Vision Plants: The Transpersonal Challenge (Non-Ordinary States of Reality Through Vision Plants)

Day Month 1988

International Transpersonal Conference, City, State


TM: This presentation will explore the models that shamanic use of vision plants provide for transpersonal psychology, particular attention given to the role such plants play in personal integration, deeper implications of shamanic use of plants, role of mind in the natural order and the planetary future. Basically for myself, my involvement with shamanism has been a deepening meditation over now about 20 years, and it seems to me very fruitful because it continues to change and integrate itself ever more deeply into the meaning of reality at large so that, uh, for me shamanism has become a kind of overarching metaphor for not only personal being in the world, but the historical adventure, the being of the species in the world.

So I want to talk about it today and, and as an advocate, I want to make it seem indispensable to living a life of rife reason in the world. I want to show that without shamanism, the notion of humanism itself is in a kind of jeopardy. And probably most of us can find ourselves in agreement with that. But then I want to leave most of us behind and go further [audience chuckles] and the jest that this humanness rooted in shamanism is a humanist, ultimately rooted in very complex symbiotic relationships with plants and chemicals in the environment.

I want to argue, in fact, that, uh, people without plants are in a state of potential neurosis, a state of existential wanting, and that- and that in fact part of the Western dilemma is the sense of abandonment that followed the breaking off of these symbiotic relations with vision-producing plants, uh, that characterized the rise of Western modern monotheism and even more characterized the rise of modern society, but let me return, then, to the origin because this is where I think the case can be made. My interpretation of the time we're living through and this amorphous movement which we are all somehow in some way are a part of which calls itself the New Age or what have you. I call it the Archaic Revival, and the reason that I call it the Archaic Revival is rooted in my conviction. Models and energy forms of Archaism, and shamanism then is suddenly centrally highlighted. Shamanism was the profession ne plus ultra of the upper neolithic era. And what was this profession precisely about? Well, it was about exploring the envelope of cognition. Pushing against the linguistic membrane of what it was possible to say, symbolize, conceive, and communicate. But why should one species out of all those competing on the earth attain somehow a kind of mega-adaptive ability that causes a kind of compression of biological time into the phenomenon that we call history.

Is it simply, as our theologians have always been forced to conceive, that divine agency entered in to the mechanism of the world and somehow set a spark in motion that kindled and grew into humanity? Or is it, as the 19th century explored so exhaustively, the possibility that incremental change can eventually initiate, uh, and insinuate into a situation new states of higher order, including even possibly the state of higher order we call self-reflecting consciousness. That somehow this is no more than a gradual refinement out of previous states of nature. Well, what I want to suggest is that it is a bit of both of these points of view- the divine intervention and the evolutionary.

I think what evolutionary biologists have missed in looking at the emergence of human beings out of the primate phylogeny is, generally speaking, the mutagenic influence of foods. The fact that a fruit-eating, arboreal primate, because of a situation of spreading dryness in the environment, evolved into a pack-hunting creature of the grassland with an omnivorous diet, and omnivores by their very nature expose themselves to a very large number of mutagenic influences. I'm speaking alchemically. Mutagenic influences that interfered with the correct copying of protein, interfere with, uh, spacing of children, lactation, uh, interfere with mentation, psychoactive compounds in the food chain. And it's very interesting that as human beings transform themselves into omnivorous, pack-hunting omnivores, you begin to see the first faint stirrings of self-reflection. you begin to get the fire pit and laser the chipped flint leavings of earliest neolithic toolmaking. What this to me is that there was a unique confluence of factors present in the evolutionary situation that were capable of kindling this ontological transformation of what had previously been the animal mind. And what I suggest this factor is, or was... Psychoactive plants in the environment, specifically psychoactive plants in the grassland environment in which human pastoralism evolved in Africa over a million years ago. The plants must be African. It must be extraordinarily noticeable in the environment. It must not be a deep-forest endemic because this is not where human evolution was taking place. The only plant which fits this, uh, description is, uh, a mushroom of the psilocybin-containing variety. And it's very easy to see, I think, that the presence, then, of, uh, psychoactive compounds of this sort in the early human diet set the stage for a number of structural and psychological changes.

