||Weekend Workshop, Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California
[ONLY THE END OF THIS WORKSHOP HAS BEEN TRANSCRIBED--THE EARLIER PORTIONS OF THE WORKSHOP STILL NEED TO BE TRANSCRIBED--PLEASE FEEL FREE TO PUT YOUR NAME AT THE BOTTOM AND START WORKING ON IT]
[Audience - 2:13] — I was wondering, have you always been a knowledge junky, or have psychedelics increased your enthusiasm for learning (or your capacity for it)?
I’ve always been sort of a knowledge freak. I was a very weird kid. I knew I was weird when it was happening but now that I have a fifteen year old son and watch how he does it, I realize how absolutely weird I was and how alarming I must have been to my parents. I was not socially adaptable at all because I had bad eyes, poor coordination and I was very easily intimidated. The story of my early schooling was - in a town of only 1200 people - I was able to find 1700 hundred different ways to get from school to my house in order to avoid being pounced upon by roving cannibal bands of my peers who had sworn to get me. And they never got me! It was astonishing!
[Audience - 3:41] - Is this in New York?
No, no, this was some cow town in Western Colorado. The other thing I discovered early on - but maybe this is too psycho-therapeutic to waste time on - that I could hold them at bay with story. Essentially I became like the King’s Jester. I could hang out with these lumbering lumpen people because I was always willing to verbally outrage and say crazy things. One of my things that really got me a lot of points with the tough guys was, I could stand up in class and very rapidly speak sentences into which I could occasionally drop obscenities but you just couldn’t quite hear it. The kids could hear it but the teacher couldn’t.
So that was my scene. In terms of the relationship to knowledge, it’s what William Blake said. He said, ‘attend the minute particulars.’ That’s what’s interesting, I think. The details of the distinction among things. That’s why I was a butterfly collector, an art historian, a Tibetan art hound, a rainforest botany person because what it’s all about is the incredible variety of morphological expression in the world. Now I suppose a Buddhist would recognize this as a serious samsaric hangup. That I love the texture of the apparent visible world.
It’s funny that you asked this question because in my morning meditation this morning, I had this image of a work of art which many of you know I’m sure. It’s Dürer’s etching of Melencolia. It shows an angel in the foreground and she has the instruments of geometry. There’s zoological collections and maps spread out and an orrery of the solar system, and she’s holding her head and this strange geometric form is beside her.
Well, I’ve put a lot of study into this geometric form, tracing it’s history and so forth - but that wasn’t what caught my attention in the meditation this morning. It was that I realized, or I recalled, that someone had said that this might be a medically accurate portrayal of migraine. Perhaps the earliest because Dürer was interested in pathology. Then I got the thing for the first time, which was that the angel has a headache because of the proliferation of this technological artifactory of all sorts that is spread around. It is this amazing picture of historical exhaustion.
I don’t know how I got off onto that. But anyway, this thing about complexity and appearances. I think the way to get into reality is by running the edges as I’ve said. For me the entry drug was Science Fiction, definitely, because that permitted anything. I suddenly got the idea, aha!, the imagination sets the perimeters. If it will work in your head, that’s good enough. You don’t have to go further than that. You can build machines, societies, organisms, relationships - in your head. And if when you run it and the gears turn and the wheels go and it works then that’s it. It works. You don’t have to go further than that.
Well it sort of is working here. I’m amazed at what I’m seeing happening. I have the feeling that we’re just calling it into existence. That it’s working. Just don’t drop the ball. Don’t jinx it. Nobody say too much. But it’s turning. I can feel it. It’s like turning a battleship with a canoe. But it’s turning, you know! It’s enormous. So it’s hard to deflect it’s momentum. Nevertheless, by holding this point of view, somehow it’s working. I’ve never seen anything like it. I wouldn’t have believed it possible. It is that the world is made of language and it is that by a certain act of contained concentration - if you are with the Tao - it begins to shed it’s secret or it begins to open ahead of you.
What’s that thing by W H Auden: A glacier rattles in the cupboard, the desert sighs in the bed, and the crack in the teacup opens a door to the land of the dead.
It is a linguistic structure. You can decondition yourself sufficiently to actually step outside the cultural illusion. It’s a breathtaking possibility because nobody knows what’s outside the cultural illusion. Plato got it right. We are chained in a cave watching the flickering shadows of something. But life taken with sufficient seriousness and pushed hard enough at the edges - then this stuff will give itself up to you. And it isn’t about belief. It isn’t about commitment to a guru or dogma or method. It’s about observational integrity. It’s about witnessing. Some kind of primacy of self.
In other words, you have to believe that you can tell shit from Shinola and when you say it’s shit and they tell you it’s Shinola; you have to vote with your own side, you know? It’s very interesting. The world is like a labyrinth or as I said yesterday, it will be mastered by a feat of understanding somehow. It’s like a riddle. Yes?
[Audience - 11.07] Could you give some advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of mushrooms and the danger of mushrooms. The supply is irregular for those of us who don’t have our own botanical garden. From time to time, there are just physical problems. Is there any practical advice you could share?
