forms of agriculture.1,2 Unlike traditional gardens or farms, Mollison noted, areas like [the Tanzanian forest] were resilient, diverse, productive, and beautiful, representing places where nature does most of the work, but where people are as welcome as the other inhabitants of Earth.1 Contemporary food production is but one microcosm of the broader consciousness that still holds vestiges of the ‘nature as enemy’ mentality; indeed for thousands of years we’ve viewed ‘nature’ as something to be conquered and restrained, something somehow separate from ourselves (Evidence suggests that hunter-gatherers before the inception of agriculture [10,000 years ago] didn’t maintain this self-other duality, but viewed themselves as part of a greater totality.) Permaculture is thus focused on modeling human settlements and agricultural systems on natural ecologies while simultaneously demonstrating the inherent interdependency of all beings on this planet.

In many ways, the fundamental principles of permaculture are in direct opposition to the forces of neoliberal economic/social policies, corporate globalization, and massive industrial agricultural practices. “Permaculture technologies,” says Professor Maria de la Bellacasa, “[represent] a form of concrete political activism… They promote ecological living, local food production, alternative energies, and radical democratic forms of organization.”3 Contrast this description with the spirit of mainstream consumer culture, whereby living systems are fueled by dirty fossil fuels that enslave local economies and disenfranchise communities by making them dependent on large-scale organizations like the IMF or private multinational corporations. Helena Norberg-Hodge’s film Ancient Futures provides a prototypical example while exploring the effects of globalization on the Ladakh people of northern India. A culture rooted deeply in intimate community ties, sustainable living practices, leisure, creativity, peace and happiness was utterly disintegrated as enormous agribusiness corporations seized control of trade and forced Ladakhis into mainstream wage economies; the traditional Ladakh culture collapsed due to the ‘civilizing’ pressures of modernization- a process that continues to affect indigenous groups across the globe. 4 In the Eleuthera Islands, Bahamas, “[locals] have also come to rely on foreign companies for jobs- which helps to explain the 40% unemployment rate- and in the last half-century a great deal of local agricultural know-how has been lost in the rise and fall of the tourism industry.5 Instilled within the ethos of permaculture is an emphasis on downscaling political and economic structures, contracting the modalities of production and consumption, and establishing a communal society based on the relocalization of living systems to preserve culture rather than homogenize it. This idea of relocalization will be discussed later.

What’s wrong with the current agricultural system?
Feeding the world?

Despite our modern agricultural technologies and advanced globalized distribution systems, it is estimated that nearly 800 million people go hungry each day, and that two-fifths of the world’s population lives on less than two dollars a day. Companies like Monsanto claim that low-technology agriculture “will not produce sufficient crop yield increases to feed the world’s burgeoning population,” and thus rely on pesticide-laden, technology-intensive agriculture to produce that maximum output from the land in the shortest amount of time. 5 Yet it is abundance, not scarcity, that best describes the world’s food supply: enough food is grown worldwide to provide 4.3 pounds of food per person per day, despite countries like the United States literally throwing out half of what is produced.6,7 “The industrial system has, over centuries and in virtually every area of the globe, ‘enclosed’ farmland, forcing subsistence peasants off the land, so that is can be used for growing high-priced export crops rather than diverse crops for local populations… removed from their land and means of survival, the ‘landless’ then flock to the newly industrialized cities where they quickly become a class of urban poor competing for low-paying jobs.”6 By 2030, it is estimated that 56% of the developing world will be urban dwellers, fifty percent of which is likely due to forced migration from rural to urban communities. 6

Toxicity, technology, contamination, pesticide use
According to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report, between 1970 and 1999, food-borne illnesses multiplied tenfold. According to the FDA, at least 53 carcinogenic pesticides are presently applied to support our massive yields, while the synergistic effects (how chemicals interact with one another) of pesticides have not be examined at all.8,9 Consequently, the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) reports that more than 1 million Americans drink water laced with pesticide runoff from industrial farms. “A National Cancer Institute study found that farmers who used industrial herbicides were six times more likely than non-farmers to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma… exposures to these neurotoxic compounds like PCBs and organophosphate insecticides during critical periods of development can cause permanent, long-term damage to the brain, nervous, and reproductive systems.” 6 Food-borne illnesses have skyrocketed with the introduction of factory farms and antibiotics, while the use of irradiation has been one of many disastrous efforts to engineer technological solutions for fundamentally unsafe agricultural practices to begin with.

