1993-02-29, PuneIn which the erstwhile explorer attempts to validate and legitimize an otherwise abnormal and highly questionable existence through the use of verbal psychotechnics.
Three years ago I left home on a Journey. I had no idea or fantasy where this would take me. All I knew was that I must go. I felt called.
I had been living with an Intentional Community and growth center on the California coast, in a paradise known as Big Sur. The center is known as Esalen.
Before then, I lived in Los Angeles, and had pursued a professional career. I worked in the corporate business world 'climbing the ladder' and was an active participant in the 'yuppie' lifestyle, in fact buying into the 'American Dream'.
Living in Big Sur was the result of a dramatic shift in my life away from the more traditional or common everyday existence of a big city like Los Angeles, and a typical career. I had achieved a phenomenal measure of 'success' as dictated by the values of my peers, yet felt a certain uneasiness, a dissatisfaction with my life.
This may all sound like a mid-life crisis, yet, I was not even thirty-five at the time! On the outside, everything looked grand. Another good ole boy on the road to wealth, prosperity and happiness as defined by the textbooks in Graduate Business School.
Somewhere in those shadowy depths below the surface grew a strange longing for something more. I had enough of familiarity.
During my stay with the community I slowly emerged into a new person, a new being, experiencing the world through different eyes. My whole focus had changed, indeed, I had dropped a whole cultural and societal set of values and beliefs and was in the process of acquiring new ones. This a result of personal exploration and 'growth' that had commenced years before.
Eventually, I came to a crossroads. I had to choose whether to stay in another capacity, or go back to a familiar world or onto something entirely new.
I remember so clearly a discourse that I attended one day, out on the grass, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This Paradise had become home and what better place to grow, supported by the nourishment provided by that abiding mother, the Earth. I was in tune with the TAO, happy, carefree, exactly where I needed to be. Birds were swooping nearby and the sound of the surf, always present, and adding a punctuation to every observation.
Terence McKenna was speaking about his view of the World and the subjective nature of reality. How to find new dimensions within oneself. In fact, a whole discourse on the nature of exploration.
One phrase struck me like lightening. "Travel as a Psychedelic Experience!"
I had been contemplating what to do next. And felt there was more to discover for myself and that further exploration was inevitable.
I began to have disturbingly curious questions around the nature of Reality. What is objective, what is subjective, what is created, and by whom? Is the experience that I describe and you describe the 'same' experience? I felt on the edge of something here also, with this I needed to find answers for myself. As the Buddhists say, I have 'Beginners Mind'!
Having become an experiencer as well as immersed in many 'New Age' Psychotherapies, bodywork and other more traditional forms of awareness practice or consciousness raising techniques led me quite naturally to other doors.
I had also begun to follow a Shaman's Path. Here the experience of Reality reaches certain limits. The 'Real', out on the edge of comprehension by the rational mind, becomes blurred. This is also where I might indeed find understanding.
Through this 'meditation', virtually bubbling up from the depths without any previous fixed ideas or dreams was born a new direction. Virtually without any concept of what I was to do, I came one day to a clear decision. It struck me like a bell. There was no other recourse but to follow.
I had been 'called'. This much was clear. I was going on Pilgrimage!
What the hell does this mean?
I had never attempted nor contemplated anything like this before! Had no idea what was involved. No concept of what to do, where to look, how to prepare. This was all quite new.
I felt some fear in leaving, and also anxiety about my decision to not go back to a relatively stable existence. Life may have been easier that way. I could not. All I knew was that I was destined to Journey farther out, and in. All I knew was that I was going to do this thing. This Pilgrimage.
From the very beginning, there has been an amusing, occasionally frustrating taste to this endeavor. A kind of Parsifal activity that merges with Don Quixote. Like beginning the trail with a ninety pound backpack, prepared for every form of disaster except the obvious one of becoming a mule!
There was a period of intense research, contacting noted anthropologists for advice and information, studying texts on indigenous cultures and formulating a somewhat amorphous plan of action.
