Angels in Babylon

Those who are called to the spiritual life are called to be angels in Babylon. Once you understand and accept that the world is in thrall to all sorts of deception and malevolence, and that human beings are continuously possessed by Diva, Demon, Victim, Addict, Muppet and Muggle spirits, you realise that all you can hope for is to be a light in the darkness.

Don’t be discouraged or depressed. Don’t be disappointed. If you dream of Sion, you will feel homeless in Babylon. Look to yourself and do your bit. The angels will guide us to the Promised Land, even if it takes hundreds and thousands of years. In the meantime, as much as is in your power, be an angel.

Grow your wings and spend time in Heaven. Remember that time is elastic – an hour in Heaven is like a year on Earth. But remember also that you are here to help. The treasures you are given in Heaven are a gift to people on Earth. Bring back peace, love, goodness, beauty, truth, consciousness and bliss. That’s all you can do.

Seek Ye First the Tao

If you understand the Trinity, you understand everything there is to know about spiritual cognition. Take three famous trinities:

Father, Son, Holy Spirit

Parashiva, Shiva, Shakti

Tao, Yang, Yin

In ordinary, non-spiritual cognition, we are aware of the phenomenal world as it presents itself to us seemingly arbitrarily, almost passively. This is the “third person” of each of these trinities, the Holy Spirit, Shakti and Yin. However, because we apprehend the “shining forth” of phenomena from the outside, so to speak, as surface, there is very little shining and very little holiness. There is just “objective reality”.

When we become self-aware and self-reflective, we start to realise that the world doesn’t present itself to us randomly or passively, because our attention and attitude powerfully effect the way the world discloses itself to us. The world is not (as Empiricists like John Locke thought) just independently out there to be discovered, but neither is it a blank canvas on which we project ourselves (as Romantics like Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought).

Rather, we co-create our worlds out of the continuous activity of “relevance realisation”. Out of the infinite potential of experience, we consciously (and unconsciously) pick out what is relevant to us. We are not passive agents, but intentionally directed towards the world through active attention, which is the “second person”, Yang, Shiva, Son.

The more philosophically and psychologically literate you are, the more agency you have, and the less you are a passive victim of events, blown like a reed by the winds of fortune. You are the helmsman of your ship and a master of the sea. This is what empowering therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy aim for, and why “positive thinking” is such a constant in the Potential Movement. Our “subjective” psychological attitude has a real effect on how the “objective” world around us manifests.

This is as far as it goes for most people. However, the more spiritually minded among us seem to have a sense of a mysterious something beyond and behind both the phenomenal world and our consciousness of it. This is usually experienced as a vague spiritual background noise, something like the background radiation of the universe, sometimes expressed in terms of Energy, or Mind, or God. It is also referred to as “the Ground of Being”.

Parashiva refers to the light of consciousness beyond the horizon of our individual Shiva consciousness. Logically speaking, there could be no intentional consciousness, that is, consciousness of something, without it (see chapter 34 of my book, What’s Behind the Wall?).

But there is also the inexhaustible “moreness of things” as reality simultaneously discloses itself and withdraws itself. We never apprehend objects in their entirety. We can never grasp the ever-elusive, ever-receding “thing in itself”, because there is always the “thing beyond itself”. The “veiling of Shakti” is also part of the mystery beyond the horizon of our world. It is also part of Parashiva, although we might more accurately call it “Parashakti”.

The “first person” of the Trinity, the Father, Parashiva or the Tao, refers to the transcendent Consciousness-beyond-consciousness and World-beyond-world. This is what is commonly referred to as “God”. It constitutes a background sense of numinous divinity for religious people, but is largely abstract and mostly invisible to non-religious people. But what would it be like if it were actually foregrounded? What would it be like to live in “the presence of God”, as Brother Lawrence put it?

It would be to experience the world as the mystics experience it, as a Trinity:

Father, Son, Holy Spirit

Parashiva, Shiva, Shakti

Tao, Yang, Yin.

