Before we explore my views of what shamanism means and its possible values to our culture, I am going to share with you a recent experience I had with psilocybin mushrooms. The photos used in this article were taken during the experience in an attempt to capture some of the feelings.
I began to walk along a path in the forest when it kicked in. The first effect was a bodily sensation that feels like if one just sprinted a ton and went to relax. The chest sensation feels like a mild exhilaration but it isn’t too noticeable. The sounds of birds started to sound echoey, which seemed to be an acute awareness of the reflecting sounds on the mountain walls. There was an enhanced noticing of my senses.
When I looked at the very top of the trees, the clarity of detail in the texture of the bark at the top of the tree appears as if it were lensed. At this point I began to stare at the top of these large pine trees, noticing subtle movements of the branches in the wind and pondering on how such magnification and lucidity were possible. As I continued to stare, the sun was beaming on my jacket from behind me, leading to incredibly soothing radiant warmth. I grew cozy and almost tired. A sense of profound euphoria emerged and things began to escalate.
The more I gazed into the perceptual world of the present moment, the more lost I became. Everything enhanced and started to feel surreal and exotic. It was as if there was a buzzing sound that started increasing in intensity, building up into some climactic transcendence of the senses. There was no actual buzzing, but instead only the sounds and visions of the mountainous arena that I was tripping in. It was just the feeling that my senses buzzed louder and louder, until vividity.
Everything in my mind slowed to a stop. The mental chatter was being forgotten as I was too fully distracted by the world in front of my eyes. It was as if I was watching an immersive film. I noticed the direction of each sound, with each step I took. As I crouched, the leaves on the ground buffered some of the sounds around me, creating a quiet space near the ground. I could distinguish each echo vibrating from the walls of the mountains but as my distraction increased, I ceased to register those echoes as being explained by the mountain’s influence on acoustics. All of the explanatory elements of my experience dropped away as I continued to see clearer and clearer, in a kind of lifting up, straight into divine sensation, like a moth chasing a lamp. It’s as if, once one stops holding onto their word-world, one begins to slip into total sensory experience. The more one slips into this experience, one begins to forget what life is normally like, an ascension, leaving conceptualism behind in pursuit of the supreme euphoric sensory masterpiece that unfolds.
Then as I took out my phone, the experience suddenly halted, including the euphoric body high. It seemed to generate entirely from my attention to the experience, in which the phone distracted me from what was occurring. It restored the word-world, the mindscape of conceptualizations, definitions, meaning and interpretation of the sensory world. It seems that a higher dose would likely hurl me into such sensory-scapes where I could get lost in the experiential domain of subjectivity.
It seemed that the conceptual universe could be turned off and I could maximize my sensory experience as a trade-off. I could focus consciousness to the senses. So much that if I kept pushing it, it would lead me into incomprehensible and epic perceptual experience. But it was not so much like being disoriented, this seems somehow misleading.
Although it might seem like a strange comparison, sex seems to be similar to the psychedelic mindset in a way. Sex captures our attention so fully due to being so euphoric and desired. On the mushrooms the experience of the sun on my skin was as intense as sober sex experiences. It was even better though, supremely comforting as I felt like my perspectives on life were disappearing the more I focused on the moment.
Epiphany: The way that some people experience echo effects on psychedelics may be due to a decrease in conceptual awareness of the echoes being connected to the source sound, as if the mind usually recognizes echoes as part of the same sound. The loss of ability to associate the echoes with the source sound as a single conceptualization leads to the perception that each sound is distinct, as if each echo is a unique source sound. Normally we may filter the echoes and repetitions in order to make it much easier to process spoken words and pay attention to auditory information.
The benefits of taking the psychedelic seem to be that one can imprint experiences on their mind. The psychedelic state may be very similar to the child state, in which experiences have more profound impacts, due to sensation’s yet to be filtered state. If one has a profoundly positive state, it may change their outlook on life, revealing that extremely good experiences exist while perhaps the bad (sober) experiences don’t even compare in intensity. This may override fear and depressive states that are caused by the expectation that experiences are always bad, causing one to avoid new experiences.
It is possible that bad trips are good too, which is commonly reported. Some of my experience was bad, but this didn’t last very long and most of it was positive. There are more biological explanations for the benefits of psychedelics, such as fear-extinction and stress-reversing mechanisms.