Then, once out in the wilderness, abandoning, out of necessity, all that I had learned through study, as well as most of that pack!
Preparation is all well and good. It's necessary and it works in the classroom and in the boardroom. Out in the 'field', deep in the midst of an unknown jungle, perhaps hostile, swept up in a tribal reality and way of life, that same preparation only serves to recognize minor signposts. This is life 'On the edge', where eventually all signposts are left behind.
They only take you so far, then you step into the mystery. Or rather, it grabs you unawares, spins you around in a dizzying chaotic dance that may leave all recognizable anchors uprooted and tossed aside. Then, as you sway drunkenly upon the shattered bones of decimated sureties, the mystery confronts you. In the midst of the Demon Of Darkness the best thing is to acknowledge that lack of certitude.
What was required is a dropping of all previous learning, all projections and rational thought. What is mandatory is to fully immerse and experience. Through that experience, integration and wisdom will follow. A personal understanding that ultimately proves more valuable than books or seminars ever can achieve.
What is Reality? Is it real when I sit down to a cup of coffee on a solid wood table and chair? Is the coffee and the solid wood of the table 'Real'? I worked in a world involving financial instruments and technology.
How 'Real' is a piece of simple white paper typed with legal terms defining an intangible amount of money, or a computer program for that matter? Can I touch it? Will the piece of paper feed me? Can the software program bestow the bliss state that an orgasm brings?
What about the Movies? The feelings and emotions evoked through a carefully staged drama or movie with gifted actors. Or the pulls and currents created by relationship. Is desire or attraction, anger, hurt, jealousy, despair all 'Real'?
What about that certain space created by ritual and ceremony? What we sometimes term 'Sacred Space'. Somehow through prayer, or chanting or music or dance a different sensation emerges. All of a sudden the experience of a 'normal' rational awareness of events and activities changes.
The fabric of interwoven ideas and certitudes begins to slip a little. The universe as we 'know' it becomes something else again, unfamiliar.
If I go a little farther out, into a dream state or hypnotic induction this produces another form of experience. Perhaps subjective, perhaps not. Something, an idea, a memory that has been suppressed, an internal emotion held for so long may rise to the surface. Whether it is through the Body or the Mind the memory manifests with an immediacy that becomes undeniable. Is this a real event or just another artificially created phenomenon?
Now, If I slide more toward the edge, toward the muddy areas where perception and fantasy seem to mingle and swirl in some form of unique interplay, something else may occur. If I take a certain medicine, a 'sacred plant' for instance, all of a sudden a new cosmos arises.
What were once subdued colors may intensify to become blindingly bright. Or they may change, become unstable. Blue may transform into green, then yellow and back to blue. This is the surface experience so often depicted.
There seems to be nothing solid. Every sense, from vision to auditory experience to taste, smell and touch will alter remarkably. For many, experimenting in this arena is a form of play, or a diversion from ordinary existence. Perhaps an escape. For others, this plane of existence beckons divinity.
There are innumerable internal states below the sensory level that suddenly become transformed. A superhighway of heretofore unnoticed information, thoughts feelings and awarenesses dynamically emerge.
These become interwoven in a novel and creative fabric where the weaving of events and emotions never before realized surface in a profoundly transformative way. This departure from the mundane can shake the very core of our beliefs and habits.
The emotional feeling states inside, as well as psychic states transform as well. Perhaps we then enter that field of awareness that Buddhists term the Sambhogakaya. They will open up, become more sensitive and receptive. This is called in the West; 'Hallucination'.
Many traditional cultures with more knowledge of this state of experience call it 'Reality'.
Under certain conditions extreme Psi-Sensual activity will manifest. What about the nature of this receptivity?
Information pouring in from everywhere. All the senses, memories, past present, future. Indeed so much so, that at some point, discrimination becomes a focus for understanding.
Without the funnel of our conditioned states all experience becomes a blur, until we become familiar with the new input. How much of this is 'Real'?