Psilocybin, ingested in low doses increases visual acuity. Now, it's not difficult to see that in an animal en- under evolutionary pressure in a pack-hunting environment increased visual acuity will mean a more successful reproductive strategy. This means that those animals not including the psychoactive substance in their diet will be mitigated against and fade from the scene. And by this process a steady bootstrapping process, self-reflection was born in our species. How do we get from visual acuity to self-reflection? Low doses of psilocybin give increased visual acuity. Medium-range doses of psilocybin give an increased interest in erotic activities. [audience laughter] You should laugh. There may not be too many laughs with this one. [Terence laughs] Slightly higher doses of psilocybin, uh, give an experience of the numinosum. An actual contact with a mystery in the human psyche which is no less mysterious to us today than it was to our ancestors when the last glaciation was retreating against Canada. I mean, don't kid yourself, in the face of this- the content of this symbiotic relationship, modernism, rationalism, positivism- all is exposed as just whistling past the graveyard because the numinous death of the mystery that seems to have called us out of the animal mind is, uh, completely impenetrable to modern analysis. That's why even discussing its presence is mitigated against so intensely.

So, I don't want to spend much time on this early facet of the emergence thing. I want to move ahead and show that as pastoralism developed, as the domestic relationship between cattle, human beings and mushrooms settled down into a self-reinforcing cycle of consciousness, language arose, religion arose of the goddess oriented variety, and the connection of the cow to the goddess is there at the dawn-time. There is no question about it.

Language seems to have been the particular prerogative of women in the early emergent phases. This is uh, uh, possibly because men were involved in hunting activities where great premium was placed on silent stealthiness. So women were engaged in- as gatherers in the hunting-gathering phase, women were engaged in gathering plants, and as all botanists can tell you, gathering plants involves an extensive taxonomic language so that the difference- the minute differences between cereal grains and insects and all of these things need to be linguistically defined and characterized, and to this day a taxonomic description of a plant is, uh, a Joyceian thrill to read because, you know, "sub-apically glaborous with lanceolate trifolium" and so on for many many lines, uh, but in a strange way that is a law repeated over and over again through history, each advance somehow outsmarts itself, and the wonderful linguistic depth which women attained as gatherers through the production of folk taxonomy eventually lead them to a terrible discovery. The discovery of agriculture. Because they learned that rather than maintain this vast library of shifting information about seasonal plants randomly distributed according to the whims of nature, they could in fact focus on a very small number of plants, learn how to grow these plants, learn their needs alone, and at that point the retreat was on, and the dualism was fully in place and there was that which was domesticated, that which was of the hearth, and that which was of the ausland, 'the howling unknown', that which was 'beyond the pale'. I think it was Weston LaBarre, great old anthropologist who felt, he said, uh, hallucinogens can only be used in hunting and gathering cultures because when agriculturalists use them it makes it impossible to get up at down and go hoe the field. And so suddenly the gods become the Corn God and the Wheat god, gods of- symbolizing domesticity and hard labor and, uh, and that sort of thing.

And at this moment of agriculture which lead to overproduction which lead to trade which lead to cities and so forth, there is a beginning of the breaking away of this symbiotic relationship which had bound human beings to nature, to this time. And I don't mean this metaphorically, I mean I want to be taken seriously as proposing that the all-we modernity is the consequences of a disruptive symbiotic relationship between ourselves and vegetable nature, and that, uh, only a restoration of this in some form is going to carry us into a full inheritance of our birthright as human beings.

Now what did this symbiotic relationship consist of? What was the effect of this psychedelic use, this embeddedness of language-using, cognition-using, but stoned primates in the natural order? Well I submit to you that what it was or how it acted operationally was as a, uh, feminizing pheromone, that the continuous exposure to the tremendum represented by the hallucinogenically- induced ecstasy acted to continuously dissolve that portion of the psyche which, as moderns, we call the male ego. And I don't mean that it only works on men. I mean that wherever in human personality this certain catch began to form and build like a calcareous tumor in the personality, the psycholytic presence of the undeniable fact of the tremendum tended to dissolve this back in to Tao, psychic health, however you wish to style it. And that the evolution of language, then, setting up this movement off into specialization and a movement away from nature set up the consequences of the all-we which permeates Western civilization. It is only in Western civilization that you get this steady focus on this monotheistic ideal and working out the implications of what is essentially a pathological personality pattern, the pattern of the omniscient, omnipresent, all-knowing, wrathful male deity- no one you would invite to your garden party. [audience laughter]

It's very interesting that this ideal is the- the only instance, the only hypothestization of deity that I know of that has no congress with woman at any point in the theological myth- the God of Western civilization has nothing to do with women, and the presence of the Sophia, and the presence of the mater de la rosa and all of these things have only been tolerated as heresies, uh, in the Western tradition. And it is the Western tradition that has the most continuous break with this symbiotic relationship. In other words, we have wandered into a state of prolonged neurosis because of the absence of a direct pipeline to the unconscious. And we have then fallen victim to priestcraft of every conceivable sort. A similar situation, which may give us some objective perspective on our own, haunts the fates of those portions of Indo-European humanity that went east instead of west. In other words, the whole story of Indian civilization is the story of, uh, a masculine, static, hierarchically organized, uh, system coming into place in the wake of the loss of the secret of soma, the loss of the portal to another kind of vegetable gnosis.