Yeah, well the very best thing is to grow them. This is not as difficult as it’s been made out to be. The dedication of half of a small closet will get you, your friends and their friends absolutely smashed. I’m serious about urging it. It may sound exotic but if you want to meet the alien and have a relationship with something very strange that loves you - but that is a lot different from a house cat - you should grow this stuff. First of all, it’s white as the driven snow; Melvillian associations aside, there’s something to be said for this.
And then it will take rye, which you buy in a health food store for $17 dollars per hundred pound sack. It will take rye and convert it with a 12% efficiency to dried mushrooms. 12% efficiency to dried mushrooms! This thing just wants to enslave itself to you. It will work like a dog. I’ve never seen anything like it. It promotes virtues such as: cleanliness, the primary virtue in western civilization. Attention to detail, awareness of scheduling, all these grounding qualities. And then at the end, it will deliver to you the alien body of the higher and hidden unspeakable.
I suppose I should say that my brother and I wrote a book about how to do this which is around. It’s not under the name McKenna. We did it pseudonymously. It’s called, Psilocybin: a Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide. Literally, if you want to turn your life into pure science fiction, this is the way to do it. Because then you have it and it’s not the dried stuff that’s rubbery that only works half the time that costs an arm and a leg. It’s the living quintessence of the thing. My lord, from that point, you are your own Magellan and need take lessons from nobody. The universe that it opens up to you is so large that really you can be confident that you’ll see things that nobody has ever seen before or will ever see again.
Technically, it’s not that difficult. It’s at the level of a hobby. It’s a little trickier than canning jam. It’s up there with growing sprouts in little trays or culturing yogurt or something like that.
[Audience - 14.39] Could you maybe say a couple of words also about DMT and what sort of situations I’ve had before and how to set it up?
Well DMT is regrettably very rare and hard to get. I did notice that the last issue of a magazine called Psychedelic Illuminations (that’s published in Southern California and that you could probably get at the Phoenix or the Bodhi tree) published the recipe. Published four pages of Chem abstracts, saying, ‘just in case you were wondering, an interesting phenomenon is going on.’
We haven’t talked about it much this weekend but briefly it goes like this. As many of you probably know, there is a South American hallucinogen called Ayahuasca that is orally activated DMT. It’s orally active because it’s complexed with a Monamine Oxidase Inhibitor, in this case Harmine, which comes from a large South American vine called Banisteriopsis caapi.
Well hardcore plant ‘psychedelicos’ all over North America have begun to realize then that this formula - DMT containing plant plus MAO inhibiting plant boiled together, concentrated, gives you some kind of pseudo Ayahuasca. People are experimenting furiously and producing ghastly brews and amazing stories. In some cases actually getting it right. What seems most promising, it was just discovered - now here’s an example of ethnobotanical progress: it was just discovered about two and a half years ago that a plant in the American Midwest called Desmanthus Illinoensis, the Illinois bundleweed; a plant that has no particular folk history or anything. It’s just a problem plant on the prairie. It has more DMT in the root bark than any plant ever measured on this planet and no history of human usage. Although to me it’s suggestive that it’s called bundleweed because that suggests medicine bundle, but maybe that’s just coincidence.
Anyway the Indians claim they don’t know from it. Well you can take that plant and scrape the root bark. Then there is another plant that grows widely in the American west and the seeds of which are sold in Iranian markets all over the country as incense. A plant called Peganum harmala, the giant Syrian Rue. It contains not harmine, but Harmaline, which actually is a more hallucinogenic congener than harmine. So what people are doing, they’re taking Peganum harmala and shredding it and boiling it with Desmanthus Illinoensis root bark and they’re producing a North American analogue to Ayahuasca that works.
This is a very interesting development on many levels because it means that people are essentially concocting their own unique personalized brews. It also means that probably Peganum harmala, which I’m not kidding in these Iranian markets they call it harmal and for six dollars they’ll sell you a pound of it which has enough harmaline in it to flatten your entire apartment house. Peganum harmala as a source of this MAO inhibiting harmaline can probably be used to activate all of the DMT containing plants in the flora of North America, and there are many.
There are, first of all a whole family of grasses - the Phalaris grasses. Phalaris Arundinacea. I can’t remember several others. They cause staggers in sheep. They are identifiable grasses. There are a number of species of Acacia. Acacia Confusa contains DMT. There’s a plant out in the central valley of California that clogs the locks, the canal system. They spend millions of dollars dredging and piling up mountains of this stuff. The root bark of that, Arundo donax, it contains DMT. So people are out there scrambling and you know, if you are of a witchy turn of mind, this is something to fiddle around with. There’s nothing more satisfying than finding your way to that moment where in your head, you know, it begins to glitter and you realize - it’s here, it’s here, it worked, theory and practice in perfect concert has delivered outrage!
So that’s a possibility, yes?
[Audience - 20.22] They’re saying that life on Earth started a lot earlier than they thought. They thought it started six billions years after the Earth stabilized when it was only like 400 million years. And that it was very possibly, one of the ideas they had, was that it was started by spores from space.
Yes. Eventually you see - this is what I said - they will come to us! That’s almost like a freebie because all you have to do is just wake up for a moment and realize that of course space is not an impermeable barrier to life. It’s a tough barrier but I’ve been in the Seychelles and in the Hawaiian Islands - these are mid-ocean islands that have been populated by life that has drifted in there.
