Ayahuasca and Global Transitions
How can the tools of nature facilitate our movement into a new territory of collective being? Brian Francis Culkin aims to answer this question in the following epilogue, which focuses on how these tools can facilitate the process of global consciousness-raising.
The integration of global capitalism and computational power spreads like a wildfire across the planet: viral tik tok videos move through the social brain leaving their toxic residue behind, topsoil destruction continues unabated, corrupted pharmaceutical power presents itself as the planetary savior; the desire of the Other seems to have no limit when it endlessly proliferates on the screens that surround us.
Indeed, it is always darkest before the dawn.
As we collectively transition into something new, something radically Other, a territory that we cannot yet perceive entirely, what is perhaps most essential to grasp is that we cannot see this emergent territory, not necessarily because it is not there, but rather because we literally cannot see it.
It is precisely here where we must engage in a series of ‘consciousness raising’ activities precisely for the purpose of augmenting our perception, nurturing our capacity for compassion and love, and transforming our personal and collective vibration.
The following is taken from the epilogue of a book I co-authored with Ricardo Amaringo entitled The Ayahuasca Dialogues (2019). Amaringo, a master Shipibo curandero and one of the great shamans of the Upper Peruvian Amazon, allowed me the great privilege of interviewing him extensively and collaborating on this text.
The range of the conversation was broad. But one of the things that consistently came up in regards to the potency of ayahuasca and Amazonian plant medicine was in regards to how these gifts of nature can facilitate in the process of global consciousness-raising — how they can shift our awareness into a new territory of collective being.
The following is an excerpt from the epilogue of the book, The Ayahuasca Dialogues by Brian Francis Culkin and Ricardo Amaringo.
In G.K. Chesterton’s classic The Everlasting Man, he makes an interesting remark about the often overlooked peculiar status of human beings on Planet Earth:
The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth. In all sobriety, he has much more of the external appearance of one bringing alien habits from another land than of a mere growth of this one. He has an unfair advantage and an unfair disadvantage.
He cannot sleep in his own skin; he cannot trust his own instincts. He is at once a creator moving miraculous hands and fingers and a kind of cripple. He is wrapped in artificial bandages called clothes; he is propped on artificial crutches called furniture. His mind has the same doubtful liberties and the same wild limitations. Alone among the animals, he is shaken with the beautiful madness called laughter; as if he had caught sight of some secret in the very shape of the universe hidden from the universe itself. Alone among the animals he feels the need of averting his thought from the root realities of his own bodily being; of hiding them as in the presence of some higher possibility which creates the mystery of shame.
Such a counter-intuitive observation regarding the “other worldly” character of humanity was expressed equally by the American psychedelic-philosopher Terence McKenna when he said that
man is a very odd creature. And to have arisen in a million years from the chipping of flint to the launching of the space shuttle and the hurling of instruments out of the solar system, it seems preposterous to maintain that the forces and facts of nature as we know them could have allowed us to do what we are doing.
What is it exactly that McKenna and Chesterton are referring to here? Are they flirting with some wild conspiracy theory regarding the undisclosed source of humanity’s true origin? Or, are they simply pointing out an obvious contradiction as it relates to our embodied terrestrial reality; an incredibly odd contradiction that has been passively accepted over time?
What McKenna and Chesterton are each pointing out is not simply how strange we human beings are in relation to the host of other creatures who also happen to live on this planet; not simply how odd we are as it relates to the accepted interpretations of our historical development as a species; but rather the fact that this incredible strangeness is often completely overlooked by none other than ourselves: we have ceased to realize just how truly “out of joint” we human beings really are.
There can be little doubt when gazing upon the state of the world in the present moment that we, the residents of Spaceship Earth, are fast approaching a crisis the likes of which has perhaps never been seen before. It is a multilayered and multifaceted crisis that reaches across and into the terrains of geopolitics, economics, culture, and technology. But perhaps more than anything what we are now collectively facing is a symbolic crisis; a crisis of meaning.
As global technology and global capitalism further synchronize and become the all encompassing mediator of our lives, we are being relentlessly conditioned to fully accept this seeming inevitability. We are being ideologically programmed to see this approaching ecological and social death spiral as something unavoidable; something that appears to be our collective destiny.
But this pathological arrogance that is now being openly displayed by transnational corporations, Big Tech, and the global media apparatus is precisely what will reopen the door to a radical re-questioning of the very foundation of human life, just as Chesterton and McKenna did in the above passages.
And this radical re-questioning that will undoubtedly be brought right into the heart of what is left of the public square in the coming years will truly be radical; radical because it will be the most basic and simple kind of questioning:
Where do we come from?
What are we?
Where are we going?
