Pray Without Ceasing

How it works is a mystery, but what is beyond dispute is that there is both upward causation and downward causation. Alter the structure of your brain by ingesting a psychoactive compound such as psilocybin and your consciousness changes. Alter the state of your consciousness by thinking certain thoughts and the structure of your brain changes.

The brain is like an instrument and the mind is like music. The kind of music you can play is constrained by the physical limitations of the instrument. However, unlike a physical instrument made of wood or brass, the brain is malleable and plastic. It is constantly morphing into different neural configurations. This means that the “music” you play on it actually changes the “instrument” it is played on. This is downward causation, or “mind over matter”.

The most direct and powerful types of upward causation (excepting brain disease and injury) are effected by psychedelics. The most powerful types of downward causation are produced by meditation and prayer. Put a Tibetan monk in a brain scanner and you will see extraordinary changes in the activity and structure of his brain as he enters into higher stages of meditation.

Psychedelics cause temporary changes in human brain structure and consciousness, ranging from a few minutes to twelve hours or more. A magic mushroom trip (psilocybin) lasts around six hours, but peaks at around two hours. Meditation and prayer also cause temporary changes in human consciousness and brain structure. With continued and repeated practice, however, these temporary states can become established in mind and brain as permanent traits.

This is why St. Paul exhorts his followers to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). But what is prayer exactly? The simplest and most straightforward definition of prayer is the turning of the mind towards God, captured in the Greek word metanoia, which is often translated as “repentance”, but which literally means something like “a turning about in the seat of consciousness”. A nice image to illustrate this turning about is the sunflower’s heliotropic movement to face the sun.

How can we do this? Most simply and straightforwardly, by remembering God. But what or who is God? Maybe we don’t believe in God. Either way, do we really know what it is we do or don’t believe in? Does it even matter? At the minimum, the word “God” refers to some kind of unity. Neo-Platonists would point to “the One”. SBNR (spiritual but not religious) people usually plump for something like “Nature” or “the Universe”. The Jewish Shema Prayer has set down for all time the fundamental declaration of the radical unity at the heart of monotheism: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

To remember God is to bring this “One” to mind. We can do this by simply repeating the word “God” or “Lord” or even “the One” as a mantra. If we are drawn to the Indian tradition, we can repeat the word “Aum” or “Ram”. By this simple movement of the mind away from the multiplicity of world and ego and towards the unity of God, we find stillness and a kind of unified consciousness of the mind.

This metanoia or turning to God in all simplicity is beautifully illustrated in “the practice of the presence of God” of the lay Carmelite monk Brother Lawrence. It is such an easy practice, it is easily overlooked by our proud egos, which prefer something clever and difficult to do. Brother Lawrence was uneducated and illiterate and worked in the kitchen. But he had deep understanding and he had deep faith. It is precisely because this practice of the presence of God is so easy, that it is so hard. It requires too much faith for people of little faith like us.

We can make the unity of God more intellectually satisfying, and perhaps easier for our clever egos to swallow, by noticing that there are actually three principles involved. The apparent unity is actually a trinity. This is expressed in the Christian tradition as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but it also appears in other traditions as Sat, Chit, Ananda or Parashiva, Shiva, Shakti. This “Three-in-One” allows for a dynamic interaction between the transcendent, immanent and incarnate principles of reality, connecting Being and Becoming, the One and the Many, Heaven and Earth.

We can break this down further into seven principles, Amun, Ra, Atum, Ka, Ba, Gaia, Jah, which I won’t go into here (chapter fourteen of my book The Confessions of a Psychedelic Christian, “The Presence of God”, explains how the Seven are contained in the Three and the Three in the One). This may sound terribly esoteric but it is actually quite straightforward. The basic point I am trying to put across here is that by recourse to the One, the Three and the Seven, it is in fact possible to pray without ceasing, and in so doing, to conform ourselves to the body and mind of Christ.

