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.

The World, the Earth and the Heavens

The socio-cultural world of human intercourse, the world of getting and spending, is too much with us. Or rather, we are too much with it. Why? Because it’s the only world we know. Or rather, it’s the only world we know intimately.

Some people are drawn to the peace of the woods and the mountains. They love to ramble alone, feel the cool air on the face, watch the clouds scud across the sky, the dappled light dance through the leaves. William Wordsworth dedicated his life to expressing the wonder felt by the Soul in Nature. The world of the Lakeland poets was not “the world”, but Nature, “the earth”:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Nature lovers have one foot in the human world and one foot in the natural world. Sitting by a stream, following the eddies of water, they may completely forget their worldly cares and worries and enter a state of quiet contemplation and communion with Nature. Some might make a conscious attempt to still the mind and relax. They might call what they are doing “meditation” or “mindfulness”. What they are really doing is retreating from “the world” and stepping onto “the earth”.

There is a tug-of-war in the human heart between “the world” and “the earth”. For most people, “the earth” is just a holiday from “the world”, a temporary respite from the responsibilities and pressures of work and family life. Mostly they are in the world, but just occasionally, in the woods, by the sea or up a mountain, they find themselves on the earth.

People who feel a strong nostalgia for the earth feel homesick and sad in the world and long to reverse the dominance hierarchy so that the world is on the earth instead of the earth being in the world. Most are also fervent environmentalists, lamenting the destruction of the natural earth by the human world. Some even consider their love of the earth as a religion, as in the Water Protector slogan, The Earth is My Church, Nature is My Religion.

There is “earth religion” and there is “world religion”. We generally think of earth religion as some kind of indigenous shamanism or paganism, “a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn”, but it is also at the heart of Taoism and Zen Buddhism. Through mindfulness and immersion in Nature, the followers of earth religions free themselves from the “mind-forg’d manacles” of the social world and enter a place of original natural innocence and vitality.

“World religion” is secular humanism. The focus is primarily on the world of human culture and the improvement of society. It generally manifests itself in the guise of politics, whether through an incremental, progressive creed or a utopian, revolutionary one. Environmentalism may play a subsidiary role in the overarching political agenda, but only because “the earth” is seen as an important aspect of “the world”, just one item among the many clambering for “social justice”.

In the psycho-spiritual battle between “the world” and “the earth”, the world generally wins, and the earth devotees end up resentful and depressed. Worldly duties and responsibilities, as well as the incessant psychic attacks from the entertainment media, the news media and social media, make it exceptionally difficult to stay grounded on the earth, as the Huni Kuin tribe from the Brazilian Amazon realised:

“In 2000, Ninawa Pai Da Mata decided to move his village deeper into the jungle, in Acre state, in an attempt to protect and revive traditional life. ‘We had to move to escape many things the westerners brought – alcohol, foreign music – and to embrace our own culture and spirituality again, to listen to the wisdom of nature,’ he says.”

Jane Dunford

Not everyone can move deeper into the jungle though. Or move to the Lake District. And the pull of the city and the internet is strong. Modern trains and broadband are fast. And the pull of work, family and friends is generally stronger than the pull of the trees and rivers. Life is expensive and demanding.

The history of Western Imperialism (as well as Eastern Imperialism) testifies to the victory of “world religion” over “earth religion”, of science and technology over nature and spirituality. But it’s not just indigenous earth religions that have suffered from the spectacular success and dominance of the secular world religions. The “heaven religions” have also suffered.

Modern secular people think that they live in the world, and that part of the world involves going for walks in Nature. There is nothing else. Heaven and hell are just fictions or psychological projections, the figments of a delusional medieval religious imagination. Modern secular people who hanker after a “creed outworn”, neo-shamanism, neo-paganism, neo-“earth religion”, believe in living as close to Nature as possible, with as little Culture as possible, but they don’t usually believe in heaven or hell either. And they certainly don’t like the idea of “our Father, who art in heaven”.

Genuine shamans not only believe in heaven, but they go there all the time, through vision quests and soul flights. Their magical brews take them beyond the world and beyond the earth to another, transcendent reality, sometimes blissful and full of awe, sometimes painful and full of horror. Sometimes “heaven” but sometimes more like “hell”.

Every time I take a strong dose of a psychedelic in a ritual setting, whether ayahuasca, DMT, psilocybin or LSD, I end up in a strange but familiar place I can only describe as heaven. It can get a bit rocky and turbulent at times. Occasionally it can feel as if I am on one of the lower rungs of hell or being dragged backwards through an infinite hedge of purgatorial fire. But it is recognisably a kingdom of heaven.

When I come back down to earth, I invariably find myself on earth and not in the world. I feel compelled to go for a walk in the countryside or in a park. I feel connected to the trees and the water, the earth and the sky. Suddenly, the world is no longer too much with me. It has shrunk in size from that of a giant Empire State Building devouring octopus to that of a tiny gad fly.