Well, so, provided then that I have made my case and convinced you that this is all gospel [audience chuckles]. Uh, what kind of options are there to someone who believes this? Well, uh, what that means is a brief survey of the anthropological opportunities to explore hallucinogenesis presently afforded by societies living throughout the world. There are of course the psilocybin complex discovered by Gordon Wasson, the magic mushrooms of central Mexico which may have played a role in the Mayan and Toltec civilizations, and the wider-ranging pan-tropical stropharia cubensis, solosopy [??] cubensis which originated in Thailand but is distributed throughout the warm tropics. Interesting, all of these, uh, shamanically sanctioned hallucinogens are in the indole family, a very narrow family of compounds with the exception- I- I almost blew it- with the exception of mescaline, which is in a different family, a kind of amphetamine. But all the others, including the morning glory complex with its LSD-like alkaloids, chenoclazine and, uh, ergonamine, uh, the psilocybin complex which involves, as I said, several pandemic species and many highly indemnicized species, especially in the Pacific Northwest, the iboga cults of Gabon and Western Africa, which is sort of the exotic cousin of all these things, but nevertheless structurally, uh, uh, an indole, and then the short-acting tryptamines and the beta-carbolines. The short-acting tryptamines can be used separately. The beta-carbolines, though hallucinogenic in themselves, are usually used as monoamineoxidaze inhibitors to enhance the effect of short-acting tryptamines. This is a highly evolved pharmacology and shamanic complex in South America.

One of the peculiar puzzles of shamanic anthropology and ethnobotany is the clustering of hallucinogenic plants in South America. Why are the old-world tropics, the tropics of the Mollucas and Indonesia, not equally rich in hallucinogenic flora? No one can answer this question, but certaingly Mesoamerica and the New World seem to be the great home of these things.

You notice that I don't mention any synthetics in the list. This is because I would sort of like to keel away the vision-producing plants from the whole strom and dang of the, uh, of the drug problem and the drug issue, which is a whole other kettle of fish and has to do with the fates of nations and trillion-dollar scamola and,uh, who knows what else. I prefer the, uh, organic hallucinogens and recommend them to other people because I think their long history of shamanic usage is the first feel of approval that you must look for. I mean, if these things have been used for thousands of years, then you can be fairly confident that they do not cause tumors or micscarrages or - because nature is far richer in exotic and poisonous and mutagenic and psychoactive chemicals than the human pharmacopoeia. I mean, many things are avoided. There are many potential hallucinogens that are not utilized by human beings, so there has been a certain trial and selectivity applied to these things.

I think it's important to confine one's self to uh, to compounds which are least insulting to the physical brain, not because the physical brain has anything to do with the mind particularly, but because it certainly has to do with the metabolic end-state of indoles. And so things which are alien to the human brain should probably not be introduced into it. One way of judging how long a relationship between a human population and a plant has been in place is to see how benign the compound is in human metabolism. I mean, if you take some plant and your knees are feeling rubbery three days later, or your eyes aren't in focus, uh, 48 hours later, then this is not a benign compound- this is not a compound where there has been a smooth hand-in-glove fit with the human user. This is why, to my mind, the tryptamines are so interesting and why, another reason why- one I just thought of- that I argue for the mushroom as the primary hallucinogen involved in human origins because these things bear a weird resemblance to human neurochemistry. Uh, the human brain and indeed all nervous systems run on 5-hydroxytrypamine, serotonin. Uh, n-n-dymethyltryptamine is- the hallucinogenic compound of this Amazonian complex is the most powerful of all hallucinogens in the human system and yet clears your system in a matter of minutes. This argues for a great antiquity of the relationship, uh, between these things.

So, so then having discussed options it would remain, it seems, to discuss techniques since it's almost what Huxley called a gratuitous grace. All conditions for success can be present and one can still fail, although not if all conditions for success are present and one does it over and over again. Maybe there's a temporal variable there, I'm not sure. But, technique, to me, is a kind of a- I'm reluctant to talk about it because it seems so obvious to me what good technique is. I mean, you sit down, you shut up and you pay attention is basically the good technique. And then the footnotes add on an empty stomach in a dark room feeling comfortable, and then sit down, shut up and pay attention. It's something which happens behind the eyelids. It is not eidetic hallucination although it begins like eidetic hallucination.