When you think about the fact that a single stropharia cubensis mushroom in the sporulation phase, which can last up to three weeks, sheds three million spores per minute for three weeks. One mushroom! Then you have the dynamics of the atmosphere. They pick up off the antarctic ice shelf chunks of mars half the size of your head. This is now established that an asteroidal impact on mars ejected material into Martian orbit that eventually percolated into Earth orbit.
You know now the way meteorites are prospected for is: they eventually put it together that on the Antarctic ice shelf where the wind is blowing 150 miles per hour most of the year and cutting the ice away - there is no land. What you would eventually get to is the Antarctic sea. You can fly over those ice shelves in helicopters with high powered binoculars and any black spot is a meteorite or an asteroid fragment because what the hell else could it be?
They’ve tripled the world’s inventory of meteoric material in the last five years through this prospecting technique. They have found a whole box full, like 20 different specimens that they are confident are lunar material ejecta from cometary impact on the moon. But two strong candidates for martian origin. We’re talking about fist sized Donies [? 23.20]. So the notion that the percolation of spores and biological material is not possible; it will be concluded probably fairly shortly that life originated who knows where and has been percolating out through the universe for a long line time.
[Audience - 23.43] Where do you see the place of Cannabis in consciousness evolution? On the one hand, it’s obviously doing something like that, but on the other hand kids do it before they do drive-by shootings in LA. Also address maybe the notorious affect on memory? You mentioned that you consume cannabis when you are doing mushrooms. In my experience, I don’t bring back as much information that I remember…I just want to hear your comments about this.
Yes well, it’s worth talking about Cannabis. I certainly don’t think I would be who I am if it weren’t for cannabis. It hasn’t particularly affected my memory. I’m actually the most devoted on a lifetime scale. The person most devoted to cannabis that I’ve ever known is myself. When I lived in Asia, I used to set my alarm for 2 am to smoke because I couldn’t go from midnight to five. People thought I was bananas. In terms of its deleterious effect, I think it’s pretty on a scale of the other major drugs of commerce, which would be alcohol, tobacco and white sugar. I think it comes off as in the best position. I sort of think of it as going back to this partnership model about mushrooms in Africa - that when that all dried up and those people were moved into the Middle East. There had been previous waves of migration out of Africa that had established populations in central Asia. This is why you have ‘Peking Man’ and ‘Java Man’ - those are earlier remnants of earlier migrations.
Cannabis, botanically, originated north of the Himalayas on the plains of Central Asia. I think it probably is the best substitute for mushrooms on the cultural level. It’s one of the oldest domesticated plants. It was early on associated with cordage and fiber and it’s strange that all the words to narrative are also words about weaving. You weave a story. You unravel a yarn. You thread and unthread a situation. You untangle a situation. The parallelism is very old in all European languages, this association with narrative and fiber, which means hemp. So I sort of see it as the pilot light of Gaian consciousness that was kept going.
Now what people always say to shoot this down is: they say, well Islam tolerates cannabis and Islam is hardly the pilot light of Gaian consciousness. It isn’t actually that Islam tolerates cannabis. It’s that the Koran expressly forbids alcohol and then that leaves you to sort it out from there. I certainly think that cannabis should be legalized and that if every serious alcoholic were encouraged to be a pothead and other drug abusers encouraged toward pot… The problem with pot from a societal point of view is that it is psychedelic enough that like all psychedelics, it erodes loyalty towards cultural values. Meaning, this is the bullshit effect. People say why don’t you get a job. Bullshit! Why should I?
I don’t see it implicated in violence. I think if anything, probably cannabis in ghettos is holding down violence as a drug but probably promoting violence as an item of commerce, and that is because of chuckleheaded laws. I’m absolutely convinced that the way to solve the drug problem is to remove the profit motive. That’s so obvious that it’s baffling to me. Society is so schizophrenic on this topic. The most dangerous drugs are alcohol and tobacco, both fully established in the engines of commerce. It’s a bizarre situation and largely driven by the agenda of Christian fundamentalism in collusion with criminal syndicalists who see this as an opportunity for enormous profit - and cynicism all the way along.
[Audience - 29.10] But I do find that I can’t smoke a lot of pot. Unfortunatley I can never become addicted to any drug as much as I try. My body just doesn’t tolerate it and I’ve tried them all more than once. But I do find with pot…I’ve had friends who became pot heads who, it wasn’t that they betrayed commerce, they lost their ambition. You’re very intelligent and you’ve got a vision and you’re dedicated to your vision. You’re a little bit above most average people (or different)…
Manic is what you’re trying to say, yes. I understand.
[Audience - 29.52] - But I would say, these people really got lost because of their addiction to pot. So I think there’s more of an issue around…it’s not about drugs as much about addiction and the issue of addiction…
[Audience - 30.07] - And how individuals become addicted because they’re avoiding certain psychological issues that they’re struggling with. And rather than dealing with the issues, they turn on the TV.
Well this relates to this larger model we talked about - of time. Of the war between habit and novelty. The thing that offends people about drugs, and if it doesn’t offend you, there’s something wrong with your value system - is to observe unconscious, repetitious, self-destructive behavior. If that means betting on the ponies or chasing hookers or shooting junk, or making bad investments or always blowing your stack with your friends; whatever it is, repetitious self destructive behavior triggers disgust in the rest of the gang.
