[Note: This was featured on the Reality Sandwich website, you can read it HERE.]
“Everything in your life is there as a vehicle for yourtransformation. Use it!”
~ Ram Dass
“Rise, awaken, seek the wise and realize. The path is difficult to cross like the sharpened edge of the razor, so say the wise.”
~ Katha Upanishad
“Fear binds the world. Forgiveness sets it free.”
~ A Course in Miracles
“Love is the strongest medicine.”
~ Neem Karoli Baba
[Note: All participant names in the following true story have been left out due to the sensitive nature of this subject. If you are aware of the identities of those involved, please honor the author’s request for discretion. Thank you.]
“You are not a true master, and you will NEVER be a true master!”
Harsh as they sounded and crushing as they were to his ego, the words seemed inevitable and eerily familiar. They also felt completely appropriate for that moment. And in that moment surely he was demonstrating their truth by his laying face down on the ground outside of the ceremony space, sputtering, unable to sit up, barely even able to focus his mind for more than a few brief seconds at a time before it was once again hurled back into a horrifying vision of himself as a demon who was being cursed by the Divine Mother.
The woman’s fury continued, for a moment a little less fiercely, realizing perhaps that she had gone too far:
“At least… you will NEVER be on the level of the Shaman!”
Yes, he knew, it was true. This was happening because he had not known his true place in the universe — he was suffering under the illusion that he was somehow on par with the shaman, or even in competition with him. This now was happening and HAD to happen as he needed to be tested and asked to submit to the teacher and the medicine, ayahuasca.
This process had been set in motion during his first session with the Shaman some 6 months prior. After that ceremony, he had written a long, detailed account of his journey, part of which related a competition he sensed developing between the Shaman and himself.
Here is a small portion from his journal:
“[I sensed a] power struggle between myself and the shaman. Serious questions began to arise in my mind: Where is the shaman taking us? Who are we truly serving here? How do I know what the shaman’s true intent really is, if he even is even truly aware of what it is? Or maybe he is truly of the purest intentions, but maybe the ayahuasca and the traditions are not of the highest vibration. In which case, I really can’t rely on him or the brew, I better start directing this experience toward the highest. I actually did sense that I/we were kind of stuck in some high astral spheres and could go higher. When the shaman chanted in Quechua, too, it sounded very cool, but also somewhat demonic.
Now please don’t misunderstand me here – I’m just relating to you things that were coming up for me and don’t want you to think I’m passing judgment in any way. In fact, all of this got pretty much resolved anyway by beginning to think along the following lines:
I do feel that Shaman is doing the best he can here, just as I am doing the best I can, though we are both still human. If I judge him, I judge myself. If anything, he is more humble in that he long ago joined with a time-honored practice that goes way beyond him, for which he is but the instrument. He is not the teacher here, the ayahuasca is the teacher, and he is just speaking/singing on its behalf. In fact, I later felt that actually he IS the ayahuasca. And here I am who is captaining my own ship without compass, very much asleep at the wheel, not fully connected to anything truly ancient, very much distracted by all of our society’s many distractions, living in mental disarray. If I doubt anyone here, it should be my own egoic-demonic nature, which is leading me to have such doubts in the first place!
I think the final resolution came when the Shaman stopped singing, lay back on one arm, and said: “You see now the inner battle taking place. Ayahuasca forces you to choose which side you are on…” Or something to that effect. That was it! Who are you serving? Is it truth or falseness, purity or impurity, awakeness or asleepness? Looked at from that perspective, this is a choice that we all have to make, moment to moment. It’s an ongoing process. Fall asleep, and you risk opening yourself to energies that are not fully awake. So the task is to be very vigilant — don’t miss a beat, don’t have a second thought! That became one of my mantras for the night: “No second thought!” Later, towards the end, the Shaman began singing a song in Spanish that had the line “no otra pensa,” and that just confirmed what the ayahuasca was teaching (and again, he was the ayahuasca, or so I felt.)
Another mantra for the night was “don’t back down,” and it was a bit of an epiphany when I suddenly realized why keeping one’s back straight is so important – it’s literally not letting your back down!
This was all in the first couple of hours.
[Note: This was his first experience with a shaman using the traditional brew. He did have previous solo experiences with the Mimosa-Syrian Rue analogue, which is similar, yet also quite unique.]
Now, on this subsequent night, his sophomore trial with the Shaman, it felt like he was being shown that if he were to continue on this path, he needed to release all of his doubts once and for all and surrender to the medicine, as well as its divinely appointed administrator, the Shaman. This was an initiation. He also had a sense that this whole ceremony was there precisely for him to receive this very lesson. In any case, he seemed to have not much choice but to witness the undoing of what he had mistaken as his identity — the egoic, false self. Sometime later in the evening, the fallen yogi was rudely awakened once again by Kali:
“Do you now see that all of your yoga practice means nothing, it’s worthless! All of the yoga you’ve ever done has been completely useless!”
Strange as it might sound, he did not try to defend himself a bit in response to this new, seemingly over-the-top attack and respond something along the lines of, “Well, now, let’s just hold on one little second here and be fair…Worthless? Useless? You mean none of it’s ever been of any value? Well, I beg to differ…” As if he could! No, not even a whisper of objection came out of his half-open mouth. Even if his brain and lips could have even begun to form such a coherent line of reasoning, and even though there was a small part of him that was shocked in disbelief at the piercing words spewing from the mouth of this apparent channeler of Kali Ma, he was down for the count and there was a much deeper and greater part of him that knew that it was all true, that he need to just take it lying down, as it were. So he found himself merely assenting: “Yes” was all that squeaked out as he struggled to raise himself.