Environmental costs: transportation, monoculture, and climate change
The overexploitation of chemicals and machines on industrial farms severely erodes topsoil and damages ecosystems over time. The United States has lost half of its topsoil since 1960, and we continue depleting topsoil 17 times faster than nature can replenish it. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 75% of genetic agricultural diversity has disappeared in this century. The genetically modified organisms engineered in labs by Monsanto and other massive agribusiness corporations are far more susceptible to insects, blights, diseases, and inclement weather than are organic, polyculture farms.6 In the summer of 1969, an epidemic disease of corn that appeared in North America destroyed a substantial part of the 1970 crop because 70% of the U.S. corn was uniformly vulnerable to a new race of southern corn leaf blight. “The hazard to corn,” says biology professor John Jungck, “resulted from advances in agricultural technology that had created the genetic uniformity.” 10 This danger is present whenever food is produced in the monoculture format, lacking the supportive safety net of a diverse array of mutually beneficial organisms. The food on an average American’s plate now travels at least 1,300 miles from the farm to the dinner table, exacerbating carbon emissions and further degrading ecosystems.6

Permaculture: A Biopolitical/Metaphysical Response
It is quite essential to acknowledge, as previously mentioned, that the problems provoked by industrial agriculture are mere products of a certain way of understanding our relationships with the natural world- certain ethical, behavioral, and metaphysical identities that have come to define the way humanity interacts within broader contexts. Changing the way we produce and relate to food is a fundamental point of intervention in exploitative ‘biopolitical’ regimes and predominant social forms; in the past few years, we have witnessed a renewed interest in growing our own food and connecting more deeply and intimately with this important process. This emerging paradigm, sparked within ‘mainstream contexts’ by the organic/local food and urban/community garden movements and perhaps culminating with an extensive relocalization/permaculture framework (developing further upon the inchoate stages of the ‘green’ movement), the broader value system of deep, ecological consciousness is about strengthening the interrelationships of, what de la Bellacasa calls, the ‘three ecologies’: self (body and psyche), collective, and earth. “The ethics of permaculture,” she asserts, “are in dialogue with broader discussion in the world of biopolitics/naturecultures; this requires approaching the ethical as an everyday doing that connects the personal to the collective and de-centers the human…. Naturecultures (her term), imply the inseparability of the natural and cultural, and affirm the breaking down of boundaries of the technological and organic as well as the animal and human… more [people] today envision the material world less from the perspective of defined ‘objects’ and ‘subjects’, but as composed of knots of relations involving humans, non-humans, and physical entanglements of matter and meaning.”3

Permaculture is just as much about practical organic farming design principles as it is about transforming the way we view the earth, and thus has embedded within it one some would call dimensions of spirituality or ‘animist’ value systems. The ecological perception of being part of the earth is one that is felt, as “real dirt under our fingernails” and “our bodies responding to the needs of water because we are water.” De la Bellacasa emphasizes her revitalized relationship with worms:

Becoming able of a caring obligation towards worms is nurtured by hands on dirt, love and curiosity for the needs of an ‘other’, whether this is the people we live with, the animals we care for, the soil we plant in. It is by working with them, by feeding them and gathering their castings as food for plants, that a relationship is created that acknowledges our interdependency: these neglectable sticky beings reappear as quite amazing as well as indispensable – for they take care of our waste, they process it so that it becomes food again.3

Because we are constantly on the move, disconnected from where we live and the flowing ecological patterns that sustain us, we have lost our relationship with place, with our surroundings, our landscape, our communities. Environmentalist and Deep ecologist Gary Snyder says that the most important ecological commitment is to ‘stay in one place’, reviving our connections with the land by relocalizing living systems, culture, and identity. Permaculture asks us to be observant, develop greater awareness of our effect on the world around us, and take mindful actions in caring for the mind, body, and environment. 11,2