I've been talking about this kind of stuff now for about 10 years publicly like this, and one of the major things, the major conceptual and linguistic problem to get over is to actually convey to people what is being talked about because probably I would assume 95% of people in this room have something under their belt which they call drug experience. But did you know that yours is different from everybody else's, and these things range from, you know, mild tingling in the feet to, uh, language fails. And, and, the thing to put across is the reality of the presence of this thing, and this is the important thing talking to a group of people interested in transpersonal psychology. The situation that we now reside in is not one of seeing the answer, but facing the answer. The answer has been found, it just happens to lie on the wrong side of the fence of social toleration and legality. And so we're just forced into this strange little war dance where everybody knows that psychedelics are the most powerful instruments for the study of the mind conceivable and yet, uh, you know, a lot of people are still ratomorphically involved in the academic and university system trying to ignore the fact that the tool has been put in our hands. Like the 16th century when the telescope was invented, we have proven that we are not large enough to take the tool into our own hands without a social and intellectual transformation, and I think it must begin in the field of psychology by acknowledging that if- if what we are involved in, if what this paradigm transform is is the archaic revival, and that we really can create a caring, re-feminized, eco-sensitive, global world by going back to these very very old models, then it isn't going to be possible to do it on the strength of political exhortation and wrath alone. It's going to have to rest on an experience that just shakes you to your root, that is real, that is generalized, and that can then be talked about and dissected. We need to acknowledge, uh, the depth of our dilemma and the real truth, I think, that we know about our options out. I mean, we're playing with half a deck as long as we tolerate, uh, that the cardinals of government and science should dictate where human curiosity can legitimately send its attention and where it cannot.

I mean, it's a- it's a, uh, essentially preposterous situation. It is essentially a civil rights issue, because what we're talking about here is the repression of a religious sensibility-in fact not a religious sensibility, the religious sensibility! Not built on some con game spun out by eunuchs [audience chuckle] but based on the symbiotic relationship that was in place for our species for fifty-thousand years before the advent of history, writing, priestcraft, and propaganda. So, it's a clarion call to recover a birthright, however uncomfortable that may make us. A call to realize that life lived in the absence of the psychedelic experience that primordial shamanism is based on is life trivialized, life denied, life enslaved to the ego and its fear of dissolution in this mysterious mama-matrix which is all around us and which apparently extends into infinity, and where our historical future actually lays. This is the other thing. It is now very clear that techniques of mind, human, interfacing, pharmacology of the synthetic variety, all kinds of manipulative techniques, all kinds of data storage, imaging and retrieval techniques- all of this is coalescing toward the potential of a truly demonic or angelic kind of self imaging of our culture. And the people who are on the demonic side are fully aware of this and hurrying full tilt forward with their plans to capture everyone as a 100% believing consumer ins- inside some kind of beige furnished fascism that won't even raise a ripple! So... [audience claps]

So the shamanic response in this situation I think is to push the art pedal through the floor. This is again one of the primary functions of shamanism and the function that is tremendously synergized by the psychedelics. They are, in fact, if, as I spoke of them them earlier, pheromones which dissolve the male ego, then they are also pheromones which synergize the human imagination, cause us to connect and reconnect the contents of the collective mind in ever more architectonic, implausible, and yet self-fulfilling ways. The- I really think that the only escape from the trap which post-industrial male dominated, politically manipulative, drug-running urban technocracy has in store for us. The only escape is a forward escape- the kind of rushing past it and brushing it aside by virtue of an immense expansion of unpredictable creativity. That what shamanizing means in the ordinary folkloric level is healing, and the art function is somewhat in the shadows, but in the face of a need for planetary healing the art-making function of the shaman is going to stand front and center because what this art making function is is generating a new guiding image of ourselves. This is why it relates so fundamentally to psychology. We need a new paradigmatic image that will take us forward through the narrow neck of historical forces that we can feel impeding and resisting this more expansive, more at ease, more caring dimension that is insisting on being born. And so in terms of political obligation in terms of reforming and trying to save the soul of psychology, in terms of trying to goose along, connecting up the end of history with the beginning of history...all of this impels us, I think, to look at shamanism as the paradigmatic model, to take its techniques seriously, even those which challenge, uh, the divinely ordained covenants of the constabulary [audience chuckle]. Because if- if we don't do that, as I said, we're not playing with a full deck.

You know, years and years ago before the term 'psychedelic' was settled on, uh, it was just a phenomenological description, these things were called 'consciousness-expanding drugs.' So I think that's a very good term. Think about our dilemma on this planet. If the expansion of consciousness does not loom large in the human future, what kind of future is it going to be? Now, to my mind the psychedelic position is most fundamentally threatening when fully thought out because it is an anti-drug position and make no mistake about it, the issue is drugs. How drugged shall you be? Or, to put it another way, consciousness. How conscious shall you be? Who shall be conscious? Who shall be unconscious? And, uh, imagine if the Japanese had won World War II, taken over America, and introduced an insidious drug which caused the average American to spend six and a half hours a day consuming enemy propaganda? But this is what was done, not by Japanese, by ourselves. This is television. Six and a half hours a day, average! That's the average. So there must be people out there hooked on 24 hours a day. Or, I visit people in LA who have one set on in every room, so they're racking up a lot of time for the rest of us.