Lord

Parashiva-Shiva-Shakti

Amun-Ra-Atum-Ka-Ba-Gaia-Jah

Apocalypse

The Greek word apokálypsis doesn’t mean “the end of the world”; it means “the unveiling”. The Latin translation is revelatio, where velum means “veil”: to re-veal something is to un-veil it. The last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, is an unveiling, an apocalypse.

The psychedelic apocalypse is the unveiling of heaven and earth. This is the meaning of Noah’s nakedness:

“And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.”

Genesis 9:21

But his sons Shem and Japheth covered him up again. Why? Not out of prudishness, but because, as T.S. Eliot put it, “humankind cannot bear very much reality”. Humankind cannot live unveiled, apocalyptically. We need the veil. We need the blue pill.

But which veil? Do we need to cover our heads at all times? Do we need to grow beards? Do we need to follow a complex velum (from Proto-Indo-European weg, “to weave a web”) and clothe ourselves from head to foot with laws and customs? Laws and customs enshrined in our holy Torah for example? Do we need “Tradition”? But which tradition?

What is the best kind of veil? A black, completely opaque veil shows nothing at all of that which it covers. A completely transparent one shows everything, and is no veil at all. The best veil is semi-transparent; it both hides and reveals:

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part but then shall I know even as I am known.”

1 Corinthians 13:12

To see “face to face” is to see the apocalyptic vision, as was revealed to Arjuna by Krishna:

“In your own body, Lord, I see the gods

And hosts of creatures, every kind of thing:

The Lord Brahma upon his lotus seat,

The seers of old and serpents of the skies.

I see you, Lord, so infinite in form;

On every side I see your myriad arms,

Your bellies, mouths and eyes; there is no end,

No place where you begin, nor one between.

O Lord of every form, O Lord Supreme,

Adorned with crowns, with club and discus armed,

A radiant mass of universal light,

Of blazing fire and bright effulgent Suns,

My eyes can barely see your boundless might.

O Lord Supreme, O Lord, immutable,

You who alone are worthy to be known,

Safe refuge of the world, and guardian Prince

Of that eternal Law that governs all,

You are, I deem, the ancient Soul of Man.

As I behold you, infinite in power,

Alpha and Omega of all that is,

With Sun and Moon for eyes and mighty arms

Commanding every side, I see your face

Blazing with purest fire, warming the world

With your benevolence. From heaven to earth

You fill each mote of air and part of space.”

Bhagavad Gita, chapter 11

In the psychedelic apocalypse, the Vision of the Universal Form is un-veiled and then re-veiled. Sometimes you can almost physically see the veil descending once again as the vision fades. But the thickness of the veil determines the thickness of the cloud of forgetting. A tissue-thin veil can easily be pulled aside, prompting another remembering and another apocalypse. A heavy dark cloth can cover the blinding effulgence and unbearable beams of love for countless aeons.

What is your veil? What is your religion? When was your last apocalypse? When will your next be?

“Veiling and Unveiling, Remembering and Forgetting;

Breath of God, Spirit of Life.”

The revelation of Jesus Christ was an apocalypse. What then is the post-apocalyptic veil that covers up this unveiling? Not the thick veil of the law, but the thin veil of faith:

“For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God”

Galatians 2: 19-20

“But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”

Galatians 3: 23-26

The veil that Christianity proposes is the minimal veil possible for humankind: the veil of faith.

The Way, the Truth and the Life

The only freedom from the games within games and identities within identities that is eXistenZ is base reality: the Pure Land in the mind of Buddha or the kingdom of God in the mind of Christ. “For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Christ is the way out of virtual reality, the World Saviour.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.”

John 14:6

The Pilgrimage


The Celts

The crisp light of early morn

Was the dawning of hope and pride,

When aloft by youthful vigour borne

I mounted my colt astride.

Shield and buckler strapped I tight,

And provisions for the journey fastened;

So with one glance at the face of my lady bright

Upon my shield emblazoned,

I took the reins and westward hastened.