We have been told for far too long that such questions are officially closed, that they have been sufficiently answered by the various discourses of science and any debate regarding their legitimacy is now reserved for the space of conspiracy theories and conservative theologies. Of course, the irony of such a hard line position is that it will be the very catalyst for these elementary questions to once again become a social reality.
Is not the sudden and dramatic expansion of the global ayahuasca market a derivative of this precise same dynamic? Is not the reality of contemporary westerners from all backgrounds and stripes suddenly flocking to the Amazon jungle in search of an answer as to what ails them and what ails the world at-large indicative of the fact that these same questions have not been sufficiently addressed — that there is still an important piece of our collective puzzle left to be grappled with?
LANGUAGE, CONSCIOUSNESS, AND AYAHUASCA
Throughout his writing Terence McKenna would often make the cryptic and provocative assertion that, “the universe is made of language.” And not only that — that the ultimate nature of reality is linguistically constructed — but also the simple proposition that the key to our evolution as a species is nothing more than an evolution in language itself.
And the point McKenna made time and again throughout his body of work was that this evolution could potentially flower through a direct engagement with psychedelic plant medicine and the various shamanic techniques:
DMT is a neurotransmitter that, when ingested and allowed to come to rest in unusually large amounts in the synapses of the brain, allows one to see sound, so that one can use the voice to produce not musical compositions, but pictorial and visual compositions. This, to my mind, indicates we are on the cusp of some kind of evolutionary transition in the language forming area, so that we are going to go from a language that is heard to a language that is seen, through a shift in interior processing … This is actually being done by shamans in the Amazon. The songs they sing sound as they do in order to look a certain way. They are not musical compositions as we’re used to thinking of them. They are pictorial art that is caused by audio signals.
What McKenna expresses here is actually very straightforward: namely, for humanity to survive the nuclear-digital age we must somehow evolve a new language; we must somehow develop a new way to convey meaning. But not a new language like Chinese or Russian or Arabic — or even an indigenous language like Shipibo. The point here is even more direct: we must somehow develop a new mode of communication that signifies an evolution in our intersubjective, spiritual, and linguistic abilities. Or, to put it another way: the evolution of human consciousness is ultimately nothing more than an evolution of our very symbolic capacities, our capacity to convey meaning.
What is so interesting here is that it is none other than the Amazonian shaman who is perhaps the true example of a global subjectivity that constantly challenges and surpasses the accepted limits of our linguistic conventions. While under the trance of ayahuasca, singing his or her icaros, the shaman gently bends (or occasionally shatters) the relation between the signifier and signified, thus opening the space for both personal healing and a radically new sense of meaning for both our individual lives and the world that we live in.
But perhaps the uncomfortable recognition here, as we speak about potential evolutionary jumps in our symbolic capacities, is that in many ways we already are in the process of collectively learning a new language in the early decades of the 21st century. But this does not appear to be a language that speaks to our higher evolutionary potentials, our collective spiritual endowment: as in an expansion of freedom, universal dignity, and compassion.
The nascent language that has appeared over the past decades is rather a language that seems to be playing to our most base instincts: the language of Emojis, Likes, and Shares; the language that undergirds the ideological and material forces of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and our globalized consumer culture.
These new planetary forces that have brought with them a new language — codes, algorithms, and computational binaries — are in many ways the precise opposite of the core shamanic gesture. Whereas the shaman liberates language, undermines stale linguistic blockages to release their trapped energy into the open so that healing can occur, these new global forces entrap language into a pre-constructed exactitude based upon a capitalist-mathematical logic. Or, as the Italian philosopher and media theorist Bifo Beradi puts it: Code is language in debt.
But the language of the shaman is language being-released from its debt.
This emergent computational language now taking the planet by storm in virtually every field of human experience is perhaps the exact opposite of what someone like Terence McKenna was speaking of regarding his call for humanity to evolve a “new language.” The novel language that sustains the various computational processes — the various social medias, texting, virtual advertisements, etc. — that operate fully under the horizon of a globalized capitalist system is not only in the process of profoundly eroding human language in the present moment, but also eroding our collective human consciousness and dignity as well.
The typical claims that have ideologically legitimized this new mode of communication made by futurists like Ray Kurzweil and Kevin Kelly — that humanity is on the verge of a great leap forward in our evolutionary potential as Artificial Intelligence and networked technologies develop further — should be ruthlessly picked apart and questioned for what they really are:
What kind of evolution are we really speaking of here?
Are we speaking of an evolution in language, love, and universal human dignity?
Or are we simply speaking about the evolution of capitalism, instrumental technologies, and corporate profitability?
