The Metta Sutra

This is what should be done by the man who is wise, who seeks the good and who knows the meaning of the place of peace.

Let him be strenuous, upright, and truly straight, without conceit of self, easily contented and joyous, free of cares; let him not be submerged by the things of the world; let him not take upon himself the burden of worldly goods; let his senses be controlled; let him be wise but not puffed up, and let him not desire great possessions even for his family. Let him do nothing that is mean or that the wise would reprove.

May all beings be happy and at their ease! May they be joyous and live in safety!

From The Metta Sutra

Trust and Respect

Deep, transformative psychotherapy is impossible without a therapeutic alliance between therapist and client. And a solid therapeutic alliance is impossible without trust and respect.

The same is true of psychedelics. If you don’t trust and respect the mushroom, you won’t get very far. And you may get badly burned.

Trust and respect the holy mushroom.

Trust and respect the guide.

Trust and respect the spiritual traditions.

Trust and respect yourself.

This is true faith. And faith moves mountains.

The ABC of Psychedelic Integration

What’s the point of having a deep psychedelic experience if you can’t integrate it into your everyday life? But then again, as Marc Bolan sang, “life’s a gas”. At the end of the day, it’s all experience, isn’t it? Art for Art’s sake and all that. Not everything has to have a point.

If nothing else, we can learn to appreciate the wonder of present lived experience on psychedelics without looking to exploit it for utilitarian ends. We can learn the art of flow. And there are subtle ways, below the threshold of conscious awareness, in which these mysterious compounds change us, almost imperceptibly, from the inside out. In the aftermath, we may sense a curious shift in our outlook and demeanor that we can’t quite put our finger on.

However, for those who want to reap the abundant fruit of the psychedelic experience, there is the added dimension of conscious integration. This conscious integration can be described in three steps: gnosis, pistis and kenosis.

When people in the psychedelic community talk about integration, they usually mean something like, “absorbing and applying the insights gained from the altered state”. This has two main components: one philosophical, the other psychological.

First, there are ontological and epistemological questions of reality and worldview, our pictures of reality. We typically see the world through the filters of deep-seated assumptions and beliefs, inherited for the most part from our family and culture, but also individually constructed through reflection and inquiry. These will be to varying degrees challenged and/or confirmed by the insights arising from the psychedelic experience.

Second, there are personal questions relating to the self in isolation and in relation to significant others. Who we are, who other people are, and what our relationships are, are also questions that challenge our assumptions and beliefs. If we hold negative self-beliefs which limit us in particular ways or make us anxious or depressed, for example, powerful, compelling insights which explode these personal stories have clear psychotherapeutic value.

Human beings are of course story-telling animals. We can’t really live without stories. But the stories we tell about ourselves and the world can be endlessly refined and updated, enabling us to live by more positive, helpful stories as well as more truthful ones, ones that fit better with the reality that reveals itself to us in moments of clarity and insight, those “spots of time” that afford us a glimpse into the heart of Truth.

The process of revising and refining our pictures of reality is what I call pistis. It takes a lot of careful thought and mental effort. It usually involves some form of study, reading, discussion, etc., perhaps with a therapist, perhaps with a mentor or tutor, perhaps with a partner, perhaps with friends. We find our way in artfully and skillfully adapting our working models of reality to accommodate our new insights.

If we don’t do this, the insights are simply forgotten. They evaporate and disappear into the ether (“life’s a gas”). However, if we do it rashly or clumsily, we end up confusing ourselves and constructing a mental Frankenstein’s monster. We may adopt bizarre beliefs and superstitions and turn into a woolly-headed hippy. Or we may cling to certain apparently inalienable revealed verities and turn fundamentalist. Either way, we are not integrated. We have start thinking outside the muggle box only to find that we are now thinking inside a muppet box.

When people in the psychedelic community talk about integration, they usually mean good pistis. This is certainly an important part of it. However, there’s not much scope for good pistis without good gnosis (revelatory insight). If you don’t have the insights, what exactly are you integrating?

For good gnosis, we need both quality and quantity. Plenty of good insights. Both the quality and the quantity of our insights would appear to be outside of our conscious control (and they are), but they can be encouraged and facilitated through the conscious application of a third element, kenosis.

Kenosis means “self-emptying”. It implies the suspension of our assumptions and beliefs, but also of the habitual use of all our human faculties of perception and cognition. Insight comes most powerfully when you clear a space for it. Kenosis is “space-clearing”. It is really the same thing as Zen (or Cha’an or Dhyana), which really just means “meditation”.