“Well, sit up and focus your mind!!!”
Yes, it was all about the mind in the end, wasn’t it? Not so much about the body. He had obsessively practiced and prided himself on these amazing contortions and tricks with his body, yet that was all just the preliminary, tip-of-the-iceberg work of yoga, and did not by any means signify “mastery.” Mastering yoga, mastering the mind, would require a much greater work and discipline than he had even dimly imagined was necessary. In fact, in the past decade or so of his yoga journey, he had slipped into a kind of mental complacency in regard to his practice, a comfortable numbness, if you will, feeling that he had somehow made it on some level because he was no longer so perturbed by certain external events.
Yet this night was showing him painfully and exquisitely pointedly how much work there was to really do as he proceeded down the rabbit hole into deeper layers of his being, and that his journey was really only just now beginning…
Now, that was all just on one level, a secondary level of interpretation. On another, more primal level, again, he felt himself as the rankest demon imaginable, completely cursed and doomed to lifetimes of torment due to having abruptly left his teachers years before and debased the yoga tradition with his phony, watered-down teachings that were guided not by a truly divine inspiration, but rather his own fear-based financial concerns (fears), the desire to have an easy life, etc., all due to having fallen away from the true path of yoga. In essence, he had missed the point, missed the mark, and this was not just a “mistake,” this was his Doom, his Damnation. Perhaps what especially killed him (the ego) was the feeling that he was exposed, and that everyone – all of his students — really could see through his whole charade and were just playing along with the façade on the surface of things. (He saw it as no coincidence that all of this happened on the same day that he graduated 12 students from his Yoga Teacher Training program with, to all appearances, a very beautiful ceremony, enjoyed by all.)
Here is another piece of what he wrote after that first session that might help paint a fuller picture:
“One of the first things that came up was that I really don’t have it together as a teacher. I was seeing all of the things that aren’t completely kosher about what I do, especially in light of what I could be (and I was being shown that, too, particularly later) and in light of the night’s facilitator, our Shaman, and I was just seeing how much I am currently missing the mark, all the little things I need to do to clean up my act and be “crystal clear.” I don’t think the ayahuasca is asking for anything less than that. In which case, we all are falling short of the mark. And I understood that, too, and I also recognized that as much as I was in awe of the shaman, he, too, is going through his own process of evolution.
I also saw that our “human condition” is what it is insofar as we have allowed our egoic-demonic nature to get the better of our higher impulses to evolve beyond selfishness. And I saw all-too-clearly how much ego I truly have, how much I think of “me” over and above “we,” how many times my immediate, unconscious thought is not for the upliftment of others, but for the aggrandizement of myself. As I said, it wasn’t too pretty.
Again, though, I realized that we’ve all made this luciferic rebellion again God, it happened long ago. We chose to be separate, to want to live apart from God, to go our own way. But it hasn’t truly served us, nor the highest good of all. So now the task is just to correct course and consciously choose to expand our consciousness beyond our egoic prison.
That said, I was feeling this all very much being applied to me personally, and I actually felt exposed. I felt as if now the students who had come to be taught yoga were all seeing me for who I really am, which is a fraud, phony, half-baked yoga dilettante. I felt the shaman was seeing all of this, too. What added fuel to this was the fact that the energy began to move me into “kriyas,” or automatic bodily postures and movements.
For example, I suddenly realized I had my arms raised in the air. Just a little later I discovered my upper body was being circled around like I do at the outset of most of my yoga classes. It’s not that these didn’t feel good, they did. And these were the kinds of experiences I had always wanted to have 10 years ago when I had been in a kundalini yoga shaktipat group but never did. Now I was forced to acknowledge that although these were “fun,” they also were the result of unconsciousness, of my own asleepness. I again had a feeling of slight embarrassment that people were seeing me, particularly my students, and realizing I didn’t really have it all together. (This was all somewhat confirmed later when one of the sitters told me that at one point I looked like one of the asuras/demons who do yoga poses as a way to gain favor of Lord Shiva – something from a Hindu comic book she read.)”
Again, note that was from his first night’s experience with the Shaman months before, one in which the Shaman had used less potent medicine. This night’s journey had taken things to their absurd conclusion: Not only was his life and teaching a complete farce, which would have been bad enough as it was, but he was also cursed forever for his phony “practice,” plunged into the deepest and darkest hell to shake and tremble and be humbled at the feet of the “true” yoga masters, among whom the Shaman was also numbered. He was being made a laughingstock of the universe – an example of what NOT to do, or else be damned for eternity. He was the Cosmic Fool, the Jokerman, the Buffoon. And he couldn’t get up for falling down. God knows he was trying.
Keep in mind that this was a VERY powerful brew that the participants had been given that evening, the most potent that the Shaman had ever administered. In fact, the Shaman was originally going to offer 2 nights of ceremonies, then at the last minute decided that with this particularly potent brew only one would be necessary. (Later the yogi was told that he wasn’t even the worst off that night. Apparently there was a woman who kept pleading “Please God help me!” over and over again, to the point that some of the other participants were considering calling 911. As with the yogi, she was eventually taken outside and plunged under a cold shower, ultimately coming through the other side of her own nightmarish ordeal still alive to process it all.)