Uh, you see, what is needed is an operational awareness of what we mean by drug. A drug is something which causes unexamined, obsessive, habituated behavior. You don't examine your behavior, you just do it. You do it obsessively, you let nothing get in the way of it. This is the kind of life we are being sold on every level; to watch, to consume, to buy. The psychedelic thing is off in this tiny corner, never mentioned. And yet it represents the only counter flow toward a tendency to just leave people in designer states of consciousness. Not their designers, but the designers of Madison Avenue, the pentagon and so forth and so on. This is really happening. I mean, it's only a matter of how tight you draw the metaphor, that you realize you know- I've been coming and going from Los Angeles recently a lot, and when the plane swings out over the, uh, Eastern part of the city, looking down it's looking like a printed circuit- all these curved driveways and col-de-sacs with the same little modules installed on each end of them, and you realize, you know, that as long as the Readers' Digest stays subscribed to and the TV stays on, these are all interchangeable parts. The- this is this nightmarish thing which McLuhan and Windham Lewis and others foresaw- the creation of the public. The public has no history, has no future, lives in a golden moment created by credit which binds them ineluctably to a fascist system that is never criticized.

This is an ultimate consequence [audience claps] this is the ultimate consequence of having broken off this symbiotic relationship with the vegetable, feminine, maternal, matrix of the planet. This is what ended partnership, this is what ended balance between the sexes, this is what set us on the long slide. We can now examine the options available and put in place archaic options which will restore this balance. And to the good credit of people like Dick Schultes and Gordon Wasson and Albert Hoffman, we have in this century taken into our hands the tools, the information, and the means to do this. But psychology- there had better not be a Nuremberg because not enough people have stood up for this. People have contented themselves with ratomorphism [sp?] for 25 years when they knew in their hearts it was wrong! Feeling guilty out there? [Terence & audience laugh]

You could cheer to show that it wasn't you. [laughter, clears throat]. So now, I think, uh, you know the culture crisis grows ever more, uh, intense. The stakes rise ever higher. If there were ever a time to be heard and be counted and try and c- clarify thinking on these issues, you know, it would be now because, uh, you know there is a major attack on the bill of rights underway in the guise of a so-called drug bill and somehow the drug issue is even more frightening than Communism. Even more insidious. McCarthy told America that communism was under the bed. He was wrong. Ronald Reagan and George Bush told America that drugs are in the living room, and they are right. It is here, it is real, it is the hydrogen bomb of the 3rd world. And the quality of rhetoric, the quality of rhetoric emanating from, uh, therapists and psychologists, and psychoanalysts is going to have to radically improve or we're going to have happen to us what happened to genetics in the Soviet Union. We're going to be like sanchoized [???], we're going to be made lily-white and all opportunity for exploring this dimension is going to be closed off. Almost as a footnote to the suppression of these synthetic poisonous narcotics which are mostly dealt by governments anyway. But the psychedelic issue, as I said, it's a civil rights issue, it's a civil liberties issue. The reason women couldn't be given the vote in the 19th century- there was a very simple, overpowering reason that was always given. It would destroy society. And that's the reason given- this was also the reason why the king could not give up a divine right, the right of conseguinity- chaos would result. And this is why we're told drugs cannot be legalized. Because society would disintegrate. This is just nonsense. Most societies have always operated in the light of various habits based on plants. The whole history of mankind could be written as a series of made and broken relationships with plants. Think about the influence of tobacco on mercantilism in 17th and 18th century Europe. Think about the influence of coffee on the modern office worker, or the way the British influenced opium policy in the far East to rule China, or the way the CIA used heroin in the American ghettos in the 1960's to choke off black dissent and black dissatisfaction with the war. History is about these plant relationships. They can be raised into consciousness, integrated into social policy and used to create a more caring, meaningful world, or they can be denied the way sexuality was denied until the force of the work of Freud and others just made it impossible to maintain the fiction any longer. This choice of how quickly we develop into a mature community able to address this issue is entirely with us, I think. And certainly, people like Sam Gross and others have worked valiantly to keep this thing alive, but my god, you could count them on the fingers of one hand!

So, that's really all I wanted to say. Uh, [audience chuckle] I left a- I left a half an hour for questions...