So good integration depends on three things: good meditation (kenosis), good insight (gnosis) and good re-appraisal of life, the universe and everything (pistis). It should also be noted that the integration process is not a one-off thing that ends when the insights gained in the psychedelic experience are exhausted. Insights don’t stop once you’ve come down from the revelatory summits of your trip. If you nurture them through good pistis and kenosis, they just keep on coming.

If done right, the integration cycle following a profound psychedelic experience typically lasts for a few weeks. But the effects last a lifetime.

The Hardest Lesson

The hardest lesson and the greatest gift of the psychedelic experience is to “lose your mind and come to your senses”. This doesn’t mean that have no mind (except in the Zen Buddhist sense of mu-shin) but that your centre of awareness shifts from the left brain hemisphere to the right hemisphere. If you don’t know what the significance of this is, please read Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

Left hemisphere activity is basically linguistic and rational. This is where we are when we try to make sense of the world and control it by fitting it into a system of mental concepts and categories. In many contexts, in society at large, this works fine. On psychedelics, this is a sure recipe for a bad trip.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is within”: whether you are in a blissful heavenly realm or a tormented hellish realm, you are in the spiritual dimension, the “Kingdom of Heaven”. The psychedelic vision quest is an inner spiritual journey and the battle is an inner spiritual battle. The more centred the right hemisphere, and the more surrendered the left, the better things will go for you.

As soon as your rational mind, through fear, decides to put a stop to the trip and to come out of the Kingdom, to take control, to get things back to normal, to “go home”, the cogs of left hemisphere madness begin to spin. And the more you try to control the experience, the more out of control it gets.

The classic psychedelics, ayahuasca, peyote, magic mushrooms, LSD, DMT, are powerful sacred medicines. They are spiritual, not mental, agents of self-discovery. If you allow your rational ego to take the reins, if you get up and leave your assigned position in the ceremony hall, if you break the sacred circle, you will suffer the consequences. What you are actually doing in pulling yourself out of the sacred space of the inner “Kingdom of Heaven” is wrenching your consciousness out of the right hemisphere back to the left hemisphere, which feels safer, because more familiar. The familiar, habitual mental world system of the left hemisphere is “home”. And you want to go home.

But you’re not in Kansas any more, and there’s no going home for the duration of the trip. Either you follow the yellow brick road, or you lose your mind in the psychiatric sense. And if you’re not careful, and you get trapped in the hall of mirrors that is the dissociated left hemisphere, you might just end up calling a mental institution “home”.

The hardest lesson is to let go, to let go of your desire to control everything and have your way, to let go of your ego, to let go of your own little kingdom. And the greatest gift is the boundless freedom, joy and peace that this endless letting go confers on the buffeted soul.

“Give over thine own willing, give over thine own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything.” (Isaac Pennington)

Education for Love

“Our aim ought to be to teach and impress the reality of Spirit, its regnancy in human life, whilst the mind is alert and supple: and so to teach and impress it, that it is woven into the stuff of the mental and moral life and cannot seriously be injured by the hostile criticisms of the rationalist. Remember that the prime object of education is the moulding of the unconscious and instinctive nature, the home of habit. If we can give this the desired tendency and tone of feeling, we can trust the rational mind to find good reasons with which to reinforce its attitudes and preferences. …

Did we know our business we surely ought to be able to ensure in our young people a steady and harmonious spiritual growth. The ‘conversion’ or psychic convulsion which is sometimes regarded as an essential preliminary of any vivid awakening of the spiritual consciousness is really a tribute exacted by our wrong educational methods. It is a proof that we have allowed the plastic creature confided to us, to harden in the wrong shape. But if, side by side, and in the simplest language, we teach the conceptions: first, of God as the transcendent yet indwelling Spirit of love, of beauty, and of power; next, of man’s constant dependence on Him and possible contact with His nature in that arduous and loving act of attention which is the essence of prayer; last, of unselfish work and fellowship as the necessary expressions of human ideals – then, I think, we may hope to lay the foundations of a balanced and a wholesome life, in which man’s various faculties work together for good, and his vigorous instinctive life is directed to the highest ends.”

Evelyn Underhill

Relax!

When we were little children, we couldn’t tell the difference between goodness and obedience and badness and disobedience. If we were “good” it was because we did what we were told. If we were “bad” it was because we didn’t.