A Few Basic Practices in Permaculture
             Instead of the backbreaking labor that goes into tilling, sowing, weeding, and chemically controlling a conventional vegetable garden, a permaculture garden works on totally different principles. It provides its own fertilization, has internal weed suppression and pest-control mechanisms, and manages its internal moisture levels through dry times and wet, functioning as a self-organizing ecology predicated on place.1 Instead of the grassy emptiness that usually defines yards, city parks, curbsides, and parking lots (mirroring a fundamental cosmology of clean, ‘civilized’ aesthetics instead of functional, productive spaces), these areas could be retrofitted to be lush, food-producing, attractive landscapes that aid nature while yielding much for us as well. Ordinary vegetable gardens are usually fragmented: there is an orderly vegetable plot here; flower beds there, a back corner for ‘wildlife’, etc. A vegetable garden doesn’t offer habitat to native insects, birds, and other wildlife (which are traditionally considered unwelcome visitors) and a flower garden can’t feed the gardener. Therefore, permaculture defends the multifunctionality of all species, treating the garden as a complex web or network of mutual relationships rather than isolated elements intended to serve only a single purpose.1 “A yard is a dynamic system, not an unchanging still life. By viewing our landscapes as dynamic ecosystems, rather than as static collections of inert objects, we can create gardens that inherently grow in healthy patterns and directions.”1
One significant feature of permaculture design is the application of mutually beneficial plants that help cultivate diverse species and build the health of the system. For example, if you plant broccoli or roses, aphids will naturally be attracted, which endangers other plants. However, one can scatter these plants among other species that reduce nitrogen in the soil (aphids enjoy nitrogen-rich plants), as well as foster habitats for aphid predators (ladybugs). A rosebush attracts aphids, which lure ladybugs, which lure birds, which leave their droppings to feed microbes and fertilize the rose. In this way, multiple zero-waste feedback loops can be employed to self-regulate gardens through knowledge of nature’s relationships.
Another critical element of nourishing the ecological garden is by building healthy soil. A Latin American farmer is quoted in Gaia’s Garden as saying, “Of course you have terrible soil in your country. What do you expect when you call it dirt?”1 Our heavily fertilized agricultural lands lose up to 60% of calcium (enriching mineral) due to run off, while in a typical North American forest, only 2% is lost. Similarly, worms ‘turn over’ as much as 25 tons of soil per acre per year (the equivalent of one inch of topsoil over Earth’s landmass every ten years), while we struggle to produce short-term bursts in productivity through tilling.1 Nature is very intelligent; by understanding her mechanisms we can work with her and not against her. Healthy compost heaps- using kitchen scraps and other organic materials that would normally go to waste- can be used to nourish the soil and serve as a natural weed-protector.
The management of space, as part of the ecological design process, present yet another way for us to mimic nature’s inherent providence and abundance. Elevated ‘keyhole’ beds and spiraling herb formations (shown below) are simple solutions to maximizing sunlight, water collection, and space while utilizing different plant heights to act as filters or barriers to wind or rodents.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

An experience with psilocybin

Psilocybin; White Mountains, NH

I do not feel uncomfortable, guilty, or conscience-stricken talking about psilocybin mushrooms despite their apparent illegality in this Western culture. It is interesting that, despite millions of years of ritualized usage (what anthropologists have asserted), the authoritarian powers that be have deemed psychoactive substances such as the mushrooms as dangerous, useless, and unfit for further research and exploration while the most destructive materials known to man can be peddled on every corner in drug stores… not to mention all the noxious chemicals used in industrial production, mainstream agriculture, synthetically/genetically modified organisms, tap water (fluoride, lead, PCBs), and the plasticized, sanitized culture we now live in. The ‘War on Drugs’ is really a biased process of discrimination between what is ‘appropriate’ or ‘accepted’ in the social web of cultural construction. To condemn substances like psilocybin while hundreds of thousands of people die every year in alcohol-related incidents is utterly insane. Most people who are intimately familiar with these plants (peyote, psilocybin, ayahuasca, iboga, etc.) don’t even refer to them as ‘drugs’, but rather as revered medicines that nourish the soul, facilitate healing, and enrich spiritual relationships. My experiences with psilocybin have left indelible marks on my understanding of who I am and what my relationship is to the universe; they have given me profound glimpses into the essence of being and living here on Planet Earth. They have shown me the doors to peace, love, compassion, understanding, and wisdom- I just needed the courage to walk through. I am not afraid to discuss psilocybin (or write about it in class assignments) because I love discussing them; I think the mushrooms contain within them an incredible sagacity and an untapped potential to change our lives through our beliefs/interpretations of reality. To be fearful of open discussion is to cross swords with my own conscience.

I arose at about 4:30am on Saturday morning, still a little groggy from 4 hours of sleep but nevertheless squirming with anticipation and excitement (as I usually am when on the cusp of engaging with the psilocybin). There are a few guidelines/routines I like to follow when I ingest the psilocybin (and the hours leading up to ingestion):

·      Wake up early and ingest before sunrise
·      Meditation night before and morning of
·      Nothing to eat night before and morning of
·      Don a special shirt (hand-made in India with intricate designs and soft, silky cotton)
·      Pack nutritious, nourishing foods to eat (usually raw vegetables) as I’m ‘coming down’

·      While ingesting, smell the mushrooms and spend some time holding them/setting my intentions/respecting the mushrooms/surrendering to the “mycelial wisdom”
·      Chewing/eating the mushrooms mindfully, feeling textures, tastes, intricacies in flavor (the taste doesn’t bother me and I feel it’s important to welcome the flavor instead of resisting)
·      Thanking the mushrooms, land base, the Earth, and anyone/thing I feel should be acknowledged
·      Spending some time breathing/meditating directly after ingestion, feeling the energy of the mushrooms pervade my body

It should be noted (if not implied by the above bullet points) that I approach a psilocybin session very seriously. It’s a time of reflection and self-examination that is more than a nihilistic plunge into an unintelligible world of chaos and disorder. The experience is a spiritual journey into the depths of my psyche and the fabric of reality (whatever that is). I go into a session with clear intentions of gaining a deeper perspective about what is happening on Planet Earth, both in individual and societal contexts.

