TAG | spirituality
Madness, too much time in the desert or just the right hallucinogenic concoction all seem to be reasonably reliable routes to mysticism. Ayahuasca is (the New Yorker reports) “an intensely hallucinogenic potion made from boiling woody Banisteriopsis caapi vines with the glossy leaves of the chacruna bush” an—bonus—it comes with added ‘indigenous’ chic.
The story begins with some Americans wandering through the Amazon (of course it does) in the early 1970s (of course it did).
[T]he travellers found themselves in a psychedelic paradise. There were cattle pastures dotted with Psilocybe cubensis—magic mushrooms—sprouting on dung piles; there were hammocks to lounge in while you tripped; there were Banisteriopsis caapi vines growing in the jungle. Taken together, the drugs produced hallucinations that the brothers called “vegetable television.” When they watched it, they felt they were receiving important information directly from the plants of the Amazon.
The McKennas were sure they were on to something revelatory, something that would change the course of human history. “I and my companions have been selected to understand and trigger the gestalt wave of understanding that will be the hyperspacial zeitgeist,” Dennis wrote in his journal. Their work was not always easy. During one session, the brothers experienced a flash of mutual telepathy, but then Dennis hurled his glasses and all his clothes into the jungle and, for several days, lost touch with “consensus reality.” It was a small price to pay. The “plant teachers” seemed to have given them “access to a vast database,” Dennis wrote, “the mystical library of all human and cosmic knowledge.”
Hyperspatial zeitgeist. Consensus reality. Plant teachers. The mystical library of all human and cosmic knowledge.
The New Yorker:
Most people who take ayahuasca in the United States do so in small “ceremonies,” led by an individual who may call himself a shaman, an ayahuasquero, a curandero, a vegetalista, or just a healer. This person may have come from generations of Shipibo or Quechua shamans in Peru, or he may just be someone with access to ayahuasca.
Naturally, wicked Western materialism takes a knock:
Ifcocaine expressed and amplified the speedy, greedy ethos of the nineteen-eighties, ayahuasca reflects our present moment—what we might call the Age of Kale. It is a time characterized by wellness cravings, when many Americans are eager for things like mindfulness, detoxification, and organic produce, and we are willing to suffer for our soulfulness.
Well, you will:
The majority of users vomit—or, as they prefer to say, “purge.”
The New Yorker:
The process of making ayahuasca is beyond artisanal: it is nearly Druidical. “We pick the chacruna leaf at sunrise in this very specific way: you say a prayer and just pick the lower ones from each tree,” a lithe ayahuasquera in her early forties—British accent, long blond hair, a background in Reiki…She and her boyfriend serve the ayahuasca—“divine consciousness in liquid form”
A background in Reiki.
The New Yorker:
When a person drinks ayahuasca, a plant-messenger molecule targets the neurons that mediate consciousness, facilitating what devotees describe as a kind of interspecies communication.
If the plant really is talking to the person, many people hear the same thing: we are all one. Some believe that the plants delivering this message are serving their own interests, because if humans think we are one with everything we might be less prone to trash the natural world. In this interpretation, B. caapi and chacruna are the spokesplants for the entire vegetable kingdom.
Ecologically aware too. Is there anything that ayahuasca is not?
In any event, if you are interested in this sort of thing (I am) it’s well worth reading as a fascinating, accidentally revealing look at the appeal of ritual, superstition and the cult of the pre-modern.
Every man, said Frederick the Great, must get to heaven in his own way. Fair enough, but this ‘workshop’ (once a word with positive associations, but now….) is probably not for me:
Sacred Gardens Workshop May 2014 : a practical & philosophical workshop
A three-day, non-residential workshop on the universal philosophy, geometry and symbolism of the sacred gardens of the world. The workshop will explore how this knowledge may be applied when designing gardens today. Taking place in the beautiful and historic City of Wells in Somerset it will include illustrated talks with an introduction to Nature’s profound spiritual symbolism, practical geometry and design classes and an opportunity to explore the Cathedral grounds and beautiful Bishops’ Garden.
Cost: £360 per person
(Includes a delicious freshly prepared organic & vegetarian light lunch)
Organic: of course!
The New York Times takes a look at four arrivals in Washington with religious views that differ from the commonly (if inaccurately) understood norm:
For the real underdog story in the elections this year, you have to look further out on the margins of popular respectability. Consider the half-Hindu yoga practitioner just elected to Congress from Hawaii. Or the new Buddhist senator. Or the two religiously unaffiliated women headed for the House and the Senate.