To begin at the beginning…
The medicine had taken effect almost immediately that evening, and it was very soon that he found himself writhing on the ground like a snake, actually very much enjoying the feeling of it, yet also remembering that they had all been asked to sit up and sit still during the ceremony. Still, having no consciousness of time at that moment, but sensing that he was actually getting away with this behavior for awhile, the thought occurred that maybe this was permitted…?
The thought also arose of some kind of special dispensation due to the very unique way the medicine was moving him – him, and only him. These passing, half-conscious thought-bubbles were quickly burst when the shaman came over and informed him, firmly yet gently, that he needed to sit up. This was part of the Shaman’s tradition of using the ayahuasca, not just to have a cool psychedelic journey, but as a meditative, yogic practice to master the mind. Apparently true mastery means complete stillness. Some moments later he was back in his body enough to say, “I’m really trying to…” and he did actually manage this for a moment, only to collapse back down again unconscious a moment later.
Not too long after the Shaman came over, he was forcibly removed by sister Kali, or so it felt in that fragile, suggestible state, where the littlest word or gesture can be magnified to cosmic proportions.
Indeed, later he was to reflect on how quickly the whole journey went south, given the sudden roughness with which he was being treated. If he had just taken the brew on his own, he thought, maybe he would have just writhed on the ground the whole time and the entire experience would have been as heavenly as it felt in that moment of writhing. He would have continued, perhaps, to have a view of himself as this highly advanced being with a special connection to the medicine, evidenced by his blissful, serpentine movements.
As it turned out, as soon as his very suggestible/susceptible ayahuasca-flooded body-mind was given the idea that there was something wrong with him, the whole experience in an instant became hellishly tormenting. Suddenly he began to see how clearly every thought he had ever had, and hence every action he had ever performed, had come from a place of selfishness. As you might guess, this was unbearable to see. He later recalled clearly expressing at this moment something to the effect of, “So much ego…it’s all ego.” This was within earshot of Kali and it appeared she just knowingly and triumphantly harrumphed.
Then began the ordeal – the being put under the cold shower (by another sitter, who also handled him roughly, he felt), left out on the ground outside the yurt, the verbal humiliation of “the great yogi,” and the continued negative energy thrown at him…all of which ultimately resulted in him lying unconscious face down on the ground for the duration… until the Shaman finally came out and did a whole healing ceremony over the completely devastated, humbled one.
Not long after this, as the Mrtyunjaya Mantra was being chanted, he was led, by a considerably more subdued Kali (also coming down from the experience), back into the hall to be with the others once again. Only now he was in a state that could only best be described as a “blank slate.” For the moment, at least, every illusion, every selfish or arrogant conceit had been removed from his awareness. He was in a place of complete submission and had to be actually led by the hand, like a little child, back to his place among the gathered. Only he wouldn’t sit in his assigned seat, he would only sit down to the left of the Shaman. This was not conscious, mind you, it was told to him later. Also not apparent to him was how much his physiognomy had changed within the space of the last 4 hours (which felt more like an eternity). He did not look like himself, he was told by his close friend who was also present there (though not allowed to leave the yurt to help him), he appeared completely other. It was scary, she said.
He recalls sitting there motionless, in another world, only half-hearing, as if from afar, the closing words of the Shaman. One piece of the discourse that did make it through to his awareness and stick: “When we first begin working with ayahuasca, we start to see how much inner work there is to be done.” Indeed, the night’s events seemed to have proven this to him without a shadow of a doubt. But what to do when you’ve seen that your whole life is a lie, a complete and total sham? It all seemed futile. There was a part of him that wanted to do nothing but leave everything he was doing and join the Shaman in the Peruvian jungle to continue with this process. Or perhaps to just meditate for the rest of his days unto death…
Yet that was not an option at this point, and the waking nightmare continued. In the coming days, it felt as if his heart was breaking, or maybe just broken was his will to live. For about a whole month he had difficulty just looking people in the eye after what he had seen about himself. Some close friends tried to convince him that he was being too hard on himself, that he was “a good person,” that everyone really loved him, etc. He wasn’t completely buying it, after what he had seen. And yet, slowly, slowly, a healthier, more balanced ego-perception began to be born and assert itself. And through this process of ego re-assertion, a thought came to full flowering that had been there in seed form all along:
“I didn’t deserve that treatment from them.”
So he wrote a letter to his persecutors, as well as the Shaman. At this point, in a still somewhat paranoid state, perhaps, he really felt that the whole ordeal had been orchestrated by the Shaman, and that the two others had conspired in it with him. However, he was certainly clearheaded enough not to accuse the Shaman of this, yet to make it clear to him and to the “sitters” involved that he felt that they had acted inappropriately. Indeed, as he was to learn only later, according to the rules for sitters laid down by the Shaman himself, sitters are to speak very little, if at all, to the participants, and certainly not to speak negatively or harshly to them in that very vulnerable state. Yet he did not need this information to feel that he had been mistreated.
So he wrote his letters.