I traveled to the White Mountains with five other friends, two of which had previously experimented with psilocybin. Three of these guys ate heavy breakfasts and smoked several cigarettes on Saturday morning, something I recommend against for several reasons. Eating before ingesting psilocybin diminishes the effects of the mushrooms and can agitate/discomfort your stomach. I think smoking tobacco (at least from purchased, toxin-filled corporate boxes of Marlboro, Camel, and all the rest) is a rather silly thing to do, let alone mixing it with the psilocybin… I try to ‘isolate’ the mushrooms (restrict ingesting other substances [including foods]) because I want to know that I am experiencing the psilocybin without contrasting physical and energetic entities in my system- especially not the poisons present in popular tobacco.

We arrived in White Mountain National Forest at about 8:00am and parked the vehicle in a camping ground lot. We disembarked and began putting on heavy layers of clothing to endure the brisk morning air; it was a beautiful day with sun pouring through towering birch trees and soaking the snow with a sparkling energy. The birch trees shot up into the sky, creating an elegant contrast between stark white bark and the gaping, bright blue heavens. We had about 10 grams of psilocybin separated into different bags with the following weights: 2g., 1.8, 1.75, 1.75, 1.63, 1.4. The group began walking along a river trail and plopped down into about 3 feet of snow to eat the mushrooms overlooking the river, which was frozen over in whiteness. I ate the 2 g., as the others were slightly nervous and wanted to ingest lesser amounts. The others hurriedly shoved the mushrooms in their mouths, trying to avoid the less than agreeable flavor, and ‘chasing’ them with TUMS tablets. The TUMS issue is another element I vehemently disagree with: it is yet another meddling mechanism that disrupts the natural process of feeling whatever it is the mushrooms give us. We began walking around the campground roads and the psilocybin began creeping up about 15 minutes after ingestion. It feels as if slow vibrations and energy frequencies are moving throughout the body at a conscious level of awareness, my muscles become loose/flexible, I develop a keen sense of my body, I feel my culturally constructed boundaries slowly beginning to dissolve… I begin smiling broadly as my previous experiences surface to the front of my mind as joyful memories. I look up at beautifully complex branches exploding up into the sky, like enormous geysers frozen in time. Colors, textures, sounds, and movements take on a different quality of being, infused with a kind of grace and sacredness that transcends rational analysis. It is so wildly confirmed that the present moment is all there ever is as I drift into a timeless state of being, sensing the pervading oneness and mutuality of all things.

I thought the others’ experiences would give them a glimpse into this realm, but several had difficulty at the onset- throwing up, feeling mentally/emotionally unstable, etc. It’s quite interesting to me that my friend, Rupert (alias), who is a staunch atheist and advocate of scientific rationality as the source of universal knowledge, had the most turbulent phase of discomfort during the first hour or so. My belief is that the psilocybin works to dismantle and deconstruct our entrenched assumptions, cultural biases, learned belief structures, etc. and return our awareness to something more indwelling, organic, instinctive, and essential… outside of cultural systems and mind-patterns (perhaps they will one day dismantle this very belief!). For this reason, especially with someone that grasps onto control/predictability/logic. It can be unnerving letting go of the resistance one has to peering through different lenses of reality. Basically, whatever you think you know about the world is churned up, tweaked, and spit out back at you in a new light (my experience). Complete openness is the crucial element when engaging with the psilocybin- resistance only yields confusion/negative energy.

We entered the forest and settled down in a small clearing; we were all beginning to feel the emerging intensity of the psilocybin. Three of us, including Rupert, smoked a few cigarettes as we began joking around and chatting, clearly very cheerful, lighthearted, and even elated (my emphasis) under the mushrooms’ effects. Another phenomenon I notice while engaging with the psilocybin is the increased frequency of laughter, which I suppose arises from the general euphoria and jubilation that often ensues. It feels extraordinary liberating to burst with uncontrollable laughter- I view it as a form of meditation and a universally healthy thing.  My energy fields under this state are pure love and positivity… any negativity is instantly disintegrated, melting away into an abyss of nothingness. I want to emphasize here, although I will be returning to the topic later, that I believe any form of consciousness can be achieved without any substances. Everything we are seeking is already within us. The mushrooms are tools to help relocate what we think we already don’t have. I have experienced a plethora of ‘sober’ phenomena in the depths of my own consciousness that closely resemble the ‘shroom state’. Most of us, our awareness biased on account of cultural patterns, assumptions, behaviors, etc., just need a reminder about where to look. In other words, the psilocybin isn’t manufacturing the experience; rather it is providing the stimulus, gently guiding us along our own determined trajectories.  