Announcer: At this point, Vision Plants: Transpersonal Challenge continues with an informal question and answer period. To make it easier for you the listener to follow along with this segment SoundsTrue[??] will repeat the questions from the audience. The first question: Why don't you mention that DMT is an endogenous neurotransmitter and a schedule 1 drug?

TM: Yes, DMT, the most powerful of all hallucinogens occurs in the human brain as a normal part of metabolism. Uh, it also is a schedule 1 drug- when, uh, so you are all holding- and, uh, this might be the basis for some kind of, uh, case to-to just show what absolute poppycock all this nonsense is. Uh, people have been made illegal. Probably they should have thought of that sooner as a solution to the drug problem.

A: It seems to me that often psychedelic insights are co-opted by the larger society and perverted. Don't you think that this is what happened in the 1960's? And my other question: Does ??? say anything about people who experience difficulties with mushrooms in terms of electrical storms and seizures?

TM: You know, understanding passes everywhere. The information is really neutral. These things, how they work, the information they carry back to us, how we apply it, sort of depends on the moral order that we're embedded in. To a large degree I think the 60's were, uh, probably misplayed, but uh on the other hand it seems to be the last decade when anything happened. The, the lid has been utterly on ever since. It's an illusion, all this change. There is no change. I mean, we're living in some kind of weird eschatological hiatus while the people who rigged the game try to send out for new batteries or something. I don't know what's going on. There's a sense of an immense, uh, there's energy for change, change-building. When it comes, uh, which i don't think will be before this election. but when it ultimately comes I think it will probably be fairly spectacular. It's astonishing actually the way in which change has been halted. Everyone is running around saying change, change, change, but on the other hand there, uh, is a curious sense in which things have become eerily dreamlike and still while we just teeter on the edge of the end of history. And the same personalities, the same design elements, everything has looked the same in the galleries for 20 years, uh, there is an eerie suspension. Perhaps because the, the 60's did anticipate so much that it took 20 years to live them out.

As for your other question about difficulties with mushrooms. Um, the literature is not large. It's generally considered fairly safe. That doesn't mean it isn't strange and it doesn't mean that people don't become alarmed. A friend of mine recently thought he was having a heart attack, and, uh, after he'd been taken to the emergency room and put on 10 machines and all this stuff, he said to the doctor on duty, he said: "is the mushroom doing this to me?" and he said "no no, you're having an anxiety attack. We get these all the time from people who haven't taken mushrooms. " This is an oasis of liberalism I didn't expect to find. [audience laughter] Sir?

A: How would you explain widespread use of sacred substances as party drugs in our culture? Why doesn't this occur in native cultures, this use of sacred substances as party drugs?

TM: Well I think it took place in our culture because there was no one to guide us. And that the real truth about it is, the real experience is so deep and so boundary dissolving that it's frightening, and a lot of people took these things only in order to be able to say that they'd done so. And if they had a light trip, they just said to themselves "thank god it didn't work for me, and now I can say I know about it and pretend to be an expert but I saved my ass." Uh, the feeling I got in the 60's from people who didn't want to take it was they knew damn well they were crazy. You know, you just mention to them accessing the unconscious and they just froze in mid-step.

In the, in the traditional shamanic situation there are elder shamans who know what you're shooting for, and they won't let you out of the box until they're satisfied that you've gotten the whammy. So there's no evading it. So yes, I think that's a good point. The way it should be taken is reverently in a calm, quiet, empty, clear situation. And then the question of the sitter, certainly there should be no more than one other person there. And, you know, I outrage people and give probably bad medical advice by saying it is very good to do it by yourself. But, you know it just can't be beat because then there's no game, you know, there is no surface, there is nothing to maintain. But that's not for the beginner, I think. But nobody should do therapy who hasn't had these experiences because this is where you see the full spectrum of what the human organism is capable of. And it's astonishing. I mean, yeah, sir.

A: Do you feel the awareness or enlightenment of the sitter is a powerful factor in the nature of a psychedelic session?

TM: Absolutely. That's why having a sitter is no casual decision. It would almost be better not to have a sitter than to have a bad one, you know, because then they are going to become your problem. Here..

A: Would you comment on the difference between having a psychedelic session in a dark room compared to being in a natural outdoor setting?

TM: To me this really revolves around pharmacological issues. I have a- I guess it's a prejudice. It's so strong in me I think it's a piece of revealed gnosis, but I have a prejudice in favor of outlandish visual hallucinations. To me that is the sine qua non of the experience. That for me always defines success. Well, the kind of hallucinations that I'm talking about require silent darkness in order to form. Now, if you take psilocybin or one of these that I've mentioned out in nature, nature is, you know, wonderful, filled with light, extremely affirmative, complex, and you can dissolve into it. I guess- there's something of the scientist in me, I guess, and I, I wanted to see what it was, the [??] the thing in itself. With no music, no pretty scenery, no tactile sensation, just what can it do with pure velvet darkness behind closed eyelids, and the reward is that's where it works best because then there is nothing for it to interfere with it or to, uh, set it thematically in one direction or another. Finally you can see what is this bird on its own, you know. And, and so that's why I recommend darkness and, uh, isolation.