These politicians constitute an unusual mini-caucus, whose members are unusual not for their religion, precisely, but for the fluid and abstract terms they use to talk about it — when they choose to talk about it, that is. Mormon or Orthodox Jewish politicians have succeeded before, but as the price of admission they have been forced to explain their faith. This new bunch is just saying, so to speak, “Don’t worry about it.”
That’s fine, of course, but then we read this:
Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat and an Iraq war veteran who won a seat in the House from Hawaii, is the daughter of a Hindu mother and a Roman Catholic father. She calls herself Hindu, a first for a member of Congress. But it is not quite that simple.
“I identify as a Hindu,” Ms. Gabbard wrote in an e-mail on Thursday. “However, I am much more into spirituality than I am religious labels.”
“In that sense,” she added, “I am a Hindu in the mold of the most famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi, who is my hero and role model.”
Ms. Gabbard wrote that she “was raised in a multicultural, multirace, multifaith family” that allowed her “to spend a lot of time studying and contemplating upon both the Bhagavad-Gita and the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.”
Today, her spiritual practice is neither Catholic nor traditionally Hindu.
“My attempts to work for the welfare of others and the planet is the core of my spiritual practice,” Ms. Gabbard wrote. “Also, every morning I take time to remember my relationship with God through the practice of yoga meditation and reading verses from the Bhagavad-Gita. From the perspective of the Bhagavad-Gita, the spiritual path as I have described here is known as karma yoga and bhakti yoga.”
TMI, I think.
Exhausted, I abandoned the rest of the article.
Via Guernica, another reminder of the permanence of superstition, the reinvention of the past (the Goddess?) and the magpie “spirituality” of the West:
Photographer Katarzyna Majak shoots her subjects in vivid color, posing each one as a healer, a goddess, or a queen. These Polish women combine the rituals of the Cherokee, Sufis, Daoists, Wiccans, Druids, and others in search of greater spiritual meaning. With these photos, Majak looks at the prejudice against witchery, the acceptance of aging, and a growing appreciation for feminine divinity.
Guernica: What do you mean by “the women’s time”? From a quote with your interview with Maria Ela, one of your portrait subjects, she says she “thinks it’s a time of transformation,” that she has “to let go of the feeling of being victimized by men,” in order to gain awareness of the “cycle of the Goddess that helped me let go of thinking ‘against.’”
Katarzyna Majak: So, it is the time when more and more people, especially women, resonate with the energy of the Earth’s upheaval. They do not want to think “against” and are not interested in fighting. They would rather use their own empowerment to balance the feminine and the masculine. Another explanation may also be connected with the fact that the Goddess, and one may treat that as an equivalent of women’s power, in Judeo-Christianity, has been living “in hiding,” which is now coming to its end. There is a noticeable women’s spiritual awakening, which is aimed to balance the feminine and masculine, to raise the feminine so that they are both on the same level and neither gets excluded or diminished…
In writing my next book, I will have to confront the animosity that many people feel for the term “spiritual.” Whenever I use the word—as in referring to meditation as a “spiritual practice”—I inevitably hear from fellow skeptics and atheists who think that I have committed a grievous error.
The word “spirit” comes from the Latin spiritus, which in turn descends from the Greek pneuma, meaning “breath.” Around the 13th century, the term became bound up with notions of immaterial souls, supernatural beings, ghosts, etc. It acquired other connotations as well—we speak of the spirit of a thing as its most essential principle, or of certain volatile substances and liquors as spirits. Nevertheless, many atheists now consider “spiritual” thoroughly poisoned by its association with medieval superstition.
I strive for precision in my use of language, but I do not share these semantic concerns…
We must reclaim good words and put them to good use—and this is what I intend to do with “spiritual.” I have no quarrel with Hitch’s general use of it to mean something like “beauty or significance that provokes awe,” but I believe that we can also use it in a narrower and, indeed, more transcendent sense.
Of course, “spiritual” and its cognates have some unfortunate associations unrelated to their etymology—and I will do my best to cut those ties as well. But there seems to be no other term (apart from the even more problematic “mystical” or the more restrictive “contemplative”) with which to discuss the deliberate efforts some people make to overcome their feeling of separateness—through meditation, psychedelics, or other means of inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness. And I find neologisms pretentious and annoying. Hence, I appear to have no choice: “Spiritual” it is.