As we were sitting, we observed thick strands of ethereal sunlight cascading through clumps of pine branches, like shafts of otherworldly energy illuminating and marinating the snow crystals waiting at the bottom of tree trunks. Several members of our troupe didn’t dress properly for the conditions (3 feet of snow, 30 degree air), so they were having trouble withstanding their own numbness. I wore three pairs of pants, two pairs of socks (underneath large boots), five layers of shirts, some gigantic waterproof gloves, and a large overcoat… so I was prepared for any kind of trekking that might be involved throughout the day. To get to the banks of the frozen river, one had to carve a path into the deep snow and while most of us had a fantastic time doing this, two of the guys (including Rupert) were reluctant to “get their hands dirty”, preferring to stay by a picnic table on the main campground. Horatio, Gary (aliases) and I followed Fred’s tracks (he had meandered off while we were all sitting together) and found him lying down on some rocks on the riverbank. He had discovered a gorgeous spot. We sat down next to him, intensely enjoying what was probably the ‘peak’ of our experience. Fred said he was experiencing some strange sensations in his entire body, including visceral shockwaves/jolts of energy. In addition to having eaten a large bowl of oatmeal for breakfast earlier in the day, Fred was recovering from an illness and was continuing his antibiotic intake (he ingested one pill with breakfast), which, both in the physical and energetic sense of the systemic effects, had an impact on Fred’s experience. He felt nauseous for the first 1.5 hours and somewhat overwhelmed by the extreme sensory responses from his body. However, he remained still in the same spot by the riverbank for another 4 hours; he confirmed that the sensorial details of everything were quite remarkable and revealed that he was experiencing some vibrant hallucinatory images, both across the river as trees swayed and dipped in the wind as well as when he closed his eyes, when designs would explode onto a black canvas.

There was abundant conversation taking place at the river between Horatio, Gary, and I (Fred was mainly silent except for laughing at never-ending jokes). Usually, the only things I can muster out of my mouth are phrases along the lines of “Holy cow..” or “Wow” or “Oh man…” because I am constantly overwhelmed with the infinite beauty I am seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling. But I also enjoy discussing philosophy and other existential topics under these states, as I feel my entire being (including mental capacities) is operating through a lens of fine-tuned clarity and sharp circumspection. Many of the behaviors and cultural paradigms of modern industrial civilization are revealed to me as arbitrarily constructed games, such as money, stress, most contemporary technologies, TV, days of the week, cosmetics, cars, jobs, and time. My contention is that, under the influence of psilocybin, we operate out of more animalistic, archaic, and primal awareness- a state of being outside of culture. Language is simply fascinating within the psilocybin realm: I really become aware of how symbols/abstractions like language shape, mold, and manifest reality. For instance, something Alan Watts says in the YouTube video Money really resonated with me at one moment on Saturday… he talks about the abstraction of money (green pieces of paper) and how true value (food, trees, animals, oceans, shelter, community, etc.) is transported into this inanimate symbol of superficiality. He discusses how, during the Great Depression, there was no lack of ‘resources’ (food, water, etc.), just a lack of money (the capricious representation of what is real); he compares saying, “I can’t do [this] without money” to saying “Sorry, I can’t build this house today- no inches”. I just love this metaphor. The point is that often times we mistake our own symbolic creations/representations for the real thing, and not without profound psychological/existential implications.

We punched out holes in the thick layer of ice covering the river and peered down into ‘another world’ of ice crystals, darkness, and reddish rocks clenched together beneath the cool sounds of rushing water. Closing my eyes and listening to the water was rapturous; I’m certain I could have stayed in the same position for the entire day had there not existed so many other unique elements to interact with in the dazzling kaleidoscope of brilliance I will call the universe. As we sat we watched cross-country skiers gliding on trails across the river and massive cloud patterns floating by overhead, which separated and coalesced to form breathtaking shapes and patterns in the sky. I could really sense the depth of the formations as I gazed upwards, witnessing the elegant dance of air whirling, spinning, and gyrating in stunning delicateness. An important thing the psilocybin has revealed for me is this simple perfection and beauty of all things. All existence is unique in and of itself, from the smallest speck of oil sprawling out in a rain puddle to the delicate pressures of muscles as we walk or jump or stretch, from the nourishing tastes and textures of healthy foods on our tongues to the soft streaks of afternoon sunlight illuminating raindrops dripping from saturated leaves. In a culture of overstimulation and excessiveness, I was so overcome with astonishment when I first began to focus my awareness on the simplicities of existence. So many of us keep seeking for something outside of ourselves, and outside of nature, as if both entities (really the same entity) are meant to be conquered and replaced with some kind of sterilized, disinfected final product. It seems implicit in this culture that whatever exists incipiently, whether ecosystems/animals in “nature” or emotions that comprise “human nature”, should be revised and transmuted into something less ‘primitive’, undeveloped, brutish, naïve, or ‘uncivilized’. This is a large, complex concept that is discussed further in The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein.