A: As a person who's never taken psychedelics, could you describe for me what a typical psychedelic trip is like?

TM: Let me begin by saying each one is different, but I won't stop there. Uh, in the case of psilocybin, like most of these indoles, they vary, but you take it on an empty stomach. I do not fast elaborately. Maybe 6 hours of not eating. And then you take it on an empty stomach in silent darkness. And I always basically calm down and ritualize the space as soon as I've taken whatever it is. I mean, we were amazed in South America with these ayahuasceros. They would stop everybody talking, everybody would knock back their hit of ayahuasca, and then the party would continue as though nothing had happened for 30 minutes and then they would call the meeting to order, and then it would happen 10 minutes later. But the way I do it is I sit for the hour, hour 20 minutes leading up to it. And I carry out what catholics call an "examination of conscience". This is where you think of the commandments, whatever they may be, one by one, and decide if you've violated any of them since the last time you did this. And I do this not, uh, in a planned fashion or out of piety, but more out of fear [audience laughs]. Bec-[Terence laughs] because if I were to discover a huge violation, I, I might, well, I don't know what I would do. The purpose seems to be to anticipate any bad trip in the hour and 20 minutes before it actually comes on. And then at about the hour, hour and 20 minute mark with your eyes closed you begin to see what is called streaming. Just streaming lights, and it's sort of what you see when you press on your eyelids, these things you see when you press on your eyelids- don't do it if you're wearing contact lenses- uh, are called phosphene imagery. And, uh, and there can be a wave of that, and then there's a feeling, a full-body feeling as these- you can almost see thousands of these drug molecules fitting into their receptors in the synaptic cleft and the electrical energy beginning to rise and then there is, uh, what Mircea Eliade brilliantly named the "rupture of plane". And the rupture of plane is fairly rapid. Well, then once the plane is ruptured you're in some other plane. And it is then- then it is what it is, and this is what you don't find out 'til you get there. It is some kind of x-ray of yourself, but you're unrecognizable to yourself and there is information. The most startling thing about these indole hallucinogens is the information. But we're not talking here about geometric patterns and, and whirling fizzgigs and stuff like that. We're talking about scenes, songs, strings of imagery, bursts of poetic flight that hover between being felt, seen and tasted that go on for minutes on end as though meaning itself has somehow taken on a self-replicatory light in the visible surface of the mind. And then it's all about, you know, how you come to terms with this. If you are ver- have always been a very tight-assed, denying, rational, fearful sort of person, well then you're just completely, completely appalled because boundary has dissolved, you don't know whether you're Agnes or Angus [audience laughter]. You don't know whether it's up or down and, uh, you know, it looks to you- it's like the E. B. White cartoon "it looks like melagomania- megalomania to me Martha!" [audience laughter]. So, uh, and you know, the old-style model was that you're supposed to swing from heaven-states to hell states and that the Tibetans have something to say about this. Well, I don't know, I think it's pretty much up for grabs. It's- I don't know, it, it builds in a fugue of images and meaning that finally leaves the realm of the sayable. And then it just goes off into what Wittgenstein called 'the unspeakable', and there, you know, it's the peace that passeth understanding and all things are made right, but you can't say very much about that when you come down.

A: Could you comment on your experience with the personality of the mushroom, with the mushroom as an entity.

TM: Oh yeah, how could I have gotten this far. Yes. I would have been remiss not to mention it because I think it's the central conundrum, at least for me personally and I think for any rational person dealing with these things. We're not just talking about passive agents of transformation and slideshows of alien worlds and stuff like that. The central mystery is that the thing is animate, that, that there is at the center of these experiences an organized entelechy- an ally, a spirit, an other, and an I-thou relationship is possible. And this is this leads us to the, to the edge of simply wild hyperbole and out into the realm of the utterly improbable. We have no place in our worldview for something like this. I mean, is it an extraterrestrial, is it Gaia, is it, uh, as some Jungians have said merely autonomous fragments of the personality that have slipped from the reins of the ego's control and now return to haunt us as gnomes, qabiri, water spirits, and silks of the air? Well, I don't know, [audience laughter] but, but the uh, who does know, you know? [chuckles]