Seek ye first the Tao and its righteousness (Te), and all these things (Yin-Yang), shining forth (Qi), shall be added unto you.

The Wise Cultivation of Enlightenment

If you are lucky enough to have had a taste of enlightenment, you will know that it is a radically different state of being compared to our ordinary state of consciousness. You will also know how difficult it is to recreate. As the adult is to the child, so is the sage to the adult. Just as a toddler can have no clear conception of what adult cognition is like, so will an adult struggle to understand what enlightened cognition is. Even if you do have a special insight it, the fact is that to stabilize it requires a lifetime of careful work and significant psycho-spiritual development.

The quest for enlightenment, like the quest for the holy grail, can lead you down some perilous paths and a plethora of dead ends, some heaped with the bones and skulls of those that went before. If you are serious about spiritual enlightenment therefore, you had better work out a Wise Way, a way that is viable and reliable.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to spiritual transformation. There are many factors at play in each individual’s specific personal and cultural context which open certain avenues and close others. We must all make do with what we’ve got and where we are. Not all of us were born into an aristocratic family in medieval Japan, for example. But we should all aspire to a wise cultivation of enlightenment using all the resources and possibilities at our disposal. If you lived next to Westminster Cathedral, for example, it would surely be churlish, if not foolish, not to attend services there.

So anyway, this is what I have come up with as a Wise Way. It works for me, and hopefully it works for others too.

This Way can be visualized as four concentric circles. At the centre is a mantra. Then comes Zen, then Christianity, then Shamanism. The mantra covers a surprising amount of ground and actually relates to all the essential elements in Shamanism, Christianity and Zen. I won’t try to unpack it here, as it is endlessly generative and “combinatorially explosive”, and I’ve already teased out some of the main associations and implications in my book and in many of the blogs on this website. Here it is again:

Remember God

Parashiva Shiva Shakti

Amun Ra Atum Ka Ba Gaia Jah

Mystic Shaman Warrior Monk Philosopher King Friend

Peace Love Goodness Beauty Truth Consciousness Bliss

This is the core practice, based on the principle of Sati, or remembering. Beyond this is the Zen practice of “direct pointing to Reality outside the scriptures”, based on mindfulness and presence. Beyond this is the comprehensive and inexhaustible legacy of the Christian tradition, rooted of course in the person of Christ and his memorial in the Gospels and the Mass. Finally, supporting and powerfully amplifying these three core elements is the sacred use of psychedelics.

I think it is also important to include a fifth circle, which provides a useful source of theoretical grounding for the practice. And for this I am indebted to John Vervaeke and others involved in the development of 3rd generation 4E cognitive science, which is a wonderful complement to Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis model and other more recent transpersonal psychologies. The best place to start if you want to learn about cognitive science and get a handle on what he would call “the machinery of enlightenment” is Vervaeke’s YouTube series of lectures, Awakening from the Meaning Crisis, where he lays out a fascinating naturalistic, scientific account of wisdom, virtue and enlightenment.

The essential point of Shamanic Christian Zen as a spiritual path is that it is as comprehensive and holistic as possible, while at the same time managing to maintain a clear inner coherence and identity. I have suggested a schematic model of the various elements at play as concentric circles: the mantra at the centre, then Zen, Christianity, psychedelics and cognitive science. A clearer and more comprehensive schema, however, is provided by the seven archetypes included in the mantra, which function as “divine doubles” (see Vervaeke on Corbin).

Using the archetypes, we can draw the concentric circles in the following way: Mysticism at the core, followed by Shamanism/Psychedelics, Martial Arts/Dance, Religion, Philosophy/Psychology/Cognitive Science, and some as yet undefined Mastery, Spiritual Friendship and Communitas.

Or to keep things simple:

Mysticism

Shamanism

Religion

Philosophy

Psychology

Nb. Most of you will probably want to skip the “Religion” layer, especially if it’s the Christian religion, because of our powerful and pervasive Western anti-religious secular cultural training, which is absolutely fine by me. (You can always put it back later! ;))

Soma Flow, Body Flow, Mind Flow

As every spiritual practitioner knows, it’s no good just reading endless books and learning all the theory under the sun. You need to actually do it, not just think about it. The map is not the territory.