Drugs, for instance heroin and tobacco, are interesting examples because they are probably tied for their addictive ability. Yet to shoot heroin, people just turn away aghast. It’s like your the lowest of the low. Cigarette smoking until recently was tolerated everywhere. What is the difference here? The person who is smoking the cigarette, we know that tobacco is tremendously destructive - that’s beyond argument. Heroin on the other hand, if you shoot with clean needles and have a steady supply, in other words if your not putting in social factors, my god these junkies live forever. They just pickle themselves and live forever and they don’t get sick. So then why is it that society is so abhorrent of heroin addiction and so accepting of tobacco addiction? The answer is, the presentation of the intoxication. When you shoot heroin, first of all you become very agitated and follow people around raving at them if you’re an addict. Then you nod. So you drool and your face falls in your plate and your friends have to put you to bed.
Tobacco on the other hand. You can maintain. There is no dramatic sequela of symptoms to betray that you’re completely jacked up, twisted around and self poisoned with this. But there you are at your desk working efficiently, making phone calls, making money, keeping it all together. It’s the presentation.
The other thing to say about drugs is that - like everything else about us but even more so - drugs are subject to your genetic heritage of drug receptors. It’s not the same for everybody or even close to the same. The range of response to drugs can be over several orders of magnitude and can vary throughout your life. The fact that I can smoke endless amounts of cannabis and still produce and function just means that I can. I see people, alcoholics, if I have more than a drink and a half, I have headaches and I pay my dues. To watch someone go down on a fifth of Stolichnaya, you just realize that this person is a martian, metabolically speaking. It would just kill me to do that. So this has to do with tolerances and the way the organism can accommodate itself to toxins. But then below that at bedrock, it actually has to do with genetic proclivities.
[Audience - 34.18] With regard to best cannabis as a hallucinogen, is there a difference in your experience in smoking vs ingesting it?
Well that’s a good point. See hashish or the way cannabis entered the west was through hashish, which was eaten in the 19th century. If you read the accounts by 19th century savants who ate large amounts of hashish, it will convince you that it was the LSD of the 1870s. I mean these are mad intoxications that they are describing. It’s not sitting around seeing the wall paper move.
[Audience - 35.08] Well they had more of it?
Well they were eating it.
[Audience - 35.13] Why not cookies and brownies? Why did that lose fashion? Is there a danger in it?
No, I think when pot went from $15 dollars a lid to $475 people stopped cooking with it. Let me say this about eating hashish. If you’re going to do this, I recommend that you eat a red Lebanese hash because Lebanese hash is made in a way that people don’t really touch it in the same way that chara is made in India by people whose hands may not be so clean. You’re going to take a hit essentially of the ambient bacterial population of the village of Hamarubitsar.’ Your guts will go completely berserk. This is one argument for baking it in a cookie - to get the pathogens at least smacked down a bit.
If you’ve never read Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s book, The Hasheesh Eater. Confessions of a Hasheesh Eater. Here it is. It’s 1852 and he’s at Union College at Riverdale New York. He’s been invited to the Dean’s tea and he’s just taken this massive hit of cannabis jelly before arriving at the tea and he says something like: ‘when the umbrellas protruding from the Oriental umbrella stand turned into gargoyles, I knew that I must excuse myself least I run the risk of betraying my condition.’ I’m too loaded, I’ve got to get out of here!
Let me say one more thing about this. There’s a wonderful book called Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady that is writings by women about drugs. If you want to read something that just will make you roll on the floor with laughter, it’s Louisa May Alcott’s account of a picnic she and her friends went on with a Dr. somebody or other. It’s just the most insane thing. It’s these incredibly pretentious Victorian femmes with this Dr. by this river in the English countryside. It’s Lil, Nell, and Dolly. Dolly says ‘oh, Dr. We’re so exhausted with canasta. Surely you have some new little [unknown word] that you can share with us.’ And he says, ‘well Dolly, I do have this little case of the best Moroccan hashish bonbons from Paris.’ Then it’s madness. It’s just the most extraordinary thing.
[Audience - 38.36] How does Cannabis work on the brain neurochemically?
It’s not very well understood. There is a receptor but cannabis is not an alkaloid. Cannabis is technically a polyhydric alcohol, which makes it a chemically unique type. It’s also botanically unique. Cannabis is what’s called a monotypic genus. In other words, these three species, Ruderalis, Sativa and Indica, which are all obviously speciated within historical time and can by chromosomal studies be shown to be all derivative of Ruderalis, the Central Asian wild type. It has no near relatives. So it’s unique and it’s not well understood.
As far as somebody asked about using it psychedelically. I think the real, and I can’t say I do this because I need it for other reasons, but in terms of the pure psychedelic issue, the way to do cannabis is once a week, in silent darkness, alone, with the best stuff you can get and then just do as much of it as you can possibly do in a short a time and sit with it. You will every single time be absolutely torn to pieces by it. It’s just astonishing. The problem is that people get into it, myself included, for other reasons other than that hallucinogenic flash. But that would really be the ideal way and also it would prove you were a person of great rectitude and self control if you could do that.