Heaven and earth are more than a match for the world. But earth without heaven always seems to lose. Hence the need for something like Shamanic Christian Zen, which puts the world in its place, on the earth and under heaven. The world is too much with us because we have forgotten about the earth and heaven. We have turned from the true Trinitarian God of earth, world and heaven and worshipped a false mono-god, followed false mono-prophets and sold our souls to a false mono-religion: “the world”.

If you treat “the earth” and “heaven” as escapist holidays from “the real world”, you are at heart a devotee of the world, a secular humanist, even if you profess otherwise. You may cultivate mindfulness, go wild swimming or forest bathing for improved physical, mental health and spiritual health; you may even take psychedelics or enjoy religious services (or both at the same time). But, as Thomas Traherne put it centuries ago, “till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars” and “till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all Ages as with your walk and table”, in other words, until heaven and earth are more powerful and real, more salient and meaningful, more close and intimate than the human world of getting and spending, “you never enjoy the world aright”.

Sins of the Bore, Bully and Clown

Glucose is a trip-killer, which is why you shouldn’t stir honey into your mushroom tea. Ego is a spirit-killer, which is why you shouldn’t stir sin into your community.

The three character types responsible for most of the fussing and fighting, confusion and grief, and existential inertia in cults, communes, churches, synagogues, sanghas, companies, parties, schools, families and book groups are the Fearful Bore, the Narcissistic Bully and the Cynical Clown.

Each has its own special cocktail of sins and vices. The Fearful Bore is an amalgam of the Victim and Muppet archetypes, whose chief sins are Fear and Envy. The Narcissistic Bully is the public face of the Diva-Demon complex, full of Pride and Loathing. The Cynical Clown is the problem child of the Addict and Muggle, ruled by Lust, Gluttony, Greed and Sloth.

This may be hard for some people to hear, but in the Kingdom of God there is no sin, and in the communion of saints there are no Bores, Bullies or Clowns.

These three are not the only offenders, however. Variety is the spice of life, after all, and there are all sorts of other permutations to be had on the Wheel of Babylon, such as:

The Victim-Demon or Suicidal Psycho (Fear and Loathing),

The Addict-Demon or Selfish Pig (Lust, Gluttony, Greed and Loathing),

The Muppet-Diva or Black Swan (Envy and Pride),

The Muggle-Diva or Decadent Aristocrat (Sloth and Pride).

Why is Scripture Sacred?

For Christians the words of the Bible are the “Word of God”. Does this mean that God wrote the Bible? No. Does it mean that everything you find in the Bible is literally true? No. Does it mean that it is inerrant? No.

Nobody knows who wrote the books of the Old Testament or the gospels of the New Testament (except the Psalms were written by King David and the Epistles of Paul were obviously written by Saint Paul (though not all of them)). Nobody knows how many people were involved. All we know is that the Bible as a whole is revered by millions of people as inspired, revealed Truth.

The Bible is sacred writing. It is holy scripture. Why? Why can’t we treat it like any other work of fiction? Or any other work of history? Well, people do. But they rob it of its spiritual power. Sacred scriptures are demarcated as sacred in order to protect them from profane minds, especially the profane minds of Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores.

In my blog, The Good Trip Guide, I quoted Psalm 11 from the Old Testament and quoted from chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Romans and from chapter 20 of the gospel according to Matthew. For Christians, these are sacred pieces of writing that should be read with reverence. They carry a special spiritual authority that our critical, questioning minds must defer to. Ideally, we should read them as the monastics do, through “lectio divina”, a divinely inspired reading to match the divinely inspired writing, like two arrows that meet in mid-air.

Imagine what a Cynical Clown might make of these passages. Imagine the potential for irreverent humour and cynical scoffing. Imagine what a Fearful Bore might make of them: endless tedious over-interpretation and analysis. Neither is able to engage the sacredness of the text. Both are engaged in sacrilege.

Until we can regain a lively and wholesome sense of the sacred, and escape the dominant modern attitude of skepticism and cynicism, we will continue to flounder in the mud pit of profanity, impotently slinging mud at the invisible face of God. And that’s no way for mature adults to behave.

Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores

Two classic subpersonalities that sabotage or attempt to sabotage spiritual progress in spiritual communities are associated with the Addict and Victim archetypes on The Wheel of Babylon. The first, usually manifesting in an addictive personality, is the Cynical Clown, who uses humour to undercut and undermine. This is the joker in the pack, the court jester, whose purported aim is to puncture any signs of puffed-up ego or inflated narcissism.

William Shakespeare makes great use of this archetype, from Feste the fool in Twelfth Night to Falstaff in Henry IV. It seems that he was particularly sensitive to arrogance and hypocrisy and delighted in using his comic characters to pull pretentious Divas from their self-made pedestals. Which is a fine and wondrous thing. The world will always be in need of good satire.