A cognitive scientific way of saying the same thing (courtesy of John Vervaeke) is that real transformation is only possible if you move beyond the propositional level of knowing to the procedural, the perspectival and the participatory. These four levels of knowing can be applied to any of the archetypes on the Cross of Enlightenment (see the Home Page). For example, you can learn about shamanism (propositional knowledge), you can engage in shamanic rituals (procedural knowledge), you can take the shamanic perspective and you can find your shamanic mojo or flow.

The first stage (propositional) is theoretical and the second stage (procedural) is practical. You are learning about shamanism and practicing it. The third and fourth stages are different. At this level, you begin to embody shamanism to the point where you have the perspective of a shaman can actually consider yourself to be a shaman. The fourth stage of participatory flow is where you discover your shamanic power and become, not just a shaman, but a powerful shaman.

The Cross of Enlightenment is divided into three lines: the Mystic Shaman line, the Warrior Monk line and the Philosopher King line. Although each of these six archetypes has its own qualities and characteristics, we can also consider them as acting within three broad arenas, which we might call “the spiritual”, “the physical” and “the mental” arenas.

In psychedelic work, we begin with the spiritual, which involves intense meditative techniques that transcend the habitual patterns of discriminative thought. This frees us to “enter the dragon” and experience the inner workings of our energetic, somatic system. The Mystic Shaman therefore aims at a state of “soma flow”, which points both to the flow of the exogenous psychoactive Soma (the psychedelic “food of the gods”) throughout the bodymind, and the free flow of our endogenous psychosomatic life force within us.

As the experience abates in intensity, we return to the physical plane and begin to move and be moved by the body in the spontaneous martial art and dance moves of the Warrior Monk. This stage typically includes drumming and/or live or recorded music. This is the “body flow” stage.

Finally, we enter the Philosopher King stage of contemplative reflection, insight and insight cascades. This is the “mind flow” stage. The profound insights received at this stage feed back into the 4P system by providing us with improved and updated propositional knowledge, which deepens our subsequent procedural, perspectival and participatory knowledge. And on we go, “going, going, going on beyond, always going on beyond, always becoming Buddha”, always awakening to an ever deeper, inexhaustible reality, “world without end”.

My Proposition

Note: For a proper understanding of this blog, you should watch Episode 37 of Awakening from the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke (on YouTube) and ideally the previous 36 episodes as well.

The convergence of my work with Vervaeke’s is so striking that I can’t let it go unacknowledged. Watching his series has been enormously gratifying and encouraging for me. In Episode 37, entitled “Reverse Engineering Enlightenment: Part 2”, he begins to build a practical response to the “perennial problems” besetting human beings. These problems are the result of the self-deceptive and self-destructive patterns of behaviour that arise as a consequence of the adaptive machinery of relevance realization gone awry. And his solutions are incredibly similar to mine.

The first of these is the perennial problem of “parasitic processing”, a term which captures the way in which ordinary healthy psychological functioning is vulnerable to distortion by a superimposed dynamic self-organising system. This dysfunctional system is characterised by positive feedback loops of negative rumination, creating a whole host of cognitive distortions and negative biases.

Vervaeke points out that an intervention anywhere in the system is as good as useless, since the system, being self-organising, will simply reconfigure itself around the change and continue as before. What he advocates for instead, is an alternative system to counteract the parasitic one. He uses the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path as an example of an integrated system whose cultivation can counteract and eventually prevail over parasitic processing. The eight practices are specifically designed to overturn the wrong thinking of the “deluded” mind.

On the Pachananda Home Page you will find a depiction of two contrasting systems, the “Wheel of Babylon” based on the Tibetan Wheel of Life (the Bhavachakra) and the “Cross of Enlightenment”, which is its antithesis and antidote. In my book and blogs, I make exactly the same case as Vervaeke. The whole system must be abandoned and a new one created in its place. This is expressed in the Christian tradition as dying to the “old man” and being born again as a “new man”. It is a radical change of orientation, not simply an exercise in damage limitation and disaster management.