[40.26 Tape Cut]
Well this phrase, nostalgia for paradise, I don’t know who invented it. I first encountered it in Mircea Eliade’s book Cosmos and History. If you never read this book, it’s a little book. It was one of the most influential books on my thinking because I saw there a whole different way of talking about spiritual reality. But I disagree with Eliade that it is simply attitude in the human mind. I think there really was a fall and that this is a diminished condition and that there was some kind of cohesion - that we do have this nostalgia for. That’s why I think our whole relationship to drugs is all about the fact…look here, here’s the metaphor. We’re like the children of an abused relationship. Something was taken from us 15,000 years ago. It was the thing which kept us in balance with each other, with the Earth. It kept us in our imaginations, in the poetic world of natural magic and then it was taken from us and it was a big downer. Life turned into history and warfare and subjection and classism and all of these things — and the thing that was taken from us was this intoxication.
So then we moved on to alcohol, to money, to opium - because that was very big in the Minoan phase. Opium had a huge influence on Minoan civilization. All of these things, an effort to scratch an itch that you can never quite reach, but in the meantime, all kinds of addictions, wars, criminal syndicates, horrible things go on. Now in the 20th century through the science of anthropology, a complete inventory essentially is taken of the world’s intoxicating possibilities. It’s part of a complete inventory of the world’s people, languages, technologies, and belief systems that characterizes anthropology. But there it is, in 1953, Gordon Wasson returns from the village of Huautla and Sierra Mazateca and he has the body of Eros pickled in a jar. Lost since the fall of Minoan Crete but suddenly restored and then nobody knows what to make of it.
The CIA looks at it and Hofmann looks at it. Now it is found, I think. I don’t know if it comes too late or if the final irony is that we learn what it was all about, but nevertheless have to succumb to the momentum of our own stupidity. In other words, it’s this kind of Greek drama where you have this horrible realization and fully understand the whole bit, but you’re doomed anyway just because it makes for better theater. Or whether it is the happy ending of the Christian Eschaton. Yeah?
[44.44 - Tape Cut]
What the 9th century’s best tools were for cognizing these kinds of matters were Scholastic theology. I’ve been accused of that! So what Scholastic theology says is that there is something called the Nunc Stans, the eternal now. This all goes back to this wonderful thing that Plato said. Plato said that time is the moving image of eternity. My notion of what this is all about is that the Time Wave we looked at last night is eternity. It’s the fractal structure of the temporal module viewed from a higher dimension. Time is the traversing of that thing. The nature of the singularity is hard to anticipate. If you use the old fractal principle: ontogeny capitulates phylogeny. You all understand what that means?
It’s the phenomenon that a fetus, as it develops, ontogeny, recapitulates the evolutionary history of life on the earth. That’s phylogeny. In other words, the fetus is first a little kind of thing, an amoeboid mass of cells, then it becomes sort of like a salamander, then it becomes a primitive mammal and so forth and so on. Well, using that principle to try and anticipate the end state seems legitimate under the fractal dispensation. However it leads to the conclusion that when you look at an organism, what happens to all organisms is that they die. So that leaves you with the conclusion that what happens at the end date of the whole enchilada is the equivalent of some kind of mass dying.
Well that really doesn’t tell you much because we don’t know what dying is. How can the ultimate novelty be complete extinction? It must be then that we have to overcome as positivists, our phobia against this area of speculation previously presided over by beady eyed priests and actually take it back and say that in the mysteries of metabolism and morphology, it is perhaps now necessary to entertain the idea that death is not a nihilistic release into non-entity. Instead, the shamanic model is correct and that biological life is a sojourn into matter.
At death, you do go to some incomprehensible unfoldment. Only the first moments of which can be made sense of. I really think the DMT thing is like bungie cording into the bardo, you know? There you go and then just as you’re there, it jerks you back. So you get that much of a look into the yawning grave. I take it as, it’s strange, yes. But surely reason for hope and optimism. How much of oneself, whatever that means, is going to be carried over. I don’t know. It looks to me like, probably not much. What lies ahead to quote Bilbo Baggins, the greatest adventure still lies ahead. I’m pretty convinced of that, which surprises me because I’m a cynic. I’m not easily swept into optimism.
[Audience - 49.16] Well you just had a great little pre-echo with the analogy of Scholastic theology to let us know what’s going to be the defining moment of 2012. The collective works of Terence McKenna are published under the title, Summa Mycologica.
I’ll take it.
[Audience - 49.34] What cautions and reservations do you have with this dance with Kali. We talk about the revival and sometimes I wonder if we remember what we’re talking about. In this possible great ecstasy, here lies….
[Audience - 50.00] I’m constantly asking that question as I’ve taken a four and half year break from drugs and I’m moving back in that direction. Having consumed some mushrooms recently and wanting to, in this revival…the use of these substances needs to be absolutely reverent and to be sensitive to what I’m doing.
Well, the danger as I see it and I feel it very strongly. The danger is, just to put it out there, is madness. We talk about stretching the envelope. We talk about running the edge. You don’t want to rip the envelope. You don’t want to island yourself in a situation where nobody can make sense out of what you’re saying. Yet, that’s the game we play. It’s always pushing. So what you said about reverence and absolute impeccability of attitude and also I think it’s very important to be physically together. It’s important to be physically together anyway. I go to a gym three days a week and I think of it as preparation for psychedelic voyaging because if your body is a clean instrument, you can do it.