I will note that this experience has cured me of my depressive state, leaving me slightly hypomanic. That said, I am still in a stressful and problematic situation but I have become more productive, clear, and determined, whereas before this experience, I was close to giving up on everything and had rationalized that there was no hope for myself.
My concept of shamanism is that a shaman consumes drugs that allow them to alter their own lives and the lives of others. It is about escaping the influence of the others and returning anew. The shaman is an explorer who helps to guide the sick ones to a better path.
One thing that is repeatedly apparent when I dose the psychedelic is this loss of the word-world. This is nearly synonymous with an abandonment of culture. Our culture is a world of symbols, communication and memes. Culture is regulated by social norms and rules that one must abide by in order to be accepted. Those who are too divergent will be ignored or even persecuted. This leads humans to collectively spiral into ideological rabbit holes. The tight regulation of culture makes it hard for one to shift or change toxic social problems such as abuses and ethical issues. As a culture, we train each other with coping abilities and mindset changes that help us get by despite the toxic problems. We band-aid many issues that are viewed as unfixable due to the nature of culture. It is like an addiction.
“We live in a society.” -everyone
The fears of being ethical against the interests of the culture are scary, as we are threatened with persecution (consider veganism). When one takes the psychedelic, they forget the belief systems of the culture, perhaps even forgetting science. Much of this is a very temporary effect, with fluctuating intensity. As you observe what occurs around you, there is a loss of memory for the rules of culture, and as you remember moments later, the contrast becomes apparent. It allows you to see culture objectively, as if you were not addicted, as if you were a foreigner. Looking at other foreign cultures may give a similar experience, but there are human universals that meme across cultures that are apparent on psychedelics, to a degree that is almost spooky.
This objectivity effect combined with the fearlessness that occurs with psychedelic use, allows one to return to the society with a new perspective that was separate from culture. These benefits apply to smaller groups, like friend circles especially well. Rather than conforming endlessly to the toxic culture, one comes back to the group and injects new ideas and perspectives that begin a new era of memes and behavioral norms. Most of the people may be quite willing to conform to new social norms that are desirable and considered beneficial. Most simply fear to be the one to generate the new norms themselves or are unaware of their capacity to do so.
We also become a slave to our emotional states and much of these become habitual and reinforced by repetitious daily experiences that keep us locked in to these cycles of behavior. If you’ve ever fought with a family member you may recognize this pattern. You find yourself expressing anger, regretfully and cyclically. Despite experiencing regret or guilt, you continue to react impulsively and repetitiously. The fear of letting one’s guard down drives much of this.
In many cases, people are hypnotized by the sense of consensus in their culture. Consider the pandemic fears that have recently emerged in the coronavirus outbreak. Many are touting their apocalyptic narratives and over-dramatic response. The spread of the virus has become a viral meme and has even evolved into hysterical xenophobic rhetoric. Something similar happened with the election of Trump, with many resorting to an apocalyptical mindset. When one ingests the psychedelic, they are flung right out of their hypnosis and left somewhere outside the culture once the drug is done. In this context, the psychedelic can heal one of the cultural traumas like Trump’s election, fears of nuclear war, or pandemic coronavirus hysteria, allowing one to re-enter culture and spread memetic healing.
These cultural phenomenon are a kind of collective psychosis. In the past, I’ve argued that psychedelics may be able to treat psychoses. The same could be argued for the cultural psychoses. The cultural psychoses seem to be contagious fear-mongering toward consensus and once someone is free from the hypnotic cultural influence, they can bring back a fresh mindset and start a new viral mindset, hopefully for the betterment of the social group.
This power to break conformity that comes along with psychedelic use has been argued as a reason for their ban, as the counterculture of the 60s got increasingly out of control.
Sometimes there really is an apocalypse. This is something that was undeniable under the effects of the drug. I’ve written about this before in Waking Nightmares, where it is postulated that the path to Utopia would be through the enhanced emotionality that one experiences on the psychedelics. It isn’t inherently about psychedelics though, but rather a problem with how we all go numb as adults, willingly so, in order to avoid facing the reality that haunts us. We choose to remain collectively delusional in the avoidance of confronting our terrifying reality.
The shaman can touch ground with a kind of ‘base reality’ through revitalizing their emotions and detaching from the culture, allowing them to see the world in clarity, without all of the coping, addictions, and traumas that humans have been blinded by.
Special thanks to the two patrons, Abhishaike Mahajan and Charles Wright! Abhi is also the artist who created the cover image for Most Relevant. Please support him on instagram, he is an amazing artist!
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