The idea is to withdraw energy and attention from the six worlds of the Wheel of Babylon and enter into a completely different agent-arena relationship. The Wheel of Babylon represents six dysfunctional personality types, but also six different ego states we all slip in and out of all the time, although we will tend to gravitate to one over the others. Yesterday, just for fun, I imagined what the UK population distribution might be for these six types: Divas are naturally 1%. Demons are also about 1%. Victims and Addicts are probably about 10% each. Muggles are around 50%, which means that 27.9% are Muppets.

What about the other 0.1%? This is reserved for those who have stepped off the Wheel altogether and are established on an alternative non-parasitic counter-system, such as the Cross of Enlightenment. The first position on the Cross is the Mystic, so the implication is that 0.1% of the population are at least mystics, if not quite shamans, etc. When I’m feeling pessimistic, I think it’s probably far less than that!

Anyway, to continue with Vervaeke’s “perennial problems”. The next problem in the functional group is the problem of “modal confusion”, which is to do with the confusion between the having mode and the being mode (see Erich Fromm’s To Have or To Be). The logical solution is to develop ways to remember the being mode. In the Buddhist tradition, this existential self-remembering is called Sati. (Self-Remembering is also central to the Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way). I have written at length about remembering and forgetting and pointed to various remembering techniques, for example the Parashiva – Shiva -Shakti mantra.

Parashiva is the inexhaustible transcendence beyond all horizons of sense and cognition, including the near horizon, which is “nearer to us than our jugular vein”, the ever-receding “I-I”. Shiva is the light of consciousness and Shakti is the illuminated objects of consciousness.

Third in the functional group, the reflective gap is dealt with by cultivating flow between immersion and detachment. This flexible flow state is represented in the Cross of Enlightenment by the Warrior and Monk archetypes.

The structural group of problems are absurdity, anxiety and alienation. Vervaeke’s answer to absurdity (which he defines as a “perspective clash”) is to practice scaling down and scaling up through a kind of perspectival accordion, moving through wider and wider perspectives and reconciling them together, ultimately achieving a simultaneous nondual view from above and below. He quotes Meister Eckhart’s famous saying that “the eye with which you see God is the same as that with which He sees you” (see chapter 3 of my book, The Gateless Gate).

This hierarchy of perspectival knowing and being is what I call “The Ray of Creation”. It is akin the traditional “Great Chain of Being” but consistent with our current scientific understanding of complex emergence. (If you’re interested in the science, see Andrew P. Smith’s The Dimensions of Experience: A Natural History of Consciousness). The seven levels of the Ray of Creation are: Emptiness (Amun), Energy (Ra), Matter (Atum), Life (Ka), Mind (Ba), Global and Universal Consciousness (Gaia and Jah). The mantra is rooted in the body, with each mantra corresponding to one of the seven chakras (see chapter 9 of my book, Seven Gods, and chapter 13, The Chakras).

I also deal with the anxiety resulting from the inner conflict of warring subpersonalities in the same way. Vervaeke mentions the Jungian technique of Active Imagination and the internalisation of “the Sage”. My training in Psychosynthesis introduced me to Guided Visualisation and dialoguing between our “inner actors” and making contact with “the Wise Being”. The whole business of integrating the conflicted and dissociated parts of the psyche was Assagioli’s specialty. And the internalisation of religious archetypes such as Jesus and Buddha gives an added power to these techniques.

The alienation problem can only really be addressed by participating in communitas, that is, being part of a genuine community, and specifically a spiritual community or sangha, dedicated to the spiritual development of its members. This is also something I am working towards.

The developmental group of perennial problems have to do with existential entrapment, arising from existential inertia and existential ignorance. Vervaeke’s proposed solution is gnosis, or deep insight. I completely agree. This is where the psychedelics come in. Although nothing is guaranteed, these powerful psychotechnologies do have an extraordinary capacity to break people out of their existential prisons.