In the jungle, among the native tribes, a valuable tool is used to educate people about all different aspects of existence. A Psychedelic Plant. Perhaps the cactus San Pedro, or the vine Ayahuasca. These are revered as Sacred, and accepted as knowledge providers. They 'Open the doors to perception' as Aldous Huxley writes.
These plants provide physical and emotional healing, teach natives how to hunt, gather food, live in the forest, communicate with each other and with their environment.
The Shaman is looked upon as the spiritual and social leader of the tribe. He lives in these spaces and accepts the totality of experience as natural. To a Shaman, the discernment of what is 'Real' goes far beyond the mundane aspects of just what is physically tangible and materially perceptible.
There are other devices, other avenues for tapping into these altered states as well. Some cultures use chanting, some chaotic dancing. Drumming and music are a common device. Many in the east use Meditation as a tool.
All of these can evoke a trance state in the participants where possibility springs forth in cathartic presence.
The Tantric devices for perceiving phenomena as ultimately illusion and unity, or the Sufi practices for 'Self Remembering'. In the West we may use a form of Gestalt Awareness to gain clarity.
Are the awarenesses and experiential states created by all of these methods the same? Are they 'Real'?
Surprisingly enough, my quest exploded from a simple inspection of the tangibility of 'normal' reality into a consciousness around social and cultural beliefs that affect everyday existence. I became aware of the cultural bias and factors that support a particular form of practice and a particular way of life. The belief systems that bind societies to a 'commonly agreed nature of existence.'
There was also a shift in my understanding of ecological and environmental issues. I read many magazines in the States that described rainforest destruction, illegitimate farming practices and deforestation to provide supplies of lumber for a hungry building market.
This is all fine to sit back in an armchair and peruse over tea or a glass of wine.
I felt tremendously moved, saddened and angered and occasionally devastated when encountering the extensive reality behind the headlines. What I saw, firsthand, can only be experienced up close and personal.
Not just the razing of precious forest for cattle grazing, or the lumbering operations to provide wood. Or the incursions of oil companies into areas occupied by indigenous tribes. All of this is connected. It impacts the ecology, animal systems, The indigenous tribes dwelling on the land and the planet itself. The destruction that is allowed to go on in the name of progress, of modern society, is a travesty.
Perhaps even 'Rape' is too gentle a word for our insensitivity toward our ultimate Mother, this precious planet. Not to mention our lack of responsibility toward our unifying heritage, the indigenous peoples. I would not have come to this awareness if not viewing the damage with my eyes.
The burned land like scars on my skin, devastated jungle like a disease inside. The pain went deep, when first encountered. I had to 'Be There'!
Even into the political arena, where the 'real' is often a fabrication of some leader's imagination. And the 'reality' around certain activities and beliefs becomes nurtured by the marketing team with the most clout.
This became epitomized for me one day reading a quote in Time Magazine made by the 'President' of a Banana Republic, supposedly a Democratic Country in Central America; "We like being known as a Banana Republic. We want to export the best bananas in the World!"
Somehow all of this interacted in a dance to create levels upon levels of multi-dimensional interplay.
My gaze shifted as I wallowed through this and became more focused toward the interpersonal aspects of communication and mutual experience. Here the comparison and confirmation of experience not only uncovers novel departures, it also raises interesting questions about our emotional states and how these affect perception of each other and the consummate variety of messages we are issuing with our bodies.
Finally, this even narrowed into an intense inward journey.
It was like a path, where all roads eventually lead to the personal realization inside. The external eventually fades, the group dissipates, the emotional sharing with another that forms consensus becomes irrelevant. What is left is my own experience.
At this point the question of what is 'Real' alters into the more profound exploration of 'Reality Creation' itself!
This Journey has been a particularly personal one. Not an anthropological experiment, not a scientific or scholarly survey for textbooks or a class project. Not just a sojourn where I could function as an 'Outside Observer'.
This became my life, part and parcel. In every aspect, and virtually every moment, daily, it occurred as a 'Life' experience.