The problem with being a good little boy or a good little girl soon became apparent when we crossed paths with less good boys and girls. Because the “bad” boys and girls discover a very useful secret: you can tell good boys and girls what to do! they are so obedient!

The result of this discovery is covert or overt bullying. The victims either suffer in silence like good little victims or else they learn to stand up for themselves, which means that they learn to be disobedient. They learn how to say “No”.

Those who can’t say “No” are used and abused by others. We generally find out this basic fact early in life. Then we find that we can say “No” to a huge variety of things. Perhaps we are like those rebellious types who say “No” to practically everything. No-one dares take advantage of us or tell us what to do.

It’s good to be a bit of a rebel. You are more self-reliant and independent and people don’t mess with you. However, there is a sting in the tail of disobedience. After years of habitual rebelliousness and disobedience, you realize that not only do you struggle to follow the instructions of those who are trying to help you, but you can’t even obey yourself.

“Relax!” you say to yourself.

“No!” you reply.

Some people struggle more with “Yes” and some more with “No”. And sometimes you just don’t know when to say “Yes” and when to say “No”, or you can’t let your “Yea” be “Yea,” and your “Nay,” “Nay.”

In theological terms, the best way (Te) to live is simple: say “Yes” to God and “No” to the Whisperer.

A skeptic might retort, “Yeah but your instructions to yourself that you think of as coming from god are just the internalization of things you’ve read in your holy books!”

“Exactly!”

Be still and know that you are God.

To Integrate or To Be Integrated

There is much talk in psychedelic circles about preparation and integration. You should prepare yourself and your environment beforehand so that you have the right set and setting for a good trip. You should integrate the experience into your life so that you can grow and mature spiritually and psychologically.

That’s all well and good for a moderate experience. But breakthrough experiences are different. The tables are turned. Instead of integrating the psychedelic vision into your ordinary life, you feel compelled to integrate your ordinary life into the psychedelic vision. This is precisely what Saint Augustine was getting at in relation to the Eucharist (the body of Christ) when he said:

I heard Thy voice from on high: “I am the food of grown men: grow and you shall eat Me. And you shall not change Me into yourself as bodily food, but into Me you shall be changed.”

This is the difference between the psycho-therapeutic approach to psychedelics, seeking wholeness, and the spiritual approach, seeking holiness. Do you change the mushroom into yourself like bodily food, or do you change yourself into the mushroom spirit?

And what is the Mushroom Spirit but the Holy Spirit? And what is the Holy Spirit but God? And what is the man or woman changed by the Holy Spirit but a Son or Daughter of God? (This explains the Trinity).

“The world is not saved by evolution but by incarnation. The more deeply we enter into prayer the more certain we become of this. Nothing can redeem the lower and bring it back to health, but a life-giving incursion from the higher; a manifestation of the already present Reality. ‘I came forth from the Father and came into the world’: and this perpetual advent – the response of the eternal Agape to Eros in his need – is the true coming into time of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Pentecostal energy and splendour is present to glorify every living thing: and sometimes our love reaches the level at which it sees this as a present fact and the actual is transfigured by the real.”

Evelyn Underhill

Holy, Holy, Holy

When you realize that the psychedelic experience is holy and sacred, you treat it with respect and trust. You treat it with reverence. When you take a high dose, you are on holy ground. So you are very careful. Careful to be quiet, careful to pay attention. Careful to behave yourself. This is true sacred ceremony. Your left brain gives up the reins and your right brain takes the lead. The experience is whole and holy. If the left brain refuses to surrender, the experience is fragmented and frightening.

The “first holy” is the psychedelic experience with the right brain is in charge. This is why we meditate in preparation for the trip. The “second holy” is religion with the right brain in charge. When the left brain is in charge, religion is absurd, whether you are religious or not. If you are religious, you embrace the absurdity; if you are atheist, you reject it. Either way, it is not holy. The holiness of religion – the scriptures, the music, the art, the ritual, – is only experienced as holy when the right brain is in charge.

The “third holy” is everything. Life. Every moment of existence. Again, this sense of the holiness of everything is only possible when the right brain is in charge. But how to surrender the comforting control of the left brain hemisphere in everyday life? How to give up the picture of reality in exchange for reality itself? Reality is too scary. It’s too real. Anything might happen.