The letters to the sitters tried their best to refrain from accusatory or judgmental language, just to express that he felt what had happened was inappropriate and he was seeking some kind of acknowledgement and resolution with them. From the sister sitter who had held his head under the shower, he received a response that essentially took to say,
“Join the club, we’ve all had our asses kicked by the medicine, deal with it.”
There was no further response after he wrote a follow-up in which he said that what happened left him feeling abused, even raped. (He had perhaps gone too far with that one.)
The letter to the Kali sitter sister received even less of an acknowledgment, just the maddeningly brief text,
“Peace to All Beings.”
The Shaman’s email response was disappointingly sparse and non-committal. His words were cordial, encouraging even, yet said nothing about what was done, only that everything really was fine, and that the yogi was doing good work and should keep on doing what he was doing, that things would get much better for him, he’d see. The Shaman also suggested coming down to Peru at some point for a dieta (a more extended retreat working with the medicine). Again there was a follow-up, and again no response. So he was left to wonder and stew a bit more in all of this…
Until a few months later. It was the end of July and the Day Out of Time gathering brought him once again back to the site of his humbling at the yurt. Only this time things all seemed to be turned around. In the morning, he offered a well-received yoga session in the yurt to the assembled, followed by an equally well-received series of sound healings with didgeridoo in the main house. (Interestingly, while this was happening in the main house, a team of workers dismantled the yurt – a last act of revenge by the woman of the house whose partner, still owner of the property but not often there, had gotten physically violent with her and then gone off with another woman. The thought occurred to him that this sudden turn of events in this relationship was at least partly due to the immensely powerful energy of the ceremony and the medicine from that tumultuous night months prior, and complemented the poetic full-circle closure to the whole affair that was to come…)
At this time, the yogi also met a woman from Peru who he was to develop a close friendship, and who just happened to come all the way from the other coast with another Peruvian woman. At the end of the day he and the second Peruvian got to talking and it suddenly dawned on both of them that they knew each other – from the first retreat with the Shaman(!) Yes, this was none other than the Shaman’s wife or lover (he was never quite clear on this point) just that at that moment the two had agreed to be apart, yet she was still helping the Shaman to organize his gatherings.
He asked her if he could tell her something in private, and she agreed. They went for a walk during which he shared the events of the night at the yurt a few months before, a gathering at which she had not been present. Much to his surprise, she noted that the Shaman was already thinking that it would not be wise to continue to work with the woman whom he felt had acted inappropriately at the ceremony as they had received similar reports, and he was asked if he knew of anyone else who might be in the liaison position for the next gathering in the area? To shorten what could be another longish tale, what ended up happening is that through some mysterious process he became the organizer for the next ceremony(!) And that ceremony turned out to be a very blessed experience for all involved, and the Shaman himself noted that it was one of his best yet (and he had done many).
To recap this turn of events:
We saw the yoga’s complete humiliation/devastation at the yurt, a major ego-death experience that left him in a very vulnerable state, deeply questioning his very existence, feeling that his whole life was one big lie. Also, there was the feeling that he had been abused by the Shaman and his assistants. Then, just a few months later, there was a redemption of sorts during a Day Out of Time – a day when the whole thing got turned on its head, and the felt sense of a conspiracy against him seemed proven to be all in his head. He ended up interviewing the Shaman for a book he is writing on the subject of yoga and plant medicines…
Of course, the yogi in this story is me. I decided to write the story in the third person for various reasons, including seeing it more objectively, not getting too caught up in the “I” of it all.
I did not write it in third person to hide behind a literary disguise. I completely own the story and have retold it to the best of my ability with no alterations. I choose now to write from the first person again to bring my journey up to date — and there is quite a bit of updating to be done, for where I am now is a decidedly new space of understanding of all of this.
Three years, three relationships, three publishers, several other ayahuasca Shamans, and a whole host of new experiences and thinking on this whole subject later, I feel that I am in a better position to share about yoga, truth, illusion, ego, spirit…and psychedelics.
Some of the high and low-lights of my journey…
~ Having 2-3 well-known publishers interested in this work, and at the last moment, just when IT was about to happen, the deal was about to be made, being turned down, and in the process reviving those deep down feelings of lack, unworthiness, of not having it all together.
~ Definitely connected to that: Getting into 3 relationships during this period where what felt so right at the start ended so quickly back in shadowland once again. I seemed to be getting the message not to fool around with being in relationships, at least not until I work through these deep blockages, particularly around finances. One seeming sign: At the climactic close of one of them, my laptop was stolen and I had not backed up the latest version of this book, which I had in any case put off for months as I pursued the path of true love. In the subsequent aftermath, on a mushroom journey together, that particular romantic partner later reopened that same Mother Wound from the ceremony (and from other, past relationships, including with my birth mother). Suffice it to say, next to ayahuasca, these relationships have revealed the deepest truths about my inner barriers to real love.