In short, my proposal is Shamanic Christian Zen. It offers cogent and effective responses to the perennial problems and a powerful solution to the meaning crisis.

Small Symbolic World Networks

A small world network is a network which has achieved an optimal balance between efficiency and resiliency. It is neither too regular (and so low in efficiency with a high average number of degrees of separation between nodes) or too random (and so low in resiliency with a high chance of disintegration).

A small symbolic world network is a highly integrated but flexible system of symbols, which gives it enormous potential transformative power. However, this potential is only actualized through participatory engagement. The symbols have to be “held in mind” in order to activate the primordial structures of relevance realization with which they are associated.

The most powerful small symbolic world networks are what we call “religions”, which include sacred myths, rituals and art, where sacredness is understood as the numinous quality of the intrinsically revelatory self-disclosing nature of a symbolic world. Religions can thus be understood as virtual symbolic engines designed to stretch the boundaries of self and world in a mutually reinforcing process of expansion and transcendence.

“The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.”

Tao Te Ching – verse 4

The Primordial

If you take a psychedelic when you’re in an ordinary state of consciousness, you will most likely have a classic psychedelic trip with all the frills and thrills, a crazy kaleidoscopic electric kool-aid acid mind bending trip to the moon. There will be tangerine trees and marmelade skies etc. etc.

This is not what Shamanic Christian Zen is about. We do use psychedelic plant medicines, but with an important difference: we don’t take them in an ordinary state of consciousness, we pre-alter our consciousness.

In the ordinary state of consciousness (OSC) the mind is functioning on the semantic, linguistic level. You think in terms of words and images, which frame reality in a particular way, according to your ego structure and personal history. Taking a psychedelic in this state is like “shaking the snow globe” or shaking a self-portrait made with powdered paints. Thoughts and images fly in all directions.

In Shamanic Christian Zen, the idea is to reach a deeper, more primordial state of consciousness below the semantic level. This pre-linguistic, pre-egoic, pre-conceptual state of basic “relevance realization” can only be reached by moving beyond the discriminating mind (manas) in deep meditation. It means fundamentally giving up the will to knowledge and accepting the essential mystery of existence.

To practice Shamanic Christian Zen, you must therefore become a mystic. You must learn how to disrupt your habitual mental framing and enter a radically altered state of consciousness (ASC) beyond thought. You must learn how to sink below the agitated waves of discriminatory thinking to the quiet depths of simple primordial awareness.

Then, when the psychedelic begins to take effect, you can fully “enter the dragon” coiled at the base of the “tree of life”. Learning how to ride the dragon and then how to be the dragon is what shamanic training is all about. First you become a mystic, then you become a dragon-shaman.

As I’ve discussed in some recent posts, from the altered states of the MYSTIC SHAMAN we move to the flow states of the WARRIOR MONK and then to the insight states of the PHILOSOPHER KING. But it is important to understand that it all proceeds from the primordial root at “the still point of the turning world”. This is the essence of Shamanic Christian Zen.

The Meaning of Football

After watching the 2021 Euro Cup Final between England and Italy and witnessing the tragic penalty shootout in a pub garden in Islington, I went with a friend to get some provisions from the Turkish shop down the road. There were other football fans there somewhat aimlessly milling about and I overheard one young lad in an England shirt say, “I can’t see the point of living any more”.

I don’t think he actually took his life that fateful night and I don’t know if anyone else did. But it did get me thinking about the meaning of football. What’s going on? Isn’t it “just a game”? Obviously not!

I’ve been thinking a lot about what John Vervaeke calls “The Meaning Crisis”. His claim is that people in modern Western societies have lost a sense of meaning in life, with a whole host of negative consequences and related crises, such as the mental health crisis, the opioid crisis, the obesity crisis and even the environmental crisis.