It’s very difficult to leave the safe houses of the left hemisphere. It takes faith. But where can we find this faith? In the “first holy”, faithful surrender to the holy mushroom, and in the “second holy”, faithful surrender to religion.

When you train yourself in right brain dominance through sacred psychedelic ceremonies and religious study, worship, prayer, meditation, etc., when it comes to being right brain dominant in the rest of your life, it’s not so difficult. It’s just one more step. The “third holy”. The third leap of faith.

When you have faith, you can let go and be here now. You can stand firmly in the right brain hemisphere, in direct, unmediated, open zen awareness. Only then, with the third holy, with the three holies of psychedelics (gnosis), religion (pistis) and zen (kenosis), are you truly a holy man or holy woman. You are whole and holy indeed when the rightful Master, the deposed King, the crucified God, is returned to the throne. You are a child of God in the kingdom of Heaven.

Shamanic Hippy Paganism

The default mode for the ceremonial use of psychedelics is hippy paganism, or shamanic hippy paganism. This approach circles around three principal elements: Nature, Story and Ritual. The spiritual core is nature mysticism or nature worship, which in modern times has taken on a certain political urgency, as it has inevitably been coupled to the environmentalist movement.

This spiritual core can be further subdivided into Nature, the Body and the Feminine (although the men have rightly insisted on also including the Masculine). The idea is that modern Westerners are chronically dissociated from Nature, the Body and their Feminine/Masculine essence and need to reconnect in order to restore the lost balance and harmony of natural man and woman. This is done primarily through Story and Ritual.

Story can be subdivided into Myth, Fairy Tale and Poetry/Song. The favoured stories are naturally folkloric (or “indigenous”) and the favoured music is traditionally folk music (or “world music”), with a lot of drumming. The main themes revolve around ideas of connection to and disconnection from Nature and/or Tradition, with the accompanying tinge of joy and sadness. A nostalgic, pining mood is evoked by the psychodrama of exile and home-coming.

Ritual can be subdivided into rituals of Time, Place and Magic. Time rituals are related to seasonal festivals (such as Beltane or Sukkot). Place rituals are related to specific places and natural features (particular forest glades, river crossings, mountain views). Magical rituals conjure up the latent esoteric energies within Nature for the purpose of healing, divination, etc.

The Pagan Hippy ceremonial use of psychedelics can be very powerful and very beautiful. Participants invariably come away from the ceremonies feeling more connected to each other, to the natural world, to their own bodies and to their femininity or masculinity. To a greater or lesser extent, Shamanic Hippy Paganism does actually deliver. Which is wonderful, as far as it goes.

But there is more to psychedelics than is dreamed of in hippy philosophy. There is more gnosis, more pistis, more kenosis. There is a deeper vision, deeper knowledge, deeper surrender. Part of the problem, I suppose, is the result of a kind of unacknowledged, unconscious “class war” attitude. Hippy paganism is a folk religion, a grass-roots, oral tradition of stories and songs around the camp fire. Its acolytes typically define themselves in opposition to establishment elitist religion.

In her book, The Origins of Early Christian Literature: Contextualizing the New Testament within Greco-Roman Literary Culture, Robyn Faith Walsh argues that the gospels were written not by illiterate peasants in Judea but by highly educated Roman elites conversant with Greek philosophy and literature. It may be that the gospels were the products of early Christian mystery schools. It may even be, if Carl Ruck and Brian Muraresku are to be believed, that they were all drinking a psychedelic spiked wine sacrament, as they almost certainly did at Eleusis.

In England, the study of the Bible and Classics (and of Latin and Greek) have, since Victorian times at least, been associated with public schools and the upper classes, the cultural and economic elites of our time. The rejection of this rich Western canon by pagan hippies is largely a consequence of class consciousness, combined with the often fervent belief that these works (especially the Bible) are largely to blame for all the ills of the modern world.

This is a self-limiting belief. The antipathy between folk religion and elitist religion helps no-one. For the psychedelic spiritual renaissance to truly take hold and move beyond the Sixties, we need to reach across the ideological divide and make friends. Or at least love our enemies.

Ultimately, what is kenosis but surrender to the mystery of Being (Nature or God)? What is gnosis but a beatific vision afforded by the ritual use of psychedelics? What is pistis but the living faith of our sacred stories made flesh?