~ Meeting with a world-renowned astrologer who just happened to have been a Meher Baba devotee for the last 4 decades. Recall that in the early Sixties, the Indian guru Meher Baba had a pamphlet published in America, “God in a Pill?” through which he wanted to warn the hippie youth of the dangers of the use of LSD and other similar psychedelic compounds. Among other things, this small book declaimed that, contrary to popular countercultural opinion, these and similar drugs were NOT in the least doorways to the spiritual. The self-proclaimed “Avatar of the Age,” Meher Baba’s writings on this subject were enough to prompt the former Harvard Psychology professor Richard Alpert to write to him for his counsel, to which the master replied that LSD had only served to bring Alpert and those who were truly ready, to Him. Not long after, Alpert went to India and found his guru, another Baba – Neem Karoli Baba – and the rest is history. Getting back to the story at hand, although the astrologer in question did not explicitly say it, I gathered that the catalyst for his becoming a devotee of Meher Baba was an LSD trip in the early ‘70s during which the MB appeared to him and told him he was his teacher, which would make sense as he had essentially informed Ram Dass that the only redeeming value of LSD was to possibly bring to the Avatar those who were ready for Him. (Interestingly, more recently, another world-renowned astrologer told me about an LSD trip of his in late 1969 during which he saw a face in the clouds that looked like Zeus with the sun shining through his eyes. On returning to his apartment, he turned on the radio and the first thing he heard was the news of Meher Baba’s passing. He realized then that it was Meher Baba’s face that he had seen in the clouds. Note that he was not a MB devotee then nor since.) In any case, the astrologer who is a Meher Baba devotee counseled me strongly against writing this book, and said that I have severely damaged my aura through use of psychedelics. While there is a part of me that feels there is truth to what he shared, another part really doubts it and wants Meher Baba himself to tell me that while I’m on LSD 😉 In any case, I found myself to be very impressed with Meher Baba’s teachings and do take his teachings to heart.
~ And then there was that other ayahuasca shaman and his wife with whom I did several medicine journeys. He was not native Peruvian, but had trained in Peru and was also interestingly a follower of yet another Baba — the controversial South Indian self-proclaimed avatar, Sai Baba (Sai Baba had not yet passed when I first met this shaman.) Like the other Peruvian-trained shaman I had worked with, his ceremonies included the traditional icaros from the Amazon, as well as Sanskrit mantras, and even some specific to Sai Baba. When I told him of this book, he took great interest and promised to help me with it. At one point, he even sat me down and gave me a whole beautiful dissertation in Spanish on the subject with a translator. The main point I gathered from it was his very confident assertion that ayahuasca is none other than Soma, the psychoactive brew of the ancient Vedas, or at least a sister of it. Where he got this information I did not ask, though I understood that it was from the medicine itself, as well as from other trusted sources. It’s interesting to note, too, that his beloved partner, a follower of Swami Muktananda and Gurumayi, excitedly shared with me that Muktananda told her during one of her medicine journeys that ayahuasca is no different than Soma. Perhaps you can see how confusing this can be as to who and what to believe when one guru/authority says one thing and another strongly maintains something else. (I will also note that at this moment in time, I had serious doubts about the spiritual authority of both Sai Baba and the Muktananda/Gurumayi lineage, and also questioned whether these teachers would ever condone the use of ayahuasca as a spiritual tool.)
~ On that note, I recently met yet another Baba, Prem Baba, believed to be an enlightened being, who currently presides at an ashram in Rishikesh, India, yet who is from Brazil and grew up heavily immersed in ayahuasca shamanism, later training extensively in psychotherapy. The particularly interesting thing about this teacher is that he openly uses all three layers in his teaching – the traditional yogic layer, the psychotherapeutic layer, and the medicine layer, skillfully weaving them together into a teaching that he calls “The Path of the Heart.” That said, in recent years he has moved away from offering ayahuasca sessions in certain parts of the world like the US, partly due to the illegality, and also apparently because he wants to place more focus on silence and meditation. It appears his worldwide following is growing rapidly.
Before I go on, I want to be clear what ayahuasca has and hasn’t done for me over these last 5 years of working with it.
* Clearly ayahuasca hasn’t made me enlightened, if there truly is such a thing, though it has done the work of a traditional guru and illuminated the darkness within (Jung’s “Shadow”), which has allowed me to be more aware of and correct/prevent self-serving, fear-based thoughts, words and actions.
* It also hasn’t made me completely free of fear, though through it’s use I feel so much more free of the grosser manifestations of fear than I did 5 years ago before I began on this journey, something which I attribute to directly facing and living through my deepest sources of suffering with the medicine.
* It hasn’t yet completely unblocked my heart and throat centers, which perhaps have been closed at least since 11-years-old when my parents went through a very painful separation and then divorce, partly which I blamed on myself. Yet it has helped me to be much more aware of those blockages, based in deep-seated feelings of guilt and self-loathing, and to be seeking tools with which to release them.
* It hasn’t brought me financial abundance or even much greater day-to-day joy in living; yet again, it has made me so much more conscious of self-sabotaging thoughts and actions (such as how the ego sabotaged the publication of this book), so that slowly, slowly, I am emerging from the shadow world based in fear and self-serving and preserving impulses into living a life based in love, loving others as myself.
* Finally, and perhaps most amazingly, I do feel that I’ve been guided by the spirit of ayahuasca this whole time to the different places I’ve lived, the people I’ve encountered, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I also feel that it has brought me to a deeper understanding of the human psyche, which in turn has prepared me for the next huge revelation on my journey, the most recent and the last that I will share here…
“This world you seem to live in is not home to you. And somewhere in your mind you know that this is true.”