*

Aldebaran

Along the way, I know not how,

My horse’s hooves struck air not ground,

And soon the Pleiades and Plough

Appeared with shimmering sound;

And stars like diamonds all around,

Shining a path of ghostly sheen,

Drew us on like a mote of dust

Caught in a silver beam;

And naught could I do but trust.

*

I Want Tomorrow

In the castle gardens’ shade

She sings a plaintive song

Of longings that ne’er do fade:

“May the morrow may not tarry long,

For endless days drag on forever

‘Til her love arrive

Her heart’s bonds to sever;

And ere she die,

Her soul to kiss alive.”

*

The March of the Celts

Down to Earth we journey on,

I and my bewildered steed.

The way is hard, the light is gone,

But still my heart doth lead,

Across the moor, across the sea,

To the beat of an ancient drum,

The beat of the heart of life;

And round about the insects hum

To the sound of a distant fife.

*

Deireadh an Tuath

Mists of the damp earth rise

Wreathing ghostly forms,

Spirits long dead but wise,

Free from life’s cruel storms.

Rather than curse, they bless,

And denuded of worldly care,

With gentleness they caress

Those who close enough dare

Stop and stare.

*

The Sun in the Stream

The parting clouds reveal

A fulsome light,

Hyperion’s golden wheel,

Welcome to my sight

After such auguries of night.

The sun in the stream

Gladdens the heart

And sweetens the dream

Of which it is part.

*

To go Beyond (I)

And from across a sea

Of swirling dreams

The lilting melody

(Or so it seems)

Of a beautiful maiden

Lightens the load

With which I am laden

And paves the road

To her fair abode.

*

Fairytale

Out of the music box

Of childhood, an old tune,

Like a lullaby, rocks

To sleep the drowsy moon.

But all too soon

The years steal upon us,

Filling innocent minds

With thoughts that wrong us:

Thoughts unkind

Forge ties that bind.

*

Epona

Up ahead the horse goddess,

Riding on the winds of the north,

Comes down for a rest,

And spying us, sets forth

To set us this test:

“Whether it be best

To wed an immortal soul in death

Or a mortal soul in life?”

Ere I can take a breath,

My horse replies, “vielleicht”,

And takes the goddess to wife.

*

St. Patrick

So now on foot went I,

With shield, buckler and spear,

‘Til I came, by and by,

Upon a chapel drear,

All bereft of charm or cheer.

But entering in, a choir

Of heavenly angels did sing,

Which, like a moving fire,

To my tired soul gave wing.

*

Cú Chulainn

Thus refreshed, I marched on

Through the driving rain;

All fear was gone –

I was the hero Cú Chulainn.

No bandits or robbers could assail

A warrior so brave;

They surely must all fail,

As with a double-edged wave

I’d send them to an early grave.

*

Oisin

Through rain and fog

I fought, nail and tooth,

And came at last to Tir na n Og,

The land of perpetual youth.

Three hundred years in truth

Were but three days there,

And when I returned again

(With a sprightly young mare)

I had stayed ten.

*

Portrait (Out of the Blue)

The picture on my shield,

As though washed away with tears,

Was faded and peeled –

It had been a thousand years!

Could it be that my lady was dead?

Could it be true?

But another portrait appeared in its stead,

Of even more beautiful hue,

Out of the blue.

*

Boadicea

But where were the forest vales?

Into the distance stretched miles of sand,

Like in the Arabian tales;

The green fields were a narrow band,

Everywhere else desolate and wasteland.

I rode across the desert plain,

The like I had never seen,

And imagined what grief and pain

Must have befallen Boadicea queen.

*

Bard dance

From the bitter tears that fell

Upon the parchèd ground

There formed a bardic spell

That spread for miles around.

The grass sprang up lush and lean,

The strong trees pushed up hard,

And all decked in green

And spangle-starred,

Danced the magical bard.

*

Dan y Dŵr

By the shore

I found me a boat

Fast moored,

And setting it afloat,

Cast off across the moat.