My body (which isn’t really mine, it is me) was beginning to feel empty and without energy, so I decided to return to the vehicle where I could find the nourishing snacks I (so assiduously!) packed: raw carrots and celery, hummus, and apples. I climbed up the steep incline that led down to the riverbank, feeling my muscles flexing with every movement, and crawled swiftly on the ground under trees, shrubs, and branches. It is really liberating to do spontaneous things like this- usually we are all so trapped by our own self-imposed identities and egos that we feel embarrassed or immature to do things outside of our conventional “reality tunnels” (term coined by Robert Anton Wilson). Of course I arrived at the vehicle about 30 minutes (I’d guess) after I left, frequently stopping in my tracks to observe the clouds, movements of trees, or just to feel the silence of the forest. Eating these nourishing foods was so joyful, especially as I ate mindfully and felt my body accepting the nutrients. I am very keenly aware of my body in this state, and that is one reason why I can’t understand smoking cigarettes, eating greasy potato chips (what the others were munching on), or consuming any other harmful substances that enter the body system (which is really a body/mind/soul system). This awareness is something that has carried over to my daily behavior, through which I now closely examine the items/brands I’m putting into this 50 trillion-celled organism (ME!).

I began to write a few things down in a small notebook… there are so many thoughts, perceptions, and levels of awareness during the ‘shroom state’ that it’s nearly impossible to record all of it. But the profundity of everything (for me) renders me incapable of ignoring all of it, so I like to jot down a few salient ideas/concepts to re-examine later. It’s also worth noting that, during each experience I participate in with psilocybin, several prominent themes emerge that come to characterize the session.

This is what I wrote down:

à returning to Holism, doing what FEELS right

Knowing what nourishes v. what doesn’t
‘going with the flow’ is listening to your heart; there’s a place for the mind (but it can only take you so far)
Love for everything

The prominent concept during this session was listening to my heart and body, instead of relying solely on my mind to analyze, rationalize, and dictate decision-making. I think it’s a really important thing to focus us, especially in what I consider to be an overly intellectual, left-brained, and cognitive culture. Doing what feels right, contrary to conventional thought about ‘human nature’, does not necessarily entail perpetuating the social Darwinist, competitive, dog-eat-dog, “more for me is less for you”, self-absorbed, survival of the fittest, mentality. Despite the interminable examples in modern Western society, I believe the fundamental tendency of human beings is not towards greed, selfishness, self-isolating security, control, and fear. I think these are illusions are ubiquitous in our society because of false belief structures, fictitious perceptions of the nature of reality, and spurious assumptions about the self/world relationship. A common error we make in mainstream thought is to mistake what happens in this culture, which is an insanely destructive machine that is rendering this planet uninhabitable, or what behavior is exhibited in it, to be indicative of human nature or reality in a general sense. My belief is that depression, crime, poverty, addiction, and environmental degradation are phenomena exclusive to this way of modern living- a system based upon exploitation, consumption, and other complex relationships that have emerged to the forefront of human civilization. In fact, in most indigenous groups (at least those have managed to preserve their cultures apart from civilizational contact) most of the aforementioned issues are virtually non-existent. Why is that? It’s a complex issue that is discussed in many beautiful pieces of literature.

I returned to find the entire group in the same spot by the riverbank in high spirits. I slid down headfirst and jumped out to a frozen section of the river, which was padded was thick snow. The sun was slowly being smothered by a heavy pocket of clouds and it was ostensibly certain that the weather was changing and snow was arriving. I lied down on the thick snow ‘island’ and let my muscles and my entire body relax, focusing my awareness on any existing tension and ‘watching’ it dissolve like a sugar cube on a hot stove. The group was silent for about one hour, just being. I stood up intermittently to stretch and get some blood flowing, looking at my pals and just smiling, sensing the inadequacy of words to describe whatever it was I could have desired to share at that moment.