Dear me, he’ll be writing about searching for meaning next.
But, whatever floats his boat…
Here’s Sally Quinn in the Washington Post:
The mystics say you can find God anywhere. I believe many women have found him in “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
The trilogy has sold more than 10 million copies, mostly to women over 30 who can’t put the books down. Publishing rights have been sold in 37 countries and movie rights have been secured by Universal.
The books chronicle the relationship between a dominating male entrepreneur, Christian Grey, and a young female college graduate, the submissive Anastasia Steele. The series has been mulled by many writers who have debated whether or not this is a setback for women, to be attracted to a submissive relationship, or a breakthrough, to be able to openly read and discuss a book so sexually explicit that it is often referred to in the media as “mommy porn.”
…I think the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon is about religion.
Not religion in the conventional sense of the word, but in how we are redefining faith practices today as more and more people–especially women–shun man-made traditions yet continue to yearn for religious experiences….
… Grey starts out in the books intending to dominate (beat and cause pain to) Anastasia in his famous playroom dubbed “The Red Room of Pain,” and ends up loving and not wanting (or rather willing) to hurt her. One could compare him to the God of some peoples’ imagination.
Christian is at times punishing, sadistic, angry, demanding, intolerant, fickle, bewildering, withholding, omnipotent, omniscient, awesome, abusive, kind, generous, wise and — above all — loving and cherishing.
Just when Anastasia has had it and is about to give up on Christian for doing something absolutely appalling, just when she no longer believes in him, he redeems himself by doing something so outrageously wonderful that she cannot abandon him and is pulled back into the fold. Just when he is withholding his love from her and she is weeping and can no longer bear it, he embraces her with an overwhelming totality. Just when she is doubting herself for her submission, he turns the tables and offers himself to her.
Sound familiar? These are some of the same emotional conflicts that I believe could be attributed to Mother Teresa and her lifetime struggle in her relationship with God.
But read the whole thing: it’s interesting as an example of a certain type of vaguely “spiritual” mush passed off as thinking….
The sweat lodge deaths have focused scrutiny on the New Age community in Sedona, which over three decades has become a magnet for spiritual seekers thanks to spectacular scenery and links to Native American rituals. The Angel Valley retreat center, which hosted the five-day Spiritual Warrior event, offers a menu of services like soul retrieval, vortex healing and dolphin energy healing.
(From the New York Times, reporting on an October 8 sweat lodge ceremony intended as a rebirthing experience that left three people dead from dehydration.)
I know that this is wildly unrealistic, but how about if people satisfy their “spiritual” longings with what we actually have: the human spirit. There’s plenty of evidence that it can survive death. Aeschylus’ Oresteia, for example, has lasted thousands of years through a transfer of custody as marvelous as any soul channeler could dream up. Every time an orchestra starts the terrifying opening chords and palpitating, yearning arpeggios of the overture to Don Giovanni, Mozart’s spirit is given living form.
Several years ago, the religious apologist David Hart wrote an essay celebrating America’s most zealous forms of religious enthusiasm. Speaking in tongues and snake-handling showed America’s still robust faith and “spiritual” fiber, so different from Europe’s religious apathy, he argued. My reaction is the exact opposite: I find such foaming-at-the-mouth frenzy repugnant. I know that I am merely revealing my own limitations here, but consciousness at its most normally functioning seems to me not just an adequate way of inhabiting the world but a superb one as well. (more…)
Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins have companion essays on the implications of evolution for religion in the Wall Street Journal. I am not very familiar with Armstrong’s writings. I tried her book on Islam and found it saccharine, and I know that supporters of traditional religious belief regard her tolerant relativism with deep suspicion. Her argument here strikes me as so revisionist that it must grow out of some broader intellectual or ideological agenda of which I am unaware.
Armstrong blames the 17th century scientific revolution for the belief in a literal God. Until then, she claims, Christians were highly sophisticated consumers of religious myth, well-aware that
what we call “God” is merely a symbol that points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence.
It was Newton who made people think that God actually created the universe, Armstrong says, and set them up for unbearable anguish when evolution showed that “there is no Intelligence controlling the cosmos” and that “God had no direct hand” in making human beings (Armstrong’s addition of “direct” to “hand” here is supremely disingenuous. Did he have a hand in creation or not?) (more…)