In pagan terms, connection to Nature depends on kenosis, effective Ritual depends on gnosis and transformative Stories depend on pistis. The key, however, is not to become attached to Nature, Ritual and Story (even “the greatest story ever told”), or our culturally specific understanding of them, and thereby turn them into idols, but to hold instead to the underlying activity of the eternal cycle of kenosis, gnosis and pistis.

“For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

2 Corinthians 3:6

Love Your Enemies

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Matthew 5: 43-45

The good people among you might protest, “but I don’t have any enemies!” It certainly appears to be the case that in modern polite society enemies are rather thin on the ground and only the very unlucky or the very irascible actually have any. But for a spiritually sensitive person, though it might sound like a rather severe case of paranoia, enemies are literally everywhere.

C.S. Lewis famously wrote that being a Christian was like being parachuted into enemy-occupied territory: “Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” (Mere Christianity)

So who is the enemy? A Christian might say, “the world, the flesh and the devil”. But then what exactly are “the world, the flesh and the devil”, and if we knew, could or should we love them?

Obviously you can’t love your enemy unless you know your enemy. And you can’t know your enemy if you think everyone is your friend. Again the good people will protest, “but good people should see the good in everyone!” From a spiritual point of view, this is dangerously naive.

From a spiritual point of view, your enemy is anyone who who knocks you off course, lures you off the path, steers you away from God, steals your soul. The archetypal Biblical enemy is of course the serpent in the garden of Eden who tempts Adam and Eve with the promise of god-like status if only they disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. But in modern polite society, it’s not always so easy to spot serpents.

Know your enemy. On the Wheel of Babylon (see the Home Page) there are six “enemies”: Diva, Demon, Victim, Addict, Muppet, Muggle. These are really six subpersonalities which arise in consciousness under certain conditions in response to certain triggers. We express them through the prism of our particular personalities when we identify with them in characteristic Diva, Demon, Victim, Addict, Muppet or Muggle thought, word and deed. These are the psycho-spiritual enemies we must contend with every day if we are to make any spiritual progress.

With discipline and practice, it is possible to recognise the tell-tale signs of these subpersonalities, disidentify from them and stop acting them out. At the same time, we can develop a sensitive radar to recognise them in others, perhaps most especially in our nearest and dearest friends, family and partners. When we see how the people around us are periodically possessed by these six spirits of Babylon, we see that we are in fact in enemy-occupied territory, that we are beset by enemies on all sides.

Spiritually speaking, we are exiles in Babylon. Day and night we are working with the enemy, drinking with the enemy, sleeping with the enemy. Very occasionally we may come across a Mystic, Shaman, Warrior, Monk or Nun, Philosopher, King or Queen, but these are rare encounters. The sad truth is that, although we may believe the converse, we actually have many more enemies than friends.

When Jesus said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26), he didn’t mean that you should hate yourself and your family, but that you should know that the people in your life are your enemies, and that you are your own enemy, perhaps even your worst enemy.

Know your enemies, but love them, otherwise you will make your life and theirs a misery. Love your enemies, bless them, do good to them, pray for them. Because hate gets you nowhere – hating on serpents, whether those within you or without you, only poisons you with their poison. Love is the cure. Love is the drug. Love is the bruiser of the serpent’s head.

“‘The fruit of the Spirit,’ says St. Paul, ‘is Love, Joy, Peace, Long-Suffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Meekness, Temperance’ – all the things the world most needs. … I do not think St. Paul arranged his list of the fruits of the Spirit in a casual order. They represent a progressive series from one point, and that one point is Love, the living, eternal seed from which all grow. We all know that Christians are baptized ‘into a life summed up in love,’ even though we have to spend the rest of our lives learning how to do it. Love, therefore, is the budding-point from which all the rest come: that tender, cherishing attitude; that unlimited self-forgetfulness, generosity and kindness which is the attitude of God to all His creatures; and so must be the attitude towards them which His Spirit brings forth in us. … To be unloving is to be out of touch with God. So the generous, cherishing, Divine Love, the indiscriminate delight in others, just or unjust, must be our model too. To come down to brass tacks, God loves the horrid man at the fish shop, and the tiresome woman in the next flat, and the disappointing Vicar … and the contractor who has cut down the row of trees we loved, to build a row of revolting bungalows. God loves, not tolerates, these wayward, half-grown, self-centred spirits, and seeks without ceasing to draw them into His love. And the first-fruit of His indwelling presence, the first sign that we are on His side, and He on ours, must be at least a tiny bud of this Charity breaking the hard and rigid outline of our life.”

Evelyn Underhill