The other thing is technique. In the psychedelic state, if there are problems, there are techniques to deal with them. The best technique, and western people don’t naturally gravitate towards this, if you get into a place that you don’t like on a psychedelic, sing. You must sing! Most people’s tendency is to clench. This is very bad because it can just grind you to nothing. What you have to do is sit up and you have to sing. It doesn’t really matter what you sing. You will find the song. Start out with out with ‘row, row, row your boat’ and go from there.
The other thing is, the real issue I find in myself, is surrender. That it’s all very fine to sit here getting paid dollars per minute extolling this stuff but boy is it different to do it. You can talk all you want but the thing is so - I don’t know if scary is the word - it’s so total what happens. You’re so vulnerable and you know that if there is any flaw in your approach or attitude that that flaw will be magnified by the stress of the thing and become highly problematic. So it’s all about asking the question, you know? Am I ready?
Now this is not how beginners approach it, nor should they. It’s incredibly forgiving of first, second and third timers. But as it takes you in, what it gives is a certain measure of, for want of a better word, let’s call it power. The payback on that existential validity would be another way of calling it, rather than power. The payback on that existential validity is that you have to be OK. Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing or something but one cannot do the examination of conscience carefully enough because there is always flaw. So it’s about staying right with it. It teaches the right way to live and also surrender.
That’s why I don’t ever have an agenda. I regard having an agenda as essentially aspiring to be a magician of some sort. And I don’t. I want to witness it. I am perfectly content to be present at the miracle. I don’t want to do the miracle and I don’t want the miracle to be done to me. I just want to be there. Frank Herbert in his book Dune said something, which over the years I’ve found, though it sounds flimsy to say, it actually works. Some of you may recall that in that book, they had this drug called Stroon and it did pull you out of time. It was not just a drug, it revealed like I’m saying psilocybin/DMT do; the real structure of reality.
In there, they discuss what do you do about the fear that comes with the gigantic awesome dimensions of this vision? And he says, or someone tells the main character, fear is like a wind and it blows through the mind. What you must do is, you must wait. It cannot sustain itself unless you give it an object. This is actually true I’ve found. Fear, whatever it is cognitively, physiologically it’s a chemical wave of release of adrenaline. What you do is just sit and watch it come like a bell curve and then recede and then your still on the surface of the ocean and the power of it has been defeated.
But if you give it any object to cling to it will break white water and then the chaos will overwhelm you.
[Audience - 56.10] I was wondering if you could talk about the difference between psilocybin and Ayahuasca experience. I’m particularly interested in…I heard you talk once about the value in the psilocybin experience is more technological and ‘get ready to depart the planet’ type of value. Whereas ayahuasca is more ‘save the planet…’
Feminine. Yeah, somebody once said to me after they took a mushroom trip, they said I don’t think I’ll do that anymore. I said, why not? They said, because I’m not interested in insects that drive spaceships. Which sums up psilocybin pretty well.
Psilocybin is Apollonian and hortatory and grandiose. It’s interesting that they have these personalities. I mean psilocybin is kind of megalomanic. It says history is ending. Prepare for the departure. The crisis of the species is upon us. Cosmic forces are intersecting. Machines the size of manitoba will be involved. It’s all about mankind, prepare to depart for the higher orders of the galactarian hegemony and this whole thing like that.
Ayahuasca is all about how rivers flow, family lines intersect, what is in the river, what is in the mind of the woman? It’s like this very sensual, telepathic gas which spreads out when you’re in the rainforest and brings you into connection with everything. It also doesn’t speak. It becomes the eye of the camera. It’s language is entirely a visual language. It never speaks. It just shows you. Showing, showing, showing. After a good Ayahuasca trip, you feel like your eyes are falling out. You have been looking, literally looking, with full attention for hours at this stuff, with this sense of it being distant from you somehow.
[Audience - 58.38] How do you reconcile those two?
No it’s a little puzzling because DMT is…. Psilocybin in the the metabolic pathway doesn’t actually become DMT but it is about as close as it could possibly be, so the difference is quite startling. N,N DMT, when smoked, (not when taken in the Ayahuasca situation where you get what I just described) but when smoked, it trumps the psilocybin. It goes so far beyond it because it carries you into the part where you can’t understand. The other one, the psilocybin, communicates at least in human terms. I mean apocalyptically, mega-technically, through these science fiction metaphors and so forth - but the DMT flash goes beyond that and you say, this is truly the presence of an alien mind. This is not being filtered for my consumption at all. This is absolutely just off the wall, whatever it is.
[Audience - 59.47] Indecipherable.
That’s right. It’s puzzling that the route of administration and the complexing with the MAO inhibitors gives it these different psychological tones. I think almost everybody has experienced these things would agree with what I said about these aspects of the personalities of the substances.
[Audience - 100.11] Does LSD fit into those categories?
No, LSD is different. LSD is like psycho-analytical Draino. It’s not a personality.
[Audience - 100.20] What about the natural derivatives?
You mean the morning glory seeds? I’ve only taken those things five or six times in my life and all in my youth. I remember the visions. I remember the hallucinations. Once on Hawaiian Woodrose, Argyreia Nervosa, I entered into a higher world based on the theme of the sea urchin. I was in these cathedral like vaulted spaces which were the insides of sea urchins. Then there was this coach pulled by these very strange looking animals and it had these nipple like protuberances all over it and everything was done in mauve and purple and white. It was sea urchin world for about twenty minutes and then that went away.