As the global ayahuasca community further grows, as it attracts more people hungry for change and new ways of thinking about the state of the world and our place in it, perhaps we should re-listen to the words of McKenna, this truly bizarre postmodern prophet advocating for an “archaic revival,” and a plant induced evolution in human consciousness:
We are told that you are supposed to fit your experience into the model which science gives you, which is probabilistic, statistical, predictable, and yet the felt datum of experience is much more literary than that … What James Joyce believed, and what I’m willing to entertain, is that salvation is an act of apprehension, of understanding, and this act of apprehension involves everything … What all these people are saying I think, and what the psychedelic experience argues for as well, is somehow we are prisoners of language, and if we are prisoners of language, then the key that will set us loose is also made of language.
McKenna’s point in the above passage eerily approaches Ludwig Wittgenstein’s profound insight in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus when he says, in referring to the symmetry between the limitation of language and limitation as such, the following:
The limits of my language mean the limit of my world.
Logic pervades the world: the limits of my world are also its limits.
So we cannot say in logic, ‘The world has this in it, and this, but not that’ …
We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either …
The subject does not belong in the world: rather, it is a limit of this world.
What is so exhilarating about this passage is that it references something that we all intuitively feel at this very moment in the early decades of the 21st century: that the human race is now simultaneously approaching both a limit and a possible point of departure for some kind of potential evolutionary jump; for some kind of seismic shift in the collective consciousness of our species.
What Wittgenstein and McKenna are telling us — and what the ayahuasca experience points towards and can help us with — is that this impending spiritual jump, this leap of faith that we all must take in the future, is somehow only just the most delicate and subtle shift of our own consciousness.
TOWARDS A NEW VIBRATION
In Jose Saramago’s novel The Cave he tells the story of Cipriano Algor, a traditional potter who lives a quiet life in the countryside and sells his artistry directly to a Megaplex — a housing complex, shopping mall, and planned city all rolled into one — called The Center.
After having developed a long-term but frustrating business relationship with The Center, its buying department suddenly informs Cipriano that they are no longer in need of his pottery; that the market has changed and consumers are not interested in purchasing folk pottery such as his any longer.
Facing an impending financial crisis because he will be unable to carry on in his life as a potter without his principal buyer, Cipriano is reluctantly forced to move from his rustic countryside home into a small apartment in The Center with his daughter and son-in-law.
But not long after moving to The Center and hearing rumors about a secretive dig occurring beneath its foundation, Cipriano decides to take it upon himself to investigate the subterranean situation. And what he discovers buried deep beneath The Center is none other than Plato’s Cave itself.
Saramago plays with numerous themes throughout his work: the country versus the city; contemporary consumerism versus traditional artistry; and the ongoing collapse of the family structure and local sensibility in the face of an abstract, ruthlessly impersonal way of life that is signified by The Center. But all of these interrelated themes ultimately point toward a singular realization at the novel’s conclusion: that humanity has now found itself living within a globalized, technological version of Plato’s Cave: we all have become like those same prisoners in Plato’s famous allegory.
One can only find it somewhat strange that we 21st century humans now think of ourselves as the very vanguards of history — the cumulative result of a highly progressive and dynamic biological and cultural evolution that has progressively mastered the sciences, arts, and applied technologies — when in truth it seems we are now descending into a new kind of barbarism and collective ignorance; quite literally approaching a self-induced global catastrophe.
But in Saramago’s vision of The Center, what we are really dealing with is a literary representation of a vibration, a techno-corporate vibration that has been unleashed into the world; distorting the natural vibratory potentials of living bodies, local communities, and human relationships.
One of the key lessons of plant medicine, and ayahuasca especially, is that everything in both nature and our psychic processes are ultimately vibratory phenomena: the natural world vibrates, our bodies vibrate, our communities vibrate, and the cosmos vibrate.
Humanity fundamentally exists in a vast biorhythmic field: we are all members of a vibrating web of intersubjective relations whether we like it or not. When these vibratory patterns and natural conjunctions are brutally interfered with by financial flows and computational algorithms — as they are now across the world — chaos, depression, and panic ensues on a massive scale.
What Saramago forces us to consider in his novel(s), and what plant medicine ultimately asks us is a very simple question: Is it possible for humanity to vibrate in a new way?
As we come to the end of the 2010s, it is now safe to say that what has principally transpired in this decade is nothing short of a crisis in reality: fake news, social media fantasies, and global algorithms overdetermining our cultural and political sensibilities versus our own eyes and ears.
But this pervasive sense of symbolic decomposition that we are all now grappling with — this collective feeling of losing the very grip on sociopolitical reality — is precisely why we can now make the following prediction: that the 2020s will be a psychedelic decade on a global scale. These very same techno-globalized forces that have forced the collective human nervous system into a pathological vibratory box over the past decades will also be the catalyst for a new, global psychedelic renaissance to flower in the coming years.