He makes a strong argument to the effect that meaning is closely associated with what he calls “Relevance Realization”, which is the ability to identify relevant information in any given situation. This is also obviously connected to the ability to be a general problem solver (G.P.S.) and thus to general intelligence.

What’s that got to do with football? Bear with me!

Optimal relevance realization is when your theoretical construct, insight or idea has strong convergence (many lines of supporting evidence or argumentation), making it trustworthy, while also having strong elegance (many lines of applicability and explanatory power, or “multi-aptness”), making it interesting.

What if your theory is high in convergence but low in elegance? Then it’s true but trivial. It doesn’t explain much beyond itself. What if your theory is low in convergence but high in elegance? Then it’s far-fetched. The former set of theories and ideas are trivial and boring. The latter set are interesting but far-fetched – the stuff of conspiracy theories.

So what? What about the football? Hang on!

If we put triviality at one end of a relevance spectrum and far-fetchedness at the other end, with optimal relevance realization bang in the middle, like this:

TRIVIALITY ———————— RELEVANCE REALIZATION ———————— FAR-FETCHEDNESS

we can more easily see where we can and can’t find existentially satisfying meaning.

On the triviality end, there is very low entropy – information is highly ordered – which means that there isn’t much meaning. At the extreme, everything is meaningless, a state of mind experienced by people with severe clinical depression.

On the far-fetched end, there is high entropy – information is chaotic and things easily fly apart – which means that there is too much meaning. At the extreme, this results in psychotic and paranoid delusional states of consciousness, where everything is pregnant with meaning and esoteric significance.

In the Wheel of Babylon model, these two ends of the relevance spectrum are represented by two archetypes, the Muggle and the Muppet:

MUGGLE ———————– RELEVANCE REALIZATION ———————– MUPPET

The Muggle archetype is associated with narrow-mindedness and triviality. The Muppet archetype is associated with careless thinking and far-fetchedness. Muggle culture tends towards the conservative and conformist, circling around well-worn patterns of thought and behaviour, whereas Muppet culture tends towards the revolutionary and counter-cultural, rejecting established modes of being in favour of wildly creative flights of fancy.

But as I pointed out, there is no satisfying intrinsic meaning at either pole. So where do Muggles and Muppets find meaning? In victory. They are both motivated by philia nikea, the love of victory. This is because when there is no intrinsic satisfying existential meaning (there is either too little or too much meaning-making), you end up with a meaning crisis, and the meaning associated with power, success and victory promises to plug the gap. The motivating factor in both cases, then, is the desire to be Top Dog.

The Top Dog is at the top of the Muggle or Muppet status hierarchy. In the Wheel of Babylon model, this is called the Diva. Part of the meaning of football, then, is “the love of victory”. Just like in a war, we want our team or our country to come out victorious by defeating all opposition. The same logic obviously applies to other situations where there is a competitive arena or competitive market. For example, doing well at school and achieving success in a career.

By winning a competition like the Euros, we obtain the emotional rewards of achieving Diva status. We are the champions. This provides us with a powerful sense of meaning in life. (Presumably Italians woke up this morning with a stronger sense of meaningfulness than English people). When we lose, especially when we have defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, it feels as if life has been drained of meaning. We feel depressed and “can’t see the point of living any more”.

If you base the meaning of your life on philia nikea, you will be continually haunted by the meaning crisis. You can’t always win. You can’t always be Top Dog. And even if you are one of the “lucky few” and manage to secure your position at the top of the heap, power, success, fame and fortune cannot deeply satisfy your need for existential meaning.

But football is not just about the winning. It’s also about the taking part (to roll out the parental cliche). Football is “the beautiful game” and it is the appreciation of this beauty, of the skill, intelligence, athleticism and elegance of the players working together in harmony, that we can glimpse the deeper meaning of football. The Arsenal F.C. motto, victoria concordia crescit, or “victory through harmony”, nicely brings both meanings together.