[Audience - 101.14] Will you explain - and I know this gets back to the basic premise that you’ve been talking about the last couple of days - but can you elaborate a little more on why you conclude that these hallucinations are in fact true hallucinations? In other words, why do you conclude that these elf like entities really exist?
Well…really exist? True enough. We talked about that didn’t we? About the Wittgensteinian thing? Did we? Yes?
They’re true enough because they have efficacy. See, we miss the point because we think the world is made of matter. Matter is simply a concept. The world is made of language and since the hallucinations communicate in language, they are as real as anything else. They are helping make reality. It’s crazy to think that the universe is made of quarks and Nu-mesons and neutrinos and stuff like that. Who here has ever seen one, or even has the most specious grasp of how you would go about looking for such a thing?
[Audience - 102.30] But we get exposed to those words.
But we get exposed to those words. The world is really made of language, of interlocking concepts. Well so then that means the hallucinations are real. That in that sense where Mia Farrow says in Rosemary’s Baby, my god this is actually happening. That’s what needs to happen inside the psilocybin trip. We have this category called hallucination or intoxication or trance. Then we say, ‘oh it’s only mental therefore it’s not real.’ Well, I’ve got news for you. It’s all mental and therefore it is real. The big news is that while we’ve been waiting for aliens to come in ships from the stars, we have totally overlooked the alien nature of reality around us.
By pushing into these mental dimensions, we discover a bewildering fauna of angels, demons, helping spirits, and ancestor spirits. I only speak from my own experience, so for instance I’m unable to pass judgment on something like Voodoo or Tantric invocation or something like that. But I, using reason, was able to confirm the existence of things that no reasonable person believes in. This is impressive and it’s repeatable. That’s the thing I want to stress. This is not some faith or something where you have to…I don’t know…it’s just that it’s a technology. It’s a technology of ethnopharmacology.
[Audience - 104.31] Obviously the experience is repeatable but what that experience means… whether it indicates, for lack of a better phrase, objective reality, separate and apart from your mind is not necessarily proven by having the experience itself.
Yes but see it’s difficult to prove that there’s any objective reality apart from mind anyway.
[Tape Cut - 104.54]
Yeah but it not only rests on Barkley, which is an earlier version of it, but it also rests now on quantum physics’ need to include the observer into the equation. Somehow there is a something, which the vectors of which are collapsed into the experience of the here and now by the observational act. Then the role of language in this. It’s not easy to sort this stuff out. If you want to read an interesting book, read Dispenay’s* book, The Philosophical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. This will give you something to chew on for sure.
(*NOTE - I could not find the author here. It seems likely McKenna was speaking of Hans Reichenbach’s book Philosophic Foundations of Quantum Mechanics.)
[Audience - 105.42] What would you say about LSD?
Oh, that it has no character? By character, I meant personality. I didn’t mean to diss it. I just meant it doesn’t organize itself around a personality the way psilocybin does. I found LSD to be like a conceptual enhancer. It was great for looking at things and for thinking about things. But I also, and this may be my obviously personal thing, I found it just physically incredibly hard on my body. My god, the next day I would lay in warm bathes and try to sort it all out. I was taking good LSD, Sandoz LSD. So for me, when I got to psilocybin, I was just exultant.
See what I had done was read Huxley then I had gone back to Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life and Henri Michaux, the Miserable Miracle and people like that. Havelock Ellis talks about ruined buildings of great antiquity drooping with opalescent jewels and protruding from Venusian forests and I said, that’s what I’m after.
LSD would never ever approach that. It was much more mechanical and elusive and fast moving. Then when I took psilocybin, lo and behold, it was just like Havelock Ellis. Produced and directed by Havelock Ellis. That is what I love. It may just be a prejudice of mine but to me the transcendental part of it is the visions. Thoughts, you can have and even insights you can have but to have behind your darkened eyelids, a huge technicolor movie going on for minutes and minutes, stunning in its cohesion and beauty and architectonic triumphal; you just say wow, this is great. This is great! Who’s doing this?
And the thing, if you appreciate it like that, it will say: ‘oh you think that’s something. Look at this!’ Then it starts trying to impressive you. You say, yes just do it! Take me I’m yours. Let’s go, go, go!
[Audience - 108.22] Could you say something about the information that’s revealed through the drug induced state and dreaming.
Ah, good question. I think that perhaps dreaming…perhaps every night we go as deep as these psychedelic drugs take us. But there’s apparently very little short term or long term memory trace laid down by these experiences. I think if we would just legalize these things and turn our creative science people loose on this… What we really need is a drug that allows you to remember your dreams. That’s it!
[Audience - 109.10 - Indecipherable]
Well, we have the concept and we have claims but I mean one that will work for me.
[Audience - 109.20] Smoking pot inhibits it.
Yes, that’s a good point. The one argument that I feel the force of against cannabis is that it completely suppresses dreaming.
[Audience - 109.37] You still dream but you don’t remember them.