That- the point not to be lost sight of is that, again, this is real. This is not rare. This is common on psilocybin. What the- what you don't get with- I don't believe anyway- but what you don't get with yoga, what you certainly don't get with mystical experience is any degree of on-command repeatability of these bizarre mental and physical states. And yet with something like DMT if you get somebody who is transported into a realm of self-transforming chattering machine elves. Chances are they will get elves every time. Well, imagine the impact of this on the rational mind. That you can be swept into a space where you, you have to entertain the possibility that- is this a UFO abduction, or am I dead, or am I jus simply god forbid totally insane now, or what is happening? The animate entelechy at the center of the experience is I think the greatest challenge for psychology for historical assimilation of this phenomenon generally. Because what is it? I mean, our science is trained to allow the slim possibility of extraterrestrials, and so our electro- I mean our radio telescopes point to the stars shifting millions of signals at a time, searching for a radio civilization, but what is it going to do to the forward thrust of historical continuity if right next door in the human mind there is an other so other that it cannot be assimilated and yet so accessible that it's only a matter of choice to stand it its awesome presence. Uh, I don't have the answer to this question. I think it's amazing that I am able articulate the question [audience laughter] because it is [clears throat] you know, it is against 500 years of expectation and programming that we are finally able to wake up almost as from a fever and say "my god, nature is alive! It's talking to us, it's alive!" No, you know, this is not a metaphor, I am not a Romantic, this is not an artistic or aesthetic stance. Nature is alive. Someone is on the line [audience laughs]. As far as who, I- I don't rush in to say. I mean, I'm very wary of anyone who claims to know who, because the- the problem seems to me one of great subtlety and depth. How can we know who is the other until we know who is the self? And perhaps one problem will cast, uh, significance on the other.

A: Speaking of the self. Isn't any discipline or spiritual path ultimately the threshold looking into the light of the one who sees? And if one can do that without physical substances influencing the body look through that window and experience that luminous beingness isn't that sufficient without the use of physical substances?

TM: Well, I think that's the challenge that the temporary encounter with this thing sets us, that yes, if we can encounter it temporarily through these shamanic means, then must it not become the historical arrow of our becoming? Must we not then recognize that this numinosum must rise into history as a fact of realizing the eschaton? That's what I think, that actually the shamans are seeing and have always seen some kind of trans-historical object, some kind of vast hyposthetization of our selves as deity that is casting a shadow back through time, and that all magic, all religion, all vision is an anticipation of this future state. What excites me is the notion that we may have reached the point in this process where we can consciously know that that is what we are doing, that that is what we are about, that our task is the architectonic expression of the divine other, and then set about it without any more haggling and, uh, tail-dragging. In other words, to realize what our destiny is will cause us to move toward it with much greater, uh, facility and smoothness. This woman at the door.

A: I have a son who was in a fog for 2 years using dope. What do we say to our children about this?

TM: Well, this, this is a real problem I think it goes to the general state of the drug problem, which is it is one of utter ignorance and victimization. I mean the government whines and yaps about education. But they're not doing any education. I mean the- what do you mean by dope? They have so linguistically impoverished us that we can't even make a distinction between marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, what have you. A whole new vocabulary of consequences has to be created. That's what I said earlier. What we don't want is habitual, obsessive, unexamined activity. We don't want it in commerce, we don't want it in drug use, we don't want it in social relations. We don't want unexamined, habitual forms of activity that are obsessively expressed. What we do want is conscious, caring, self-examining, inquisitive, uh, thinking people and institutions. So whatever mitigates against that has to be seen as a drug. And things like television, money, propaganda, all of these things then are seen as great evil, which they may not have been seen that way before. We have to get smart. You have to be smart to use drugs. You have to be smart to survive a planetary catastrophe. Now, our ancestors were smart. They got us this far. It wasn't easy. Five times the ice moved south from the poles. Five times the human family was islanded and divided by moving ice. It hasn't been easy all the way along. Until a hundred years ago there were no inoculations for infectious diseases. Most women died in childbirth. Many children died in childbirth. The average lifespan, even in Western society, was 35 years old. So, it- you know, it's going to be tough until we get to heaven. There has to be, uh, intelligence. And, you know, one way to be intelligent is to be conditioned. Our lives are not going to make sense if we tolerate propaganda in our lives. You cannot be half- slave and half free. You cannot be half hip and half yup [audience chuckle] you know.

So, uh, the main thing with the drug thing is to get smart, get real smart fast. So you will lose your children, and your mind, and your freedom because all this is at stake. This audience is- has supposedly a stake in psychology, in transpersonal psychology, which means the destiny and fate of the human mind. So, getting smart about the natures and opportunities of chemistry, archaic and modern, should be right at the top of the agenda.

We're going to have to end this. Thank you for your tolerance!

Original Transcription by: Eva Petakovic
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