Northeastern University; Researching Consciousness- Reflective Writing #3

It is extraordinarily difficult to describe, define, categorize, quantify, and qualify the vast expanse of infinite vibrations/dimensions of consciousness we experience (or are capable of experiencing); however, the process of ‘stepping back’ or making efforts to ‘be aware’ of these varying levels of consciousness- almost as if subjecting thoughts, feelings, perceptions to their own reflection in a mirror- can give us lucid glimpses into the nature of our understanding of reality. While the psychological disciplines in academia have the tendency (like all disciplines) to compartmentalize and separate things into discrete groups for the convenience of ‘rational study’, the essence of reality isn’t this exclusive. I only make note of this tendency because often we mistake this ‘story’ of distinct groups to be the raw fiber of reality (whatever that is). Anyway, one could fulfill the requirements of this assignment just by simply opening his/her eyes to the infinite complexity of existence- each moment contains within it boundless sensory, emotional, and conceptual phenomena. To be bored is to not be paying attention. Unfortunately, this ‘Western culture’ is usually saturated with so much information, stimuli, and other mechanisms that distract us from paying attention to what is here now. I think that, of the “categories” listed on the assignment sheet, the majority of us experience Conceptual Thoughts, Thinking, Remembering, and Inner Speech/Self-Talk with the most intensity and regularity, mostly because of the surrounding cultural values, patterns, and belief structures. Rarely do we acknowledge our sensations and perceptions of ‘external objects and events’ (Exteroceptions/Interoceptions) as they are, not as they appear to us through cultural filters. Perhaps there is no such thing as ‘pristine reality’, or objects/events not subject to our individual manipulations- perhaps we do truly construct the versions of reality we experience. I feel, however, that we are both creators and products of the universe. Yesterday, I decided to refrain from eating (I drank tea and juice) for 24 hours, which I do sometimes to cleanse, detoxify, or just give my body a break from consumption. I experienced acute pain and aching from the stomach begging for nourishment as well as the corresponding inflation of egoic mental patterns: Thinking/Inner Speech (deciding/planning what I would eat to break the fast, questioning whether I could withstand the intense hunger or if this respite from food was worth anything); Remembering (recollecting prior fasts and anticipating exteroceptions based upon memory of previous experiences, comparing and contrasting different fasts); Emotional Feelings and Conceptual Thoughts (feeling anger in response to the lack of substance in my body [physical pain becomes emotional], categorizing emotions as negative or unhelpful or stupid and the intensification of fictitious polarities [good v. bad, right v. wrong, etc.]). All of these concepts became more evident as I was meditating in Beacon Hill with a group based within a Vietnamese Buddhist Vipassana tradition because there were fewer distractions from my thoughts & feelings as they are/were. Apart from bodily experiences while fasting, meditation always gives me lucid vision/awareness into a state of being outside of “ordinary consciousness”. Sensory perceptions are enhanced and sharpened; the world comes alive and previously hidden features (sights, sounds, colors, reflections, vibrations, etc.) surface in an elegant unveiling of happening. Usually ignored phenomena (breathing, the beating of a heart, the flexing of muscles, the stretching of tissues) become blissful processes of vitality and being as I return my awareness to the body and out of the left side of my brain (where it usually resides in the form of compulsive thinking/analysis). Strong emotional sensations of love, peace, and tranquility emanate out from the abyss and proliferate through my existence and the universe- the previous conception of inhabiting a ‘separate’ self or skin-encapsulated ego is demolished and shattered as I become the universe and it swiftly merges to become me. I believe this state of being is outside of cultural form, ideology, or thought… I call it the ‘rawness of being’, or the ‘bliss of NOW.’