However, although everyone should have a fool to keep their Diva ego in check (as did the medieval kings of England) he should, like Feste, be “wise enough to play the fool”. He should know when to jest, and when to keep silent; and he should be able to tell the difference between a Sir Andrew Aguecheek and a Count Orsino.

Spiritual circles are rife with more or less thinly disguised spiritual narcissists in serious need of a Cynical Clown to bring them down a peg or two. However, the cynicism can get out of hand, finding more and more targets, eventually undermining the whole enterprise. Sometimes, in the case of true cynics, this is the conscious or unconscious intention from the start, but more often than not it is a gradual development, a kind of deformación profesional. Truly bitter, resentful cynics, like envious Iago and inexplicable Judas (Satan entered into him), are not just naughty Addicts, but treacherous Demons.

Why the Cynical Clown should be associated with the Addict is an interesting question. It probably has something to do with the displacement and projection of hedonic motivations (usually some variation of sex, drugs and rock and roll) onto others as a defense mechanism. “Ah yes, I see what you’re up to! (nudge nudge, wink wink)”. It simultaneously acts in two directions: exposing the hypocrisy of the holier than thou in order to prevent hidden bad behaviour, but also encouraging open bad behaviour (such as lewdness and drunkenness). Sir Toby Belch is a good example.

Another, more common, frequenter of spiritual circles are the Fearful Bores. They also has a destabilising effect, but in a diametrically opposed way – instead of witty, cutting jokes, they engage in rambling, confessional anecdotes. Instead of encouraging everyone to be silly, they encourage everyone to be serious, seizing any opportunity to turn a social situation into an earnest group therapy session.

It’s not hard to see how this subpersonality is associated with the Victim. There is, of course, the comfort of receiving understanding and sympathy, and there is also the added comfort of giving it, once you’ve succeeded in drawing out somebody else’s confession of victimhood. There is a peculiar bonding that takes place, particularly among women (in my experience – sorry!) over shared trouble, misfortune and mistreatment, a kind of solidarity of the oppressed.

Men do it too of course. But they tend to intellectualise more, spinning out their misery in seemingly endless trains of thought and levels of analysis. Of course it is vitally important that people feel able to talk openly and freely and feel comfortable enough to share their emotional and psychological difficulties and insights in a safe and welcoming environment. However, as with the Cynical Clown, it can get out of hand and end up derailing the spiritual progress of the community as a whole.

Why are silent retreats so powerful? Because they forcibly put a muzzle on the Divas, Demons, Victims, Addicts, Muppets and Muggles. And they muzzle the Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores. Thus they clear a space for something else to emerge, something mysterious, something miraculous.

There will always be Victims and Addicts in spiritual circles. It’s what drives them to seek help. There will always be Divas, especially among the spiritual leaders. There will occasionally be a Demon or two. And there will always be Muggles and Muppets. What ultimately causes the Cynical Clown and Fearful Bore subpersonalities to raise their heads, however, is the underlying nihilistic belief that this is all there is, that we are inescapably stuck on The Wheel of Babylon, and that to pretend otherwise is a lie. Ye of little faith!

Sometimes we need to have a laugh and take the piss. Sometimes we need to unburden ourselves in a heart to heart. But if a spiritual community is to thrive, we need, as much as humanly possible, to keep our Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores in check and keep the faith.

The Good Trip Guide

In the Lord put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?

For lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart.

If the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do?

The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.

The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.

Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.

For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright.

Psalm 11

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

But we are sure that the judgement of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.

And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgement of God?

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God;

Who will render to every man according to his deeds:

To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:

But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,

Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also to the Gentile;

But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:

For there is no respect of persons with God.

Romans 2: 1-11

But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.

Matthew 20:22

Poetic Licence

A recent article titled Researchers Debate the Role of Mysticism in Psychedelic Science cites a paper titled Moving Past Mysticism in Psychedelic Science by two Dutch researchers who warn that “if science states that psychedelics induce mystical experiences that are key to their therapeutic action, this is too easily misinterpreted as research advocating a role for the supernatural or divine.”

The problem with “Psychedelic Science” is that it is based on scientific rationalism. The problem with scientific rationalism is that it is spiritually autistic because it doesn’t understand the importance of poetic licence. Scientific rationalists often pit science against religion, assuming that religion is nothing more than superstition, or outdated bad science. But the scientific metaphysical worldview (as opposed to the humble practice of natural science) is not so much the enemy of religion as the enemy of poetry.

This is a problem when it comes to the science of psychology or the science of psychedelics because although the human brain may be scientific, the human mind is not. The human mind is essentially poetic.

If you don’t understand the psychological importance of poetic licence, you don’t understand psychology; if you don’t understand psychology, you don’t understand psychedelics; if you don’t understand psychedelics, you don’t understand religion; if you don’t understand religion, you don’t understand God; and if you don’t understand God, you don’t understand love.

Any psychedelic research that doesn’t advocate a role for poetry, imagination, mysticism, magic, the supernatural or divine is completely missing the point. Shamanism and the sacramental use of psychedelics is an art, not a science.