The “harmony” side of the equation is related to the idea of “flow”. When you are in flow, or “in the zone”, that’s when you play beautiful football. And we can appreciate the graceful beauty of this state as spectators, both in the flow of individual players and in the collective flow of the team as a whole. When the players are in harmony with each other and within themselves, they can enter the flow state, where real football magic becomes possible. Which also, as a side-effect, means that they have a greater chance of winning.

So as well as the love of victory, there is the love of flow. In Ancient Greek, this is philia rheo. (A rheophile is an organism that prefers to live in flowing water).

If we turn back to the work of John Vervaeke, we can see that a defining characteristic of the flow state is precisely relevance realization. This is experienced as an intuitive grasp of the right thing to do and the right way to do it, via a kind of body intelligence. Vervaeke also points out that flow states are experienced as profoundly meaningful. The more often and more deeply you can enter a flow state, the more you will experience your life as meaningful. And this is a more satisfying source of meaning than the meaning derived from nikea.

As well as the physical flow state achieved in competitive sports like football or tennis (Novak Djokovic won the Wimbledon men’s final, notching up his twentieth Grand Slam and creating a triumvarate of joint record-holders with Nadal and Federer on the same day that Italy won the Euros), there is the mental flow state of “insight cascades”. This is a state of deep understanding beyond mere logic, which is neither trivial nor far-fetched. It is the essence of relevance realization, of what we call “wisdom”.

So as well as the love of victory, philia nikea, and the love of flow, philia rheo, there is the love of wisdom, philia sophia, from which we derive the word “philosophy”.

The only kind of meaning available to Muggles and Muppets beyond the trivial and the far-fetched is the meaning that comes with the pursuit and achievement of victory, which is the drive to Divahood, or “the will to power”, as Nietzsche called it. But as we begin to release ourselves from the hold of philia nikea and to pursue philia rheo and philia sophia instead, our lives become oriented along a different dimension of value, where flow and wisdom become more important and meaningful than victory.

By optimising our relevance realization, therefore, we create the possibility of connecting more deeply with the body through flow states and with the mind through insight states. These states are often experienced as higher states of consciousness, typically described in spiritual and mystical terms. Considering that they are closely related to radical self-transcendence, this should be unsurprising.

Psychedelics work by disrupting the habitual meaning-making machinery of the Muggle and Muppet systems and facilitating a state of flow and insight. This is not automatic, however. If the underlying motivation is still philia nikea, the movement towards flow and insight will be sabotaged by egocentric obsession with victory. This is why the spiritual-therapeutic use of psychedelics should be accompanied by the cultivation of philea rheo and philia sophia.

This insight provides us with a simple heuristic for assessing people’s suitability for psychedelic work. If you don’t care much for football (or for music or dance) and you don’t know much about Socrates, Plato or Aristotle (or Buddhism), then you probably don’t have much love of flow or love of wisdom and you will struggle to achieve the necessary relevance realization needed to deepen your connection with life and meaning.

The sacred meaning of psychedelics is to be found in the interplay between altered states, flow states and insight states made possible through relevance realization. (These three states are represented in my model by the MYSTIC SHAMAN, WARRIOR MONK and PHILOSOPHER KING archetypes). The true meaning of football is similarly to be found in these states, and in the victory of rheosophia over nikea, not just “victory through harmony” but genuine “harmony over victory”.

The Two Taboos

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you shouldn’t talk about politics or religion at dinner parties because you might end up having a flaming row, especially after a few drinks. Why is that? Because in the West we are embroiled in two culture wars: one between science and religion and the other between progressivism and conservatism. And these two culture wars have been raging for centuries.

We can map these two interminable struggles onto the Muggle-Muppet axis of the Wheel of Life (or “Wheel of Babylon”). The anti-religion science camp views the anti-science religion camp as a bunch of irrational Muppets and the anti-science religion camp views the anti-religion science camp as insensitive Muggles. The anti-preogressive conservatives regard the anti-conservative progressives as irrational Muppets and the anti-conservative progressives regard the anti-progressive conservatives as insensitive Muggles.