I was 'On The Road'. A traveler as well as explorer. Every independent experience filled with an architectural interweaving of unique levels of attitude. All constructed like a spider's web in their totality.
From the cultural and social biases to my emotional states to the level of understanding that I began with. Whatever was happening in my personal life as well as my explorations were all interleaved.
As my Saddhu friends in India say; 'It is all ONE, Baba!' Perhaps also, As the Tibetan lamas sitting in monasteries high in the Himalayas might observe; 'It is all Illusion!'
I remember one early morning, the sun had just began to creep over the horizon in a small village in Ecuador. A warm orange haze playing across the avocado orchard as I sat with my close friend, Wolfgang, in a windowed porch filled with bougainvillea and large hairy spiders. We were coming off a 'Vision Quest' that had lasted for twelve hours, sharing our new awarenesses and feeling the intimate warmth of weary journeyers into the Sambhogakaya.
Wolfgang is a Doctor and political activist. He was describing for me a particular aspect of political reality when he made a statement that sent shivers of electricity through me. He spoke of Karl Marx, and how his 'Enlightenment' was around money.
Enlightenment! Up till then I had always thought of that as an absolute.
What struck me profoundly was the understanding that even this aspiring state may be relative as well. And this fit so well, eventually when I began to question the relationships between Native Shamans in the Jungle, High Priests on Bali, Thai Buddhist Ajahns, Tibetan Rinpoches and Indian Gurus.
Deep in the Lacandon Rainforest, a part of the Yucatan jungle in southeastern Mexico lives a tribe of pure blood Mayan indigenous. An old man is Priest-King of those people. A real old man. Maybe one hundred fifty or more. Sits around smoking hand-rolled cigars all day, yet can still lead an all day ritual celebration or plant a field of corn.
That old Shaman may laugh at all of this. To him, it's just western contemplation. He does not know the philosophy behind meditation, the Vedas, or psychological theories of group dynamics.
He just lives it!
His 'Reality' is bare feet walking through a moist alive and vibrant forest, where intuitively he senses the presence of the dangerous Fer-De-Lance, or the spoor of a delicious Tapasquintly, a kind of large Rodent-Pig. He knows when the rains will come and how much.
He has an intuitive and immediate sense of what is occurring in his tribe. Not only day-to-day activities. He is aware of any personal conflicts and community dynamics affecting the welfare of his people.
He has responsibility. And he has a profound understanding of the entirety of his world. From the mundane aspects of hunting and planting to all the local spirits and unseen influences that affect his domain.
His Wisdom is not intellectual, it is in his feet, and is an organic part of his being.
Amazingly, he has a profound knowledge of the outside world as well. This without telephone or newspapers. I was amazed at his perceptive knowledge of events occurring in places far from his domain, such as Europe or North America. He has a solidly grounded relationship with the planet.
Not understanding what was happening at the time, I began following the trail, or rather doors began opening that led me from becoming intimately acquainted with the planet in a direct and responsive way to a realm of existence, a spirit world, accepted as an everyday part of life by elder tribes, yet spurned by modern society.
These sojourns led naturally to submersion in cultural and societal practices based upon an entirely different perception of existence than that promulgated in the West. Buffalo sacrifices can not only assure the safe travels of dead relatives to their appointed heavenly rewards, they can harmonize the lives of those left behind in a powerful and dramatic way. Social catharsis at its peak, and a celebration of life to boot!
In the hot tropical equatorial country of Brazil another ritual is encountered as a form of national catharsis. This of course is the famed Carnival. All standard forms of work, play, relationship and existence are consensually suspended for seven days. I was there during the Iraq Conflict.
The National Papers screamed in bold Headlines; "FORGET THE WAR. IT IS TIME FOR CARNIVAL!"
To the outside world this looks like a mass celebration. A Party. Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll are the media, and the message. Deep in the midst of this reverie, an unburdening takes place. All sense of social values and morality are washed clean.
This is an Orgy in the truest sense. Ultimately, it is a device to maintain harmony, to come back from the chaos and live as a unified society once again.