~ A Course in Miracles
I had known about this particular book since I had first moved to Florida 10 years ago to teach yoga. It had always been just on the periphery of my awareness, and there had been the thought: “Hmmm, that might be a really worthwhile read at some point…” The author occasionally showed up in little local spiritual publications I picked up occasionally and I was generally impressed by what he was saying, feeling he was tapped into something. Several years later, after opening a yoga school, something prompted me to purchase a deck of inspirational cards based on the author’s book which I would occasionally give to my students, only to discover after awhile that the cards seemed a little off – not completely the New Age thought system that has more often than not become what we think of as mainstream “spiritual” thinking. After awhile I didn’t feel so comfortable using the cards anymore, so I stopped giving them out.
In more recent years, someone gave me the particular book in question, Gary Renard’s Disappearance of the Universe (2003), and I carried it around with me for a good long while before finally actually reading it this past March while putting on a yoga retreat in Bali. At first, I just read it on the fly and skipped around in it, thinking I could just extract nuggets from different parts of the thick text that seemed interesting, as I often do with books these days (you?). Until I realized that to really receive the full impact and import of the book, I would have to read it start to finish. I ended up going through most of it on Nyepi, the day of silence in Bali where no one goes out or uses electricity, which allowed for just the right environment to devote to one of the most fascinating and catalyzing books I’ve ever read.
Essentially, Renard’s Disappearance is a primer for A Course in Miracles (ACIM), though on the surface it’s disguised as something else. That perhaps is a draw for someone like me. If it had clearly been about ACIM from the start, I might not have ever picked it up, for the same reason I never got into the Course itself (too big, biblical, Christian, etc.), though it too was ever on the periphery of my awareness. Renard himself says that if it hadn’t been for what happened to him to cause him to get into ACIM, he would probably never have understood the Course, as it’s just too inaccessible to the layreader. It is a fact that Renard’s book has brought many lapsed ACIM students back to the Course, and also inspired many more, like me, to pick it up and begin to understand its message. What is still controversial is how Renard’s book came to be written…
As Renard tells it, it all began back in 1993 when he was living with his wife in Connecticut and going through a rather rough period in his life. Then one day, out of the blue, he was visited by these two Ascended Masters in his living room who appeared just as real to him as any other two people sitting on his sofa. Thus began a series of 18 talks between Renard and the Ascended Masters, Arten and Pursah, that was to become the basis of “Disappearance.” Renard claims he actually recorded most of these talks and transcribed them, but then later threw away the tapes. (This reminds me of Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois claiming that they created Ashtanga Yoga from an ancient yogic scripture written on palm leaf, the Yoga Korunta, which they said was not too longer after eaten by ants.) While reading Disappearance, I kept debating with myself as to whether or not Renard actually could have come up with all of this on his own. On the one hand, it’s quite brilliant and there’s so much in there that would have been challenging to pull off by himself. On the other hand, he had 10 years to write it and he’s clearly a really smart guy. It really could go either way, and in any case, the secret is well-kept with Renard.
Whatever the truth may be, the fact is that while there is a minority Course contingent who seem out to get Renard for being a fraud, there seems to be a majority of insiders in the Course community who have found Renard’s book to be helpful and clarifying – whether he is the sole author or not. While there is still a part of me that wants to leave this whole question open, it is enough for me to know that Renard’s book has earned the respect of longtime course students, not to mention that I myself found it helpful. So without further ado about nothing, what’s so important about all of this that I feel called to share about how it helped my own process?
First of all, the Course (and this is very much about the Course, not Renard’s book, which was just the inspiration to pick it up) is for the most part very much in keeping with the deepest teachings of yoga as found in Advaita Vedanta, as well as with Eastern mystical thought in general. Bill Thetford, who dictated the Course for his colleague, Helen Shuchman, the channel for the material, once called ACIM a “Christian Vedanta.” That’s a nice way of concisely summing it up, yet it’s really not Christian in the conventional sense (though it claims to have been dictated to Shuchman by Jesus); and it’s not really Vedantic either, considering that it has certain emphases, such as the practice of forgiveness, which we don’t find explicitly in the Vedantic texts. It actually presents more of the Gnostic/Mystic teachings of Jesus, such as what we find in the Gospel of Thomas, and which Renard’s books have brought to the fore.
For the sake of brevity, I will list what I feel are the essential points the Course makes:
1) Only what is truly permanent is Real, all else is illusion.
2) The world, and even what we think of as the Universe, is impermanent and thus illusionary (the Sanskrit term is “Maya.”)
3) The only thing that we can really say to be Real is Love, and Love is synonymous with God (or call It what you wish – Source, Self, the Absolute, Oneness, etc.).
4) Everything else that is not Love was created by the ego in primal fear of God’s retribution. The ego lives and thrives on separation, and it created the entire Universe to hide from God.
5) There is only one Ego appearing as many. The ego’s horrific fear of God/Love is deeply buried in each of our subconscious minds, and all the little fears we feel in our life go back to this one primal fear. The irony is that even though one of the ego’s greatest fears is of being alone in the universe, cut off from others and Source, that’s its whole game – to create separation, division, and thus, in a word, Fear. It is this Fear that keeps creating new bodies over and over and over again, thus perpetuating the illusion of separation.
6) Through specific mental disciplines using our discriminative capacity (essentially a kind of Jnana Yoga), particularly that of Forgiveness, we make the journey back to God/Source.