Beneath the waters

That I troubled,

The memories of sons and daughters

Bubbled.

*

To go Beyond (II)

Down wafted the maiden’s song

From the castle on high.

The journey was long

And the years had slipped by;

Though it may wink, time never lies.

I climbed the grassy knoll

With flowers in my arms;

I heard a bell toll,

There, where she sleeps, safe from harm.

Absolute Faith

As Paul Tillich makes clear in The Courage to Be, we all suffer from the existential anxiety of guilt and condemnation, doubt and meaninglessness, fate and death.

Relax.

Be not afraid.

Go with the flow

And walk with God.

On Trust in the Heart

The Perfect Way is only difficult for those who pick and choose;

Do not like, do not dislike; all will then be clear.

Make a hairbreadth difference, and Heaven and Earth are set apart;

If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against.

The struggle between ‘for’ and ‘against’ is the mind’s worst disease;

While the deep meaning is misunderstood, it is useless to meditate on Rest.

It is blank and featureless as space; it has no ‘too little’ or ‘too much’;

Only because we take and reject does it seem to us not to be so.

Do not chase after Entanglements as though they were real things,

Do not try to drive pain away by pretending that it is not real;

Pain, if you seek serenity in Oneness, will vanish of its own accord.

Stop all movement in order to get rest, and rest will itself be restless;

Linger over either extreme, and Oneness is forever lost.

Those who cannot attain to Oneness in either case will fail:

To banish Reality is to sink deeper into the Real;

Allegiance to the Void implies denial of voidness.

The more you talk about It, the more you think about It, the further from It you go;

Stop talking, stop thinking, and there is nothing you will not understand.

Return to the Root and you will find the Meaning;

Pursue the Light, and you will lose its source,

Look inward, and in a flash you will conquer the Apparent and the Void.

For the whirligigs of Apparent and Void all come from mistaken views.

There is no need to seek Truth; only stop having views.

Do not accept either position, examine it or pursue it;

At the least thought of ‘Is’ and ‘Isn’t’ there is chaos and the Mind is lost.

Though the two exist because of the One, do not cling to the One;

Only when no thought arises are the Dharmas without blame.

No blame, no Dharmas; no arising, no thought.

The doer vanishes along with the deed,

The deed disappears when the doer is annihilated.

The deed has no function apart from the doer;

The doer has no function apart from the deed.

The ultimate Truth about both Extremes is that they are One Void.

In that One Void the two are not distinguished;

Each contains complete within itself the Ten Thousand Forms.

Only if we boggle over fine and coarse are we tempted to take sides.

In its essence the Great Way is all-embracing;

It is as wrong to call it easy as to call it hard.

Partial views are irresolute and insecure,

Now at a gallop, now lagging in the rear.

Clinging to this or that beyond measure

The heart trusts to bypaths that lead it astray.

Let things take their own course; know that the Essence

Will neither go or stay;

Let your nature blend with the Way and wander in it free from care.

Thoughts that are fettered turn from the Truth,

Sink into the unwise habit of ‘not liking’.

‘Not liking’ brings weariness of spirit; estrangements serve no purpose.

If you want to follow the doctrine of the One, do not rage against the World of the Senses.

Only by accepting the World of the Senses can you share in the True Perception.

Those who know most, do least; folly ties its own bonds.

In the Dharma there are no separate dharmas, only the foolish cleave

To their own preferences and attachments.

To use Thought to devise thoughts, what more misguided than this?

Ignorance creates Rest and Unrest; Wisdom neither loves nor hates.

All that belongs to the two Extremes is inference falsely drawn –

A dream-phantom, a flower in the air. Why strive to grasp it in the hand?

‘Is’ and ‘Isn’t’, gain and loss banish once for all:

If the eyes do not close in sleep there can be no evil dreams;

If the mind makes no distinctions all Dharmas become one.

Let the One with its mystery blot out all memory of complications.

Let the thought of the Dharmas as All-One bring you to the So-in-itself.