The inner paths began to integrate around meditation. From the teachings of personal responsibility and liberation proposed by Thai Buddhist Masters to exploring the body through Asian Massage and ancient Hindu Yogic discipline to an awakening of awareness around universal compassion and ultimate responsibility taught by mysterious and wisely innocent Tibetan Lamas.
The levels become deeper, more refined. Ultimately arriving to the doorsteps of an Indian Guru. He is 'The last step', a teacher to tie the strings together, and to unbind and release.
With the Master it's just 'Another day in Paradox!' The first and last door here is always inward.
What I had started out looking for had changed dramatically as all the millions of gateways that are available seemed to filter down like some sort of Cosmic Whirlpool toward an inquiry of 'Self', of 'Who Am I?' This also unveiled for me, quite surprisingly, an understanding of the way we create our 'World' and Godhood.
For me this became humbling and joyful. Not to mention lifetimes full of pain and suffering. Not all experiences are necessitated toward pleasure.
Karma and the Shaman's Path ultimately merge and dissolve to an entirely unknown and unmanifested universe of flux and possibility. The 'trip' includes dreadful illness, loss of 'Vision' a relationship trauma that precipitated madness, and eventually healing and rebirth, again into the unexpected.
There is also a confluence of what we term Shamanic Practice with those other disciplines more familiar to the Asian culture. I believe this occurs in the higher regions of Tantra.
The external or exoteric evidence is available and exposed on the walls of old Tibetan Temples, those Buddhist Monasteries dedicated to the teachings of an Indian Guru who brought the Buddha's Teachings into Tibet.
The psychedelic renderings of the Buddha, a cosmogony of Deities, various spiritual animals and creatures all point to a profound understanding of the Shamanic Vision.
This became abundantly clear to me in Ladakh, where I encountered a locally famous Healer, an Oracle.
Up there in the high steppes of the Northern Himalayas, conveniently accessible to the outside world only three months out of the year, I found a Shaman whose rituals and understanding of the world were eerily akin to those in the Amazon Jungles along the rivers.
From the use of similar ritual objects to the creation of a Mesa, or ceremonial table, to the entering of a deep trance state, to the practice of sucking out 'malos benedictos', bad objects, from the body of the diseased. And finally, the use of Copal, a particular incense from the sap of a tree.
These people have no knowledge of each other, or any form of contact that is rational. Yet they knew. And they practiced a similar form of ceremonial observation.
I had participated in healing ceremonies with Brujos in Central America, Curanderos and Yatiris in South America, Balians in Indonesia. All have similarities. All express their beliefs in a kind of universe that fits their culture.
In many cases this is also overlaid and interconnected with Western dogma, a kind of synthesis where all is accepted and practiced with a spirit of unusual levity. And ultimately, the Gnosis, the subconscious activity that underlies these varied maps of Reality transcend to a common level. And they work.
These chapters are individual essays really. They are discontinuous in the sense that they usually are discrete experiences. I am not an anthropologist, nor a scientist. This is not their 'raison d'etre'.
The unity that binds here is a curiosity and willingness to explore novelty. To delve into an unknown space, an altered state, an uncommon way of perceiving the world. And to resurface, perhaps with a new understanding of the universe, and myself.
Pilgrimage needs to find an ending, the closure for a way of existing and moving in the world. There needs to be a period of integration and absorption into whatever is discovered for oneself.
My Journey came to this closing space oddly enough geographically in western India. Karmic events coalesced to open another door, another Path deeper into the Heart, that for me was totally unforeseen. Yet, with all I had experienced, all that I had encountered, had become, I knew. It was time.
I am still on a voyage of discovery. Have no idea where this new path will lead, yet am finding the trail delightful indeed. All that I have seen, all I have encountered, experienced, reveled in, has brought me here.
This is not an ending, so much as a new beginning, an opportunity. What I am clear about is that I have created all of this.
So ....... this is for you, Companeiro. Enjoy, and 'Buen Viajes'!
Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman
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