Northeastern University; Researching Consciousness- Reflective Writing #2

The first thing I would like to point out, which James discusses with great eloquence, is the malleability of reality in relation to the lens or filter through which we interpret and comprehend. The importance of James’ fifth ‘character in thought’ cannot be stressed enough, especially in contemporary society in which we often confuse our thoughts to be fundamentally real. I realize this sentence requires some elaboration because the term real- like most of the abstracted symbols and words- is a slippery concept that isn’t yet fully understood by mainstream academia. It’s actually quite a paradox because our thoughts are so real that we forget how much of an influence they have on the so-called ‘external reality’; the pliability/manipulability of our thoughts is quite extraordinary. What I mean to say by ‘confusing our thoughts to be fundamentally real’ is that we continually mistake the exceptional power of our thoughts/beliefs/prejudices to be fixed or intractable, and to have little to do with what is happening ‘outside’ the skin-encapsulated ego. Much of today’s suffering is a result of not being able to reveal the illusory nature of thought, judgment, and assessment. How often do we label things ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘this’, or ‘that’, when the essential beingness of events is, in a certain sense, immune to such limitations of language? The nexus of being is found within the felt experience of raw tactile awareness which, when accessed, enables us to experience the world as a child, free from preconceived notions and culturally programmed beliefs about what it is. In another sense, however, the logos plays an instrumental role in manifesting the belief systems we enact to understand the world. For example, from what I understand, most indigenous groups don’t have words for “should” and “mine”; similarly, while the Inuit have a variety of different terms for snow, tribal societies in the Amazon don’t have any. Going still further, the Piraha of the Brazilian Amazon communicate through language “… unrelated to any other extant tongue, and based on just eight consonants and three vowels. Pirahã has one of the simplest sound systems known. Yet it possesses such a complex array of tones, stresses, and syllable lengths that its speakers can dispense with their vowels and consonants altogether and sing, hum, or whistle conversations.” (Eisenstein; The Ascent of Humanity) Through this ‘original language,’ there is no symbolic abstraction of the universe… the language consists of mainly primal, onomatopoetic sounds that distinguish situations/things/events without quantifying/qualifying them into limiting categories- there is no fragmentation or compartmentalization of the universe. In this way, language comes to define, explain, and manufacture our relationship to the world: implicit in the omission of “should” and “mine” from a language system is the lack of importance placed on ownership (which is simply incomprehensible to most indigenous groups) and expectations (of oneself, of the universe, etc.). Consciousness, as James asserts, is indeed a ‘teeming multiplicity of relations… which is a result of discriminative attention,’ regardless of whether that attention is “conscious” or not. His statement that “no state once gone can recur and be identical with what it was before” dovetails beautifully with recent investigations in quantum mechanics- scientifically-derived realizations about the nature of reality are now converging with those of Eastern spirituality and indigenous awareness… despite its unassailable rationality and logic-based knowledge, science is just now catching up to what shamans and monks have been saying for thousands (if not millions) of years. Each moment is a unique happening in time and space and our experiences are remolding us in each of these moments. Accordingly, there are no separate events because the entirety of existence is an endless flow of the same phenomenon.

Northeastern University; Researching Consciousness- Reflective Writing #1

After reading the statements about consciousness, one significant idea came into my mind which relates directly to how I interpret ‘consciousness’: there seems to be a split between the physical and mental realms when describing and discussing the essence of the word ‘consciousness’. The patient regained consciousness when the anesthetic wore off. In this context, the word is referring exclusively to the physical nature of ‘not being comatose’ or physically inert. The variations of understanding and interpreting reality (my grasp of the word ‘consciousness’) are absent within this definition in the first sentence. I think the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 8th statements correlate with the first in this way; the connotation is one of pure physicality and biology… basically, the inability of the subject to be aware, awake, alert, responsive, and cognizant because of biological causes (lack of oxygen, anesthetics, sleeping, etc.). However, it is important to note that changes of consciousness due to biological responses also alter the ‘waking state consciousness’, or the lens through which one perceives the universe. For instance, being under the influence of an anesthetic certainly changes this lens- not only on a corporeal and somatic level, but also within a mental, emotional, cognitive, psychological context. Similarly, ingesting an entheogen (psychedelic substance) will cause a change in biology that could potentially render someone unresponsive or seemingly absent from this physical, material realm (although the body is indeed present the inner ‘being’ is not), but still present somewhere in the universe (perhaps in an immaterial dimension) experiencing different versions of what is- he/she is employing different mental filters that strain and percolate information into something that individual can comprehend or construe (perhaps feeling that he/she is at ONE with the universe, understanding that all matter is merely vibration condensed in different frequencies, we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, etc.). Consequently, the aforementioned dichotomy/split between ‘physical’ and ‘mental’ realms of consciousness becomes more blurred and ambiguous. The 2nd statement is: You can’t deny that chimpanzees are conscious. What is ‘conscious’ in this context? Is it the definition previously discussed (not inert, alert, or unresponsive)? Is it the idea of the awareness by the mind of itself and the world? Because of this obscurity, it is difficult to pinpoint one, or even a few, concrete definitions of ‘consciousness’. Statement #6 is a good example of this: There couldn’t be art without consciousness. Is this asserting that if one is asleep one literally cannot draw on a piece of paper? Or is it asserting that some uniquely endowed self- and world- awareness is necessary to create a poignant and inspiring painting, as if a rock thrown into a pond and rippling the water in concentric grooves on the surface cannot possibly be art? And the most existentially abstract statement of them all, being conscious is an essential aspect of being human, doesn’t really help any more to construct a working definition of ‘consciousness’. Does ‘an essential aspect’ imply the exclusivity of humans as the sole possessors of consciousness? I assume that in this context the word is referring to being aware of oneself and the world, as the scientific, ethnocentric paradigms of this culture tend to view humanity as an omnipotent species equipped with some divine specialness that isolates it from the rest of the existence. In many indigenous groups, spirit, awareness, or ‘consciousness’ is embodied in all things, all matter… or rather, all matter is spirit. A Gebusi elder would say that ‘being conscious’ is an essential aspect of existing. I think that a lot of our present definitions/understanding of consciousness is impregnated with the value systems of the scientific, materialist cultural values and assumptions that are really fictitious conceptions of reality