Thus their origin is forgotten and nothing is left to make us pit one against the other.

Regard motion as though it were stationary, and what becomes of motion?

Treat the stationary as though it moved, and that disposes of the stationary.

Both these having thus been disposed of, what becomes of the One?

At the ultimate point, beyond which you can go no further,

You get to where there are no rules, no standards,

To where thought can accept Impartiality,

To where effect of action ceases,

Doubt is washed away, belief has no obstacle.

Nothing is left over, nothing remembered;

Space is bright, but self-illumined; no power of mind is exerted.

Nor indeed could mere thought bring us to such a place.

Nor could sense or feeling comprehend it.

It is the Truly-so, the Transcendent Sphere, where there is neither He nor I.

For swift converse with this sphere use the concept ‘Not Two’;

In the ‘Not Two’ are no separate things, yet all things are included.

The wise throughout the Ten Quarters have had access to this Primal Truth;

For it is not a thing with extension in Time or Space;

A moment and an aeon for it are one.

Whether we see it or fail to see it, it is manifest always and everywhere.

The very small is as the very large when boundaries are forgotten;

The very large is as the very small when its outlines are not seen.

Being is an aspect of Non-being; Non-being is an aspect of Being.

In climes of thought where it is not so the mind does ill to dwell.

The One is none other than the All, the All none other than the One.

Take your stand on this, and the rest will follow of its own accord;

To trust in the Heart is the Not Two, the Not Two is to trust in the Heart.

I have spoken, but in vain; for what can words tell

Of things that have no yesterday, tomorrow or today?

Seng-t’san

The Disciple

When the Word becomes flesh, the kingdom of mind dissolves and the anointed Son of God, the Christ, joins together the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth.

And the disciple does the same.

When the Word becomes flesh, the kingdom of mind dissolves and the anointed Son of God, the Christ, takes up His cross and drinks from the cup of suffering.

And the disciple does the same.

When the Word becomes flesh, the kingdom of mind dissolves and the anointed Son of God, the Christ, takes away the sins of the world.

And the disciple does the same.

The Word Made Flesh

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

John 1:14

The Word (“el Verbo Divino” in Spanish) is a fairly clumsy translation of the original Greek word, Logos. For the Stoics the Logos was the principle of divine reason and creative order pervading and animating the universe. It was the kind of “logic” (from logos) that held everything together.

If we think of the Logos as a kind of spirit, then John’s statement that the Word was made flesh means that this spirit became fully embodied, fully incarnated (“carne” means flesh). It is a statement of radical nonduality: spirit and flesh are one. How this happened is a mystery, but the Christian faith rests on the belief that somehow Jesus was this nondual spirit-body or God-man, full of grace and truth.

Now “grace” and “truth” are clearly two aspects of the broader concept of the Logos. But they are also words. You could say that the words themselves, like everything else in the universe, are animated by the Logos. There is a kind of spiritual power in these two words. If you meditate on the word “grace”, for example, repeating it quietly to yourself over and over, you will eventually feel this power, which is not just a form of energy, but is pregnant with meaning.

Perhaps there is value in translating Logos as Word after all. If you meditate on the word “grace” for an extended period of time every day, it will become your mantra. At a certain point, you will have internalised it to such an extent that it will make perfect sense to say that this word has been made flesh. It is now a part of your very being.

You are what you eat. The food you put in your mouth is digested and metabolised and transformed into energy. The same is true of the words you put in your heart. However, we are not normally aware of this fact, since we usually read and hear all sorts of words in a fairly random, chaotic way, so that each individual word barely registers.

For a word to be “made flesh”, it has to be treated with special reverence and given special attention. It has to be a mantra. Liturgical prayers are mantras. They are repeated over and over again until they sink deep into the subconscious, deep into the body. Sacred scriptures are potentially mantras. Read in the right spirit of reverence and attention, they permeate your very flesh. It turns out that the flesh is in fact, in some mysterious panpsychist way, conscious.