Well it’s debatable. I think that because it’s a boundary dissolver. I have sort of a pressure theory of dreams. Somehow cannabis depressurizes the dream place because you deal with these material in active fantasy. But boy, if you’re a regular cannabis user and you stop smoking, within 48 hours you will have dreams that will have you on the phone to mother. I mean…whoa. And it goes on and on. I stopped smoking cannabis about a year and a half ago for four months. What finally sent me back to it was the dreams convinced me I was losing my marbles. Enough of making a point, you know!
[Audience - 110.30] …had and it was accessible to my rational mind. My rational mind was in place enough to know that I had dreamt it and I was re-dreaming and absolutely recollecting and reliving the dream state and the previous dream that I had.
Really? And where were these Amanitas from?
[Audience 110.55] Michigan
[Audience 110.58] - Indecipherable
And what were the other symptoms. Did you feel cold? Did you hallucinate?
[Audience - 111.13] It was totally as though I were dreaming. I was totally engrossed. I was catatonic. I did not move for three to four hours.
Well that’s very interesting. We didn’t talk much about Amanita Muscaria. Amanita Muscaria is very mysterious because it is so variable over it’s range. It’s seasonably variable, genetically variable, geographically variable. You hear once in a while amazing amanita stories. Most amanita stories are that it’s toxic and horrible. But maybe one in 15 stories will be something wonderful like this.
I’m convinced that it has to do with some very subtle chemical equilibrium that people find and lose. Probably when amanita shamanism was flourishing - it was a case of where you really did have to go to a master to sort out how to do it without wasting your time or poisoning yourself.
[Audience - 112.28] I really think did initially think I was dying. I mean I knew was being poisoned but it was all right. I had willfully entered into it. It was a sense that I wanted a death. Not a physical death per se but a wider experience of a bardo. It was like a willingness to feel poisoned. It wasn’t a negative thing that I had willfully sought.
And was it muscarinic poisoning? Chills, and salivation? Uh huh
[Audience - 113.06] Yes. But it was OK. It was as though I had accepted full responsibility that that was a willful act on my own part. So what is death? Is death birth or is death death? So it was as though I were participating in a birthing. I focused on that aspect of it so I was not really dying, I was birthing. So it didn’t have the negative. I was throwing up and I was sick. [Indecipherable]. A week before that I had all these energies and the idea was this voice just kept saying pick and choose. So it became very apparent that you could get paranoid and engulf in that aspect and say, oh my God I’m dying.
The ego - this is what the ego tells you as its last desperate ploy. Let me say to the group as far as Amanita Muscaria is concerned - don’t try this at home folks. It’s out there on the edge of the bardo. I hear what you’re saying. If you’re truly psychedelic the difference between living and dying is quite immaterial, no pun intended.
[Audience - 114.44] You manifest in your mind this sense that ‘I’ am dying or do you just transmute it and just say I will be reborn. You manifest the reality as whether you are dying or whether you are being reborn.
Yeah, this is the issue of surrender because boundary dissolution is interpreted by the ego as death. If the boundary dissolution is happening rapidly or for some reason - in an alarming fashion to the ego - it will pull out this explanation and then you really have to discipline the hindbrain and say, no no, this is what we chose to do. This is the course we’re set on and this is the course we’re sailing because what are you going to do?
[115.43 - Indecipherable]
Well it’s hard to say you know. You ask about a path not taken as well as a path taken. All the women I’ve ever been with are heads of some sort of varying and lesser degrees. I was married for 15 years. We’re separated. I don’t see the drugs as a particular issue although my wife used to complain that I spend a great deal of time out of the flow of family life and loaded. But on the other hand, I remember when I was eight and nine years old, huge scenes with my father and mother because they were always going off on picnics and I always wanted to stay home and read. So it was exactly the same pattern before drugs appeared in my life. I like to do things by myself, a lot.
Cannabis for me was really a turning point. I remember the first time I smoked cannabis and I realized, aha! I can be a normal person with this stuff. I can self medicate myself and I can stop being this incredibly hyperactive, nervous, yammering, skinny, bespectacled Ichabod like creature that I was. Then, I don’t know. I leave it to you to judge the results. My impression was that it helped with that and it helped with my social relations. I was always so alienated and peculiar. But my life has been so totally about drugs that I can’t imagine it any other way. One of the things that most horrified me when I stopped smoking cannabis - and I had always said it about cannabis - was you worry. You worry. People who don’t smoke cannabis worry. Now they would say that they’re tending to business and that that’s part of being an adult. But most worry is superfluous and preposterous.
If I don’t smoke pot for a week, I become very attentive to stuff like balancing my checkbook. Receipts - getting deeply into receipts - and just all this weird stuff. I start thinking ‘gee, is my medical insurance paid up,’ or ‘I should pre-pay my taxes’ - all this kind of thing. Now I suppose to go too far in the other direction, you would just be a complete space case. But my life seems to function very well and people say that I have an abnormally neat apartment so I don’t think I’m letting down too much. Anxiety is a very dubious thing I think and anything that assuages that - as long as it doesn’t sedate you - is probably a pretty good thing.
Your presence makes me think it’s not as eccentric as it probably actually is. So I appreciate your contributing to my own delusional state. I hope you found this information interesting. Avoid gurus, follow plants - it’s like Van Morrison says - no guru, no method, no teacher, just you and me and mother nature in the garden; in the garden wet with rain.
So thank you very much!