The funny thing is that the antagonists in each culture war find allies in the other culture war, but they are on the opposite pole of the Muggle-Muppet axis. The “Science Muggles” are allied with the “Progressive Muppets” and the “Conservative Muggles” are allied with the “Religious Muppets”. In the US, where both culture wars have reached fever pitch, I have heard the former alliance referred to as “The Blue Church”. People on the “right” talk about “red-pilling” people on the “left” (a reference to the film The Matrix), so we might as well call them “The Red Church”. (Blue and red are the colours of the Democrat and Republican parties respectively).

Political centrists of both persuasions – centre left and centre right – are not involved in the culture war. The same is true of religious centrists – agnostics and non-fundamentalist religious people. At least they needn’t be. The problem is that more and more people in the centre are being affected by the reactionary and revolutionary fire of the extremes. Centrists on both sides of the religious and political aisles increasingly feel that the centre is at risk and must be defended against the encroachment of the radicals of the other side. Some are balanced enough to see that the risk is from both sides.

Both “The Blue Church” and “The Red Church” represent unstable alliances between Muggles and Muppets. This exacerbates the culture wars further, by adding the fuel of civil war into the mix. There is tension and distrust between the Science camp and the Progressive camp and between the Religious camp and the Conservative camp. Often it seems that they are united only in virtue of their common enemy: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

On the other hand, the Muggles and Muppets balance each other out. On the plus side, this means that the extremism is checked, so that it doesn’t devolve into outright madness and violence. On the minus side, it means that the two Churches achieve a level of stability that allows them to survive and even thrive. And so the two culture wars rumble on.

The Hole at the Centre of the Meaning Crisis

What shape is the hole at the centre of the Meaning Crisis? In his lecture series Awakening from the Meaning Crisis, John Vervaeke zeroes in on the idea of “relevance realization”, which he argues is at the heart of intelligence, insight, general problem solving, connectedness, meaning and wisdom. A wise person, after all, is someone who can see the relevant information in any given situation without getting side-tracked by the irrelevant details.

Is the hole at the centre of the Meaning Crisis “relevance realization”-shaped? Does this mean we have lost the ability to deeply ascertain what is most meaningful in our lives? That we have lost the capacity to realize relevance? I would say yes and yes. Because these are ultimately the same thing. Although not synonymous, meaningfulness realization and relevance realization are obviously closely related. But what is behind this loss of relevance and meaning?

I think the simple religious answer is right: the hole at the centre of the Meaning Crisis is a God-shaped hole. God is the only thing that can ground and organise reality in a satisfyingly meaningful and relevant way. There is nothing more convergent or elegant than God. There is nothing more “multi-apt”. All things ultimately flow into God and flow out of God.

God is One. All things flow to and from the One (Plotinus). So within the One there is the Many. The One is also Three and the Three is also Seven. To remember the One God is also to remember the Triune God and the Sevenfold God. This is what the “God Mantra” does. It is a psychotechnology for remembering the fullness of God. Using the Christian Trinity, we can formulate it as follows:

God the Father = Parashiva

God the Son = Shiva

God the Holy Spirit = Shakti

This the first mantra, Parashiva Shiva Shakti. But the other three mantras are also associated with the Trinity:

God the Father = Amun Ra Atum Ka Ba Gaia Jah

God the Son = Mystic Shaman Warrior Monk Philosopher King Friend

God the Holy Spirit = Peace Love Goodness Beauty Truth Consciousness Bliss

When you remember the fullness of God at the heart of Reality, you fill the hole at the heart of the Meaning Crisis, and your relevance realization cognitive machinery starts working smoothly again.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Matthew 6:33

However, if you are a non-theist and don’t care much for God-talk, you might prefer to call the fullness at the heart of Reality something like “optimal relevance realization”, which you could equate with spiritual “enlightenment” or “awakening”, in which case awakening is itself the solution to the Meaning Crisis, which I guess is Vervaeke’s point. Either way, whether you call it “God” or “Awakening”, as I said in my blog The Way Out, you are in a room without a roof and the only way is up.