The word is made flesh because mind and body are not-two. Therefore we become what we think and say, hear and read. If you truly believe in the Incarnation, you will become the Incarnation. The Word will become your flesh too. But it requires conscious intention, active attention, lively faith and dedicated practice. As Zen Master Dogen was fond of saying, “practice and enlightenment are one and the same”.

Shamanic Christian Zen

There are three worlds:

  1. The kingdom of earth (take a walk in the woods);
  2. The kingdom of mind (read a good book);
  3. The kingdom of heaven (take a strong dose of magic mushrooms).

Zen is direct pointing to reality outside the scriptures, in other words, entrance into the kingdom of earth through meditation.

Christianity is direct pointing to reality inside the scriptures, in other words, right ordering of the kingdom of mind through the logos.

Shamanism is direct pointing to reality beyond this world, in other words, entrance into the kingdom of heaven through psychedelics.

The three grow together like the three twisted strands of an ayahuasca vine. This is the essence of Shamanic Christian Zen: the three kingdoms of heaven, earth and mind evolving together, disclosing ever more of the infinite mysteries of existence.

Entrance into the kingdom of heaven and entrance into the kingdom of earth are both so-called “mystical experiences”, one internal and the other external. The kingdom of mind must be able to accommodate both types of experience in a coherent and convincing way, and religion is the only thing that can do this. Neither science nor philosophy are up to the task. Religion represents both the revealed Word of God in the kingdom of mind and the joining together (re-ligare) of the three worlds.

Divorced from mystical experience (Heaven and Earth) and/or religion (the Word), the mind-world and its culture becomes what the Rastafarians call Babylon. Without religion, mystical experience is blind; without mystical experience, religion is lame. Religion should be mystical and mysticism should be religious, otherwise they will both be colonised by the agents of Babylon.

Shamanism by itself is not strong enough; Christianity by itself is not strong enough; Zen by itself is not strong enough; but all three together can beat Babylon. However, not everyone wants to “beat Babylon” or “escape from Samsara”. Most people just want to get cosy in Babylon. Psychedelics, meditation and religion for the sake of therapy or a sense of community or consolation are motivated by the desire to get cosy in Babylon.

Ultimately, there are only two options when it comes to the existential motivation at the root of human life: get cosy in Babylon (the worldly-wise) or get out of Babylon (the gnostics). However, without a clear grasp of the panentheistic nature of God as both transcendent and immanent in the world, gnosticism soon degenerates into a life-denying dualistic heresy.

Shamanic Christian Zen aims at the integration of the kingdom of Heaven, the Word and the kingdom of Earth, all three of which are rooted in God. It is crucially important that in all the excitement and talk about Heaven and Earth, we don’t forget about God Himself. This is why we need the Word. The Word is the mediator between God and Man, both in the person of Jesus Christ, in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and in the actual words of Holy Scripture:

“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth;

Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.”

Another way to understand the relation between the kingdom of Heaven and the Word (in the kingdom of Mind), is in terms of the relation between the non-rational and the rational element in religious experience, as Rudolf Otto explains in The Idea of the Holy. The “numinous” kingdom of Heaven is experienced initially as “daemonic dread” and “awe”, as a Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans, full of almost unbearable fiery power and energy, to the point that it is felt as Irae Dei, or the “wrath of God”. Only with the moral-rational infusion of the Word (logos) is the wild numen tamed and sublimated into the idea and experience of the holy proper, of the beneficent Good.

Putting the Zen aspect (the kingdom of Earth) to one side for a moment, Shamanic Christianity (or Psychedelic Christianity), is all about this confrontation with the “numinous”, not naked, but clothed in an “armour of light” (Romans 13:12), the logos, so as to be able to withstand the power of the numen and approach with confidence “the Holy One of Israel” (God) and “bear the beams of love”. Thus by internalising, taking to heart and embodying the logos (“the Word of God” become “the Word made flesh”), the numinous kingdom of Heaven is gradually made a holy kingdom and the psychedelic Christian a holy man or woman.