The Way of the Holy Mushroom

We come to ceremony for guidance and healing. We are beset by the six modes of suffering on the Wheel of Babylon and want release and relief. We want to break free.

Mostly, people who come are Divas. The first step on the Way therefore is to break free from our Diva Nature. This means that we must let go of everything we think we know and understand. We have been Birds of Appetite for years, but must leave the carcasses we feed on if we are to take flight.

We must leave the mytho-poetic world of our imaginations behind, our favourite stories and dreams, our pet ideas and theories. We must become like little children, poor in spirit, free of thought. We must become mystics.

The second step on the Way is to drop into the body and enter the dragon. We must awaken our living flesh and blood into electric life. We must become shamans.

The third step is to train our warrior spirit, to channel the true power of the peaceful warrior. Not the power of self will and effort but the power of selfless will and effortlessness.

The fourth step is to develop a monk’s simplicity and sufficiency. Like Brother Lawrence we must learn to see the divine beauty shining in all things, especially the humblest, the stones, the leaves, the air.

The fifth step is to deepen our philosophical acuity. The sixth is to remember our divine sovereignty.

The final step is to be a good friend.

“Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”

John 15:15

The Sun of God

Imagine there’s a a sun in the heart of every human being, covered with a thick black blanket. Some people believe in the sun and some people don’t. Those who believe read about it in sacred sun scriptures, which contain special teachings about the sun of God. Each teaching is like a set of coordinates pointing to a specific point on the black sphere. The believers dutifully mark the point on a map. As they progress through the teachings, they collect more and more points on their map and begin to notice connections between them. The rationalist types will find logical connections and the very keen ones will even go to the trouble of developing a philosophical system based on these connections. They might call it “theology”. The non-rationalist types will find correspondences between the points via sympathetic magic. Some will even build a fantastical, poetical system and call it “theosophy”.

Other believers will come along and look at the map and try their best to follow the directions and precepts put there by the map-makers. These are the followers of “exoteric” religion. They are mostly interested in what they should do and how they should behave. The more closely they follow the map, the better they feel about themselves.

But rather than marking, listing, organizing and mapping the original sacred teachings into a system, there are those believers who just receive the teachings as they are given. You could say they “meditate” on them, reading them with a special attitude of receptive attention called “lectio divina”. Often they get a vague sense of what the teaching is really pointing to, but occasionally, the penny drops, they experience an epiphany, a “eureka” moment, and a hole is opened in the blanket. Light shines through the blanket, like a star in the night sky.

These are the followers of “esoteric religion”. They do not claim credit for this “shining through”. They understand that they were just in the right place at the right time. They are blessed with each revelation through an act of mysterious grace from beyond. They were in a sacred place, and a holy word tore a hole in the blanket of the heart.

First one star, then two, then eventually, as they continue to study and meditate on the sacred scriptures, hundreds begin to shine. Now instead of points on a two-dimensional map, they can see the actual contours, and the shape and size of the sun plotted in three dimensions, not through inferential, deductive reason or creative imagination, but with their own eyes. A sun made of stars.

These believers, who can see the sun, can see the organic relations between each of the “stars” and intuit the simple whole of which they are expressions. They are the “holy men” and “holy women”, who have direct access to the divine, and have developed the faculty of divination, which is the ability to see and experience the holy in the real world.

It can happen that the holes are big enough and numerous enough that a tipping point is reached (often triggered by a psychedelic blast) and the sun bursts through and burns up the blanket completely. These are not just holy men and women. These are the “suns of God”.

“I heard the voice of Jesus say,

‘I am this dark world’s Light;

Look unto me, thy morn shall rise,

And all thy days be bright:’

I looked to Jesus, and I found

In him my Star, my Sun;

And in that light of life I’ll walk

Till travelling days are done.”

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 you literally 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 in the right hemisphere, and the more suspended 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 right hemisphere connectedness back into left hemisphere control, 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)

Trust and respect

Transformative, deep psychological change is only possible in therapy where there is a solid therapeutic alliance between therapist and client. And a solid therapeutic alliance is only possible where there is trust and respect.

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

But please remember: no matter how difficult or challenging your experience, you are developing, at the very least, strength and stamina, patience and courage.

There is no such thing as a bad trip where there is trust and respect.

Trust the holy mushroom.

Trust yourself.

Trust the process.

Trust the setting.

Trust the music.

Trust the guide.

Trust God.