In a recent article entitled, “Our Depressing World Has Brought On a Psychedelic Renaissance,” the author frames the coordinates of the neoliberal world that has brought about the seeds of this new psychedelic turn:
We may not want to admit it, but the human race is becoming detached from reality. Our digital social environments are closing us off from the truth, from each other, and from the natural world in which we have struck camp. We are a species trapped by a series of brightly lit screens. So it can be no surprise that a new kind of claustrophobic anxiety, particularly among the young, is on the rise, or that people are stepping into altered states in order to feel real.
Michael Pollan follows the logic of the psychedelic researcher Giorgio Samorini in his recent book on psychedelic plant medicine How to Change Your Mind, noting that in times of crisis and upheaval what is often necessary for group survival is for a small segment of the population to experiment with radical behaviors and ideas to bring forth new subjectivities and new social vibrations:
Samorini hypothesizes that during times of rapid environmental change or crisis it may avail the survival of a group when a few of its members abandon their accustomed conditioned responses and experiment with some realy new and different behaviors …
Samorini calls this a “depatterning factor.” There are times in the evolution of a species when the old patterns no longer avail, and the radical, potentially innovative perceptions that psychedelics sometimes inspire may offer the best chance for adaption. Think of it as a neurochemically induced source of variation in a population.
It is difficult to read about Samorini’s lovely theory without thinking about our own species and the challenging circumstance we find ourselves in today. Homo Sapiens might have arrived at one of those periods of crisis that calls for some mental and behavioral depatterning. Could that be why nature has sent us these psychedelic molecules now?
We should risk answering Pollan’s provocative question here: Yes
We should be open to the idea that the dramatic appearance of ayahuasca onto the global stage at a time of such intensity and uncertainty, at a time when so much is at risk for humanity, is pointing to something far beyond our own needs of personalized healing and growth. It is perhaps pointing to the rather uncomfortable fact that global society is now staring directly into an abyss, and that we must find a way to re-symbolize the very coordinates that ground our sense of reality, to “vibrate” at a new frequency in order to transform our sense of each other and the world that we live in before it is too late.
- Chesterton, G.K. (2013 (reprint)) The Everlasting Man. Rough Draft Printing, pg. 21
- McKenna, T. (1991) The archaic revival: speculations on psychedelics, mushrooms, the Amazon, virtual reality, UFO’s, shamanism, the rebirth of the goddess, and the end of the history. New York: Harper One. pg. 31
- In posing these fundamental questions, I use as a template the title of Paul Gauguin’s classic painting of the same name.
- Just to be absolutely clear, we are in no way advocating for either conspiracy theories or conservative theologies.
- McKenna, T. (1991) The archaic revival: speculations on psychedelics, mushrooms, the Amazon, virtual reality, UFO’s, shamanism, the rebirth of the goddess, and the end of the history. New York: Harper One. pg. 209
- Beradi, F. (2018) Breathing: chaos and poetry. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotexte. Location 240. Kindle Edition.
- See, Kurzweil, R. (2016). The singularity is near: when humans transcend biology. London: Duckworth.
- See, Kelly, K. (2017). The inevitable: understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. New York, NY: Penguin
- See, the Terrence McKenna talk, “Some Conclusions on novels like Finnegan’s Wake.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7o7Gqc6kv0Y&t=5s
- Wittgenstein, L. (2007) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. New York: Cosimo. pgs. 88-89. Kindle Edition.
- Saramago, J. (2003) The cave. New York: Harcourt.
- Sheldrake, R.& Abraham, R.& Mckenna, T. (2005) The evolutionary mind: conversations on science, imagination, and spirt. Kindle Edition. See Chapter 4, “How Do Pigeons Find Their Way Home?”
- Beradi, F. (2018) Breathing: chaos and poetry. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotexte. Location 1005. Kindle Edition. Beradi states here, “Although the theory elaborated by Wilhelm Fliess at the end of the nineteenth century about biorhythms is generally considered pseudoscientific, I appreciate the metaphorical potential of the concept of the biorhythm. Organisms are composed of vibrant matter, and the pulsations of an individual organism enter into a rhythmic relation with the pulsations of other surrounding individual organisms. This biorhythmic conjunction of conscious and sensitive organisms is a vibrating relation: through it, individual organisms seek a common rhythm, a common emotional ground of understanding, and this quest is a sort of oscillation that results in a possible (or impossible) syntony. Within the conjunctive sphere of the biorhythm, signification and interpretation are vibrational processes. When the process of signification is penetrated by connective machines, it undergoes a reformatting and mutates in a way that implies a reduction—a reduction to the syntactic logic of the algorithm.
- Kantrowitz, L., & Power, M. (2018, December 04). Our Depressing World Has Brought On a Psychedelic Renaissance. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8xp8g4/the-psychedelic-resistance-v25n4
- Pollan, M. (2018) How to change your mind: what the new science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, dying, addiction, depression, and transcendence. New York: Penguin Press. pg. 124