7) True forgiveness, as the Course teaches, is not just to forgive someone even though you still feel they wronged you, but rather, to recognize that there really is only one Ego appearing as many, we have never truly been separate from God, and thus there is truly Nothing to forgive! Yet we do need to forgive, as it is through the practice of forgiveness that we remind ourselves of the truth of what we are, and we restore the mind to its original wholeness, the Christ Consciousness.
8) As we do these practices, we are not fixing anything, but rather correcting the ego’s deranged thought system. We are essentially removing the blockages to Love within ourselves, and waking ourselves up out of the dream/illusion of separation that the ego created. The Course says (like it not, believe it or not), this whole process of forgiveness and awakening to our true Self is what we’re really here for, what we all REALLY want, nothing else. Deep down, we know that this is not our true home, and yet we’ve played along with the illusion out of fear of God, and yet ultimately God is Love, which has no opposite.
So applying all of this to my own journey… What I discovered, first with meditation, and later with ayahuasca, is actually how profound, primal, and deeply embedded my own suffering truly is. I was most painfully aware of this as a teenager, yet covered it over with things like distance running which provided merely a temporary bandaid for that core existential angst. So on the surface, I could be relatively free of that pain, yet it still existed within me on a deep level, and was the true source of my feelings of unworthiness, guilt, shame, self-loathing and anger to the point of rage at all life.
I used to feel I was unique in this, and that was both a source of pride and disempowerment, which I was continually cycling back and forth between – inferiority, then superiority, and back around again. What has taken a long time to dawn in my awareness is the idea that what I thought was unique to me is really a human (or rather, Cosmic) problem that I mistakenly took personally. Or rather, we think it’s a problem. Our suffering seems so real, and yet ultimately, say the great wisdom teachings (Buddhism, Vedanta, the Course, etc.), it’s not truly real, and at the heart of things we have always been safe at home — and in our heart of hearts, we know this.
So with these medicine journeys, I could stop at a certain level of interpretation and say: Wow, I didn’t realize how really fucked up I am, I really still have so much shit to work on!!! And in a relative sense, yes, that’s true. On a still deeper level, if I do that, I also get sucked into making the whole thing more real that it is, rather than merely witnessing it, releasing the judge and forgiving the thought that there is anything other than perfection, that there is anything that can truly affect Spirit, that behind all of this is Unconditional Love.
The only problem with this approach is that it’s very challenging to do that and not feel guilty and in fear of the judgment of others, not to mention the sense that one is escaping the “real world” and one’s “true” feelings. One teacher friend here on Maui has been trying to get me to first feel my inner rage, particularly at my father, saying that I’m in denial, numb, and the only way out is in and through. That seems to me to be but one method, one path. Another, though, and more in line with the Course, is to recognize that the deck has been stacked against us all – perhaps through millions of years and thousands of incarnations of thinking we’re a body-mind-ego — and perhaps the best we can do is, yes, to acknowledge those feelings, yet also release them with forgiveness – forgiveness of everything, with the acknowledgment that, to quote that Leonard Cohen song, there is a crack in everything (and everyone) in this world, that’s how the light gets through. We thus forgive what only appears to be “wrong,” now seeing the perfection in the seeming imperfection.
So the 7-year-old wounded inner child might feel: Mom, Dad, you really fucked up my whole life, I hate you (of course, didn’t know the f-word at that point ; ) The 44-year-old yoga guy, though, might acknowledge those childhood grievances, yet now be able to truly OWN it and forgive it, with the recognition that they were doing the best they knew how, just as he is. If he hates them or gets angry at them for anything, it is really only coming from how their judgment of him dredge up his own feelings of guilt, shame, unworthiness, etc. (in a word: Fear) Yet those feelings are not even truly his own feelings! They lie deeply embedded within us all as part of this shared collective unconscious ego-mind, including his parents! They might express themselves differently in each individual, yet ultimately they emanate from the same separative source.
I began to realize all of this even before getting involved with ACIM, mainly through yoga and working with the spirit medicine plants, which I feel prepared me for the Course. After one particularly revelatory evening of medicine work during which I had been really seeing and taking full responsibility for my own part in the whole drama with “Kali Ma” that erupted the night at the yurt, I felt the strong directive to write to my “persecutor” and finally bring some resolution to it all. Here is a just slightly edited version of my Facebook message to her:
Namaste’ / Wanted to just check in with you to apologize about my reaction to what happened at the ceremony that night at the yurt. i was resisting the truth of what was coming through you to tell me, because it was too painful to look at…Instead of seeing what you did as wrong or inappropriate, it was really for me to surrender to the perfection of what was, and to receive the lesson with great humility — and i did, too, but not without a bit of a fight. And my reaction was perfect, too, because it was good for my sanity at that point to do that, my healthy ego boundaries needed to re-assert themselves, at least it felt that way, otherwise i would have been traumatized for much longer. Anyway, i feel now that really the appropriate response from me was/is to thank you (you as the instrument for that deep teaching) for facilitating that ego death process that night, and I am sorry for the fallout that occurred, and I also realize now that there’s a sense in which one could say that you sacrificed yourself for my liberation, so i really feel the need to express my absolute gratitude for what you did. Anyway, that’s all i wanted to say, felt that so strongly during my last session with the Mother Vine on the Solstice. Perhaps you already felt that from me, just putting it into words to make it more concrete…
When I wrote this, I had no idea of what the response would be — more of the same harshness I had experienced that horrific night, complete silence, or what…? Yes, there was still a good bit of that ashamed child that feared more of the same chastisement from the Mother. And yet that fear, like all fear, was unfounded…
Namaste to you…I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Your message means more than you know. The timing was perfect! I too must apologize for not being more loving and humble. Nothing happens by mistake in God’s world. There is no good or bad, just learning curves. Sometimes our lessons can be painful, but is sometimes necessary for us to attain enlightenment. The ego is very cunning. The good news is that if we keep our focus on the divine the ego doesn’t stand a chance! So many lessons to be learned in this world. I’ve come to realize that the only thing that is truly real and everlasting is love. It sounds like your process is coming along beautifully. I am grateful to have been part of it. I think it has been healing for both of us. Being in “The Christ Consciousness” can be a challenging journey but it is the most rewarding! I was reading A Course in Miracles today and thought I would share this with you:
“I am here only to be truly helpful.