Cosmic Vertigo

The secret of the art of getting properly high is fearlessness.

Be not afraid.

But what if you suffer an attack of cosmic vertigo?

What if you discover that you’re afraid of heights?

The fact is, you are afraid.

You are afraid of losing control.

You are afraid of losing your mind.

You are afraid of dying.

These are the three great fears.

They are deep and powerful.

You can’t just ignore them.

So what to do?

It helps to remember why you came here.

Remember:

You came here to “let go and let God”,

to surrender your controlling ego.

You came here to “lose your mind and come to your senses”,

to silence your monkey mind,

to find the peace that passes all understanding.

You came here to “die before ye die”,

to experience ego death,

to let yourself die and be born again.

Remember:

“he that loses his life for my sake shall find it.”

Be not afraid.

Don’t give in to your fear.

Your fear will tell you to make it stop,

to get off the train,

to smash the glass

and pull the emergency cord.

You fear will tell you to slam on the breaks

and throw a spanner in the works.

But it won’t stop.

You’re on a magical mystery tour,

you’ve got a ticket to ride

on the Cosmic Express

and you’re not the driver.

The train will stop when it runs out of steam,

not a second before.

So relax and enjoy the ride.

It’s okay.

Everything if fine.

Relax.

Breathe.

Comfort yourself.

Self-soothe.

Smile.

It’s okay.

If you must be afraid,

fear God.

Fear God, and you will fear nothing else.

And the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Alone

Sometimes one needs to be alone with one’s thoughts.

Sometimes one needs to be alone without one’s thoughts.

When you take a trip to heaven, for example.

If your mind is crowded with thoughts,

memories, images, voices,

you are not alone.

And only the alone can fly to the Alone.

The Alone is the All One.

The way to the All One,

the way, the truth and the life,

is through a cloud of forgetting

and a cloud of unknowing.

But to reach the clouds

you must lighten your load

and throw off your ballast

in zazen, or centering prayer.

This is kenosis,

Dogen’s “bodymind dropped”.

Kenosis is the art of self-emptying,

of emptying oneself of all thoughts,

feelings, desires,

of becoming like an uncarved block

or dead ashes.

This no-mind is Buddha Mind;

This Buddha Mind is the mind of Christ.

Remember:

No one comes to the Father but through Me.

Check Your Narcissism

The Wheel of Babylon (see the Home page) is really a schematic map of narcissism in the broadest sense. Each of the six ego states is a manifestation of narcissism in response to different environmental triggers and stressors. There are overt and covert, assertive and insecure, extrovert and introvert forms of narcissism, all of which are founded on excessive self-interest and self-concern, which itself arises out of unacknowledged existential anxiety.

Until we overcome our existential anxiety and give up our self-concern, we are doomed to live the life of a narcissist and to be surrounded by narcissists. However much we may normalize this, and rationalize it, even build sociological and economic theories around it, we cannot evade the existential despair it subsists on, what Kierkegaard calls “the sickness unto death”. In effect, narcissism is this sickness unto death.

The only escape from narcissism is to take the leap of faith off the Wheel of Babylon altogether, and to eat from the Tree of Life (see the Home page). “Absolute faith”, as Tillich calls it, has the power to remove your soul from the soil of Babylon to the limitless sea of spiritual possibility. However, as soon as you claim the power and the faith as your own, you become a spiritual narcissist, and find yourself right back where you started, on the Wheel of Babylon, in the Diva position. This explains why Jesus admonished the apostles to say, “We are unprofitable servants”.

“And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.

And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?

And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?

Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.

So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

Luke 17: 5-10

Faith Healing

According to Paul Tillich, faith is not just the antidote to doubt and meaninglessness, but to the existential anxiety produced by doubt and meaninglessness. He also argues that other sources of existential anxiety, such as guilt and condemnation, and fate and death, can only be overcome through faith.

Tillich makes a distinction between ordinary anxiety, “pathological anxiety”, and existential anxiety. Existential anxiety is ultimately at the root of all particular, neurotic, pathological anxieties, and whereas a certain amount of faith can assuage these, we need “absolute faith” to deal with the deeper, underlying anxiety.

Chronic anxiety is well understood to produce both mental and physical problems, through stress hormones such as cortisol, for example. And existential anxiety is by its very nature chronic. It is an underlying dis-ease, something akin, perhaps, to the suffering that the Buddha spoke about, dukkha.

This chronic, existential anxiety and suffering is usually pushed into the unconscious, below the level of awareness. It manifests itself in fits and starts through anxious thoughts and feelings, but also somatically, primarily through muscular tension. The physical discomfort can become quite unbearable and debilitating, experienced in its acute phases as a “pain body” (Eckhart Tolle).

Tolle makes the point that the central Christian image of a suffering man on a cross resonates with many people because it so powerfully represents the existential condition of the pain body. The Christian belief that Christ can take away the pain, that he has magical healing power to take away “the sins of the world” as well as the pain that goes with it, obviously requires a leap of faith.

But if absolute faith is the antidote to existential anxiety, which is the underlying cause of the pain body, then faith heals. And absolute faith in the saving grace of Christ heals.

“For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.

But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.”

Matthew 9: 21-22

Love and Will

A loving person will participate in and enjoy, give and receive, love in the form of storge, philia and eros, that is, affection, friendship and romantic love.

A moral person will act according to the moral demands of care vs harm, fairness vs cheating, authority vs subversion, loyalty vs betrayal, sanctity vs desecration and liberty vs oppression.

A moral, loving person, particularly one sensitive to the vital energy and force of love and will, would be perfectly justified in considering themselves “spiritual” as a token of their moral and loving nature. In a census, if they happen not to have any determinate religious faith, they would probably tick the box marked SBNR, that is, spiritual but not religious.

But what is “religious” exactly? According to non-religious people, a religious person is someone who assents to and abides by the particular set of predetermined rules and propositions established by some or other organised religion, who joins in their rituals and festivals and who perhaps engages in some of the recommended spiritual practices.

This is how it looks from the outside. For some people, how it looks is basically how it is.

However, a genuinely religious person, one with a living faith, which is to say, one who lives, moves, and has their being in the presence of the numinous and the holy, is something else besides.

A spiritual but not religious person, whatever their purported spiritual beliefs, will value human love and will (including love and will directed towards the non-human). The love of plants and animals, and of nature in general, is not just a casual aside, of course. It is precisely this love and sense of moral obligation which prompts SBNRs to consider themselves “spiritual” in the first place, since it transcends the merely human. Love of the natural world distinguishes them from the “un-spiritual” masses, who only seem to care for themselves and other humans like them.

Consequently, the implicit spirituality of SBNRs will in most cases find its explicit expression in some form of nature religion, whether neo-pagan, animistic, pan-indigenous, or New Age.

This is not something that can or should be sneered at or taken lightly. It provides a genuine spiritual core of meaning, purpose, kindness, love, compassion and good will towards all sentient beings, itself clearly a powerful force for good in the world.

But it is not religious. A religious person is oriented not towards human love and will, but towards divine love and will, love of God and obedience to God.

As C.S. Lewis argued, and as I have argued elsewhere (eg. in Hollywood Love Confusion), there is a love above and beyond storge, philia and eros. This is the love of God, agape. Similarly, there is a moral foundation above and beyond the six described by Jonathan Haidt (in The Righteous Mind). This is obedience vs rebellion.

The Bible, for example, can be read as one long, sustained meditation, over many centuries, on the activity of the love of God on a portion of humanity and of that portion of humanity’s obedience vs rebellion against it. The alignment of human love and will to the divine love and will are the sole or primary focus of the religious, who therefore says, with the Shema Yisrael, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your might”, and with the Pater Noster, “Thy will be done”.

The three human loves and the six moral foundations listed above are, for the religious, contained within the one transcendent rule of the love of God and obedience to God. Human love and will are not ignored or discarded, but taken up in a holy embrace.

Moral, loving people, spiritual, sensitive, intelligent, educated though they may be, cannot understand this. It takes faith. And it seems that people either have it or they don’t.

Which is why it is much easier to answer negatively to the question, “are you religious?” than to the question, “are you spiritual?” Ideological reasons aside (apart from militant atheists and scientific materialists basically) everyone likes to think of themselves as spiritual to some degree. Everyone feels the pull of love and good will. But everyone also knows, deep down, that the mysterious category of the holy is the exclusive preserve of religious experience. The love of God and the will of God are alien concepts to the non-religious, even distasteful ones. So it’s easy to say “no”.

The leap of faith is a leap too far for most people, especially for modern, post-Enlightenment, post-Christian people, even if they do encounter the numinous, in powerful psychedelic experiences for example. But it has ever been thus:

“And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,

Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:

For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”

Acts 28: 25-27