I am here to represent he who sent me.
I do not have to worry about what to say or do because he who sent me will direct me.
I am content to be wherever he wishes knowing he goes there with me.
I will be healed as I let him teach me to heal.”
You have a great gift. You are a true healer who can make a difference in many lives. Remember to be humble and that you are a vessel that God works through. Love Always…
As I just re-typed these words from Facebook, I had an “aha” moment. I realized that I had not re-read this message since it was written, and at that time I first read it, I really knew nothing about A Course in Miracles and so they did not mean as much to me as they do now that I have gotten into ACIM. I also suddenly recalled that over the past couple of weeks of writing this, I had been considering including that very excerpt from the Course in this piece! Whoa! This to me is a sign of being led by Spirit to the Course and to this moment, and I also take it as a good indication it’s probably a good time to shut up and let this all go, too. Yet before I do, just one more beautiful idea from the Course:
“The holiest place on earth is where an ancient hatred becomes a present love.”
Postscript: But wait, there’s more! Lol. So much to say about all of this, and yet nothing at all! Isn’t it interesting how even writings that are pointing to simplicity, unity, and emptiness can be so long and convoluted? Yet perhaps they are complex because we have become so complex, with so many complexes! As the saying goes, the truth is simple, but it ain’t easy. A Course in Miracles is a 1200 page document that essentially makes the same holographic point over and over and over again just to drive it home to the heart of each student: Learn to see the other as yourself, for as you see and treat them, you see and treat yourself, so release all judgment, detach and stay in witness consciousness. (I recently heard this great quote: “Fire the judge and hire the witness.”) Like yoga, for most of us it’s a long, gradual process, of peeling that onion one layer at a time. So if I have multiplied words here, it may just be because it is warranted given the quagmire we find ourselves wallowing in…
Which brings me to something that has been an ongoing theme in my process, and an open question for me throughout: This idea of spiritual “shortcuts,” as in shortcuts to enlightenment. Yes, we’ve all wondered about this, or at least, I am guessing at least all of you seekers who have come this far with me on this particular quest for understanding. And most of us here have probably heard the categorical response: “There are no shortcuts!” And: “There’s no way around it, you’ve got to do the work!” “What? You think you can take ayahuasca and become one with God and that’s it? Ha!”
Well, actually, there may be something to this, especially when you consider how deep the rabbit hole really goes (i.e., how stuck in the muck we are, and how many potential incarnations we might have left). This is why spiritual experiences are, when all is said and done, just experiences, they don’t last, and yet they might just move us an inch forward, yeah just let in a pinpoint of light to illuminate the darkness of spiritual nescience, and in the process save us from that much more Maya-bound suffering. And this is perhaps why, beyond just the spiritual marketing, there may actually be truth behind claims to a given pathway being a shortcut.
Three of the main paths I have been on in my life have made such a claim to spiritual quickening: When I first received shaktipat initiation from a Kundalini teacher in the mid-‘90s, I was informed that moksha (liberation) would occur within the next three births. Ten years later, the first night I received ayahuasca from the Shaman in this story, our group was told at the outset that this was the “quick path.” And A Course in Miracles maintains that the miracle of love and the work of forgiveness can save a seeker thousands of years of stumbling in the dark.
So is there really any truth to these claims? Really no one stuck in the illusion can really say, yet the sensed feeling is: Yes, there is some truth. AND, we still need to do the work, there’s no way around that, yet the yoke gets lighter, quicker. On the other hand, the work is that much more intense!
Certainly it was a good dose of ayahuasca that produced the most intense and profound experience of my life, next to my birth, which I don’t consciously remember. This one experience alone feels like it has saved me a lot of time! There was so much of that night that I did not recount, and so much I don’t recall, yet I do know that the medicine was moving me to speak and even shout through a good portion of it. Whether this was just recycled portions of my patterned mind, or actual revelations coming through (or both), I will close here with just one message that seemed that night to be ultimate for me, and still feels so and very worthy of being shared. At a peak moment in the experience, when the medicine was very actively working in me, I recall sitting up and repeating over and over again:
The greatest lesson in this life is to be still!
The greatest lesson in this life is to be still!
The greatest lesson in this life is to be still!
Image by wicker paradise, courtesy of Creative Commons license.