Thursday, 17 March 2016
Teachers and Trippers: from Edinburgh with love
Pale Green Vortex Man foresakes the mountain regions and heads to the Big City. It happens increasingly rarely, and for ever briefer periods of time. Last week saw him make one of these occasional forays south - all the Big Cities are south if you live in the Scottish Highlands - in order to attend a special event.
It's a familiar pattern. After about an hour and a half, around Blair Atholl, I wonder whether I have made a mistake. I experience the urge to get off at the next station stop and go straight home. Then we hit the Lowlands, and I feel clumsily out of place. Demeter, Ceres, the agriculture deities, have well and truly deserted me. The Fife coast, the great sea, revives my spirits. Then we hit the Big City, the great capital, Edinburgh.
Forty seconds off the train and I'm already suffering mild culture shock. Now I remember what it is about the Big City: vast numbers of people moving around at great speed and with great apparent intent. The problem is that I've completely lost track of what the very important thing they are clearly involved in is. Funny, really. I did, after all, spend almost three decades of my life in and around a far bigger city, Whittington's dream, London.
I make the cardinal error of wandering into a department store. OK, Princes Street is not the ideal place in Edinburgh for me at the best of times. People have the habit of nearly knocking me to the ground, as they move around in a kind of unconscious trance, fixated solely on the clothing hanging on the stand over there. In a few hour's time, I will be considering civilisation, its origins and future. I don't see much evidence of it around here just now.
'Psychedelics and Civilisation': the talk by Graham Hancock. One of the few events seductive enough to entice me down to Big City life. It's dark by the time I venture out from my room in search of the venue. Grand Sheraton Hotel: sounds pretty posh to me. So it transpires. There is a statement here, however, and an intention. No more hiding apologetically behind a bush, a bit like Eve and Adam naked and shameful before God. No. The idea is that the discussion - psychedelics and civilisation - needs to come out into the mainstream. The time has arrived, hallelujah. Just so, just so.
I arrive just slightly early. The conference room where the talk is due to take place is on the vast side. As one of the earlier ones there, I find a seat near the front and watch. People keep coming in.... and coming..... and coming. It's extraordinary. By the time Graham gets off his seat and onto the stage, the auditorium is practically full.
Five hundred tickets were sold for the event - a sell-out. Nowhere had I expected such a number to turn up to a talk overtly concerned with psychedelic substances and, in this case, their more-significant-than-normally-recognised role in the unfolding of human civilisation. For me, it was a remarkably heartening experience just to see all these folk. Even if the talk hadn't taken place, the trip to the Big City would have been worth it.
Fortunately, the talk did take place. Graham Hancock is a well-known figure in the worlds of ancient (and by ancient, I mean ancient) civilisation research and, more recently, the role of psychedelics in human life past and present. His book 'Supernatural' is a great and important read regarding psychedelics and multi-dimensional consciousness from a historical and pre-historical perspective. It is one of the most important works on my bookshelf. Graham is also a first-class speaker, and his talk led us through vast worlds of time, space, and personal experience. If and when it turns up on Youtube or elsewhere, it will form an outstanding introduction to the topic for someone getting interested, or just an inspiring synthesis for those already familiar with this rich and varied landscape of untold (well, not quite any more) perspectives on the human project.
Graham elucidated a wide range of themes. Here are just a few:
The use of psychedelics has been extremely widespread in times and places past. More and more evidence emerges by the day that points in this direction: much of humanity's sense of the sacred has been promoted by its psychedelic experiences. The times we live in, where psychedelics have been demonised and are heavily criminalised, are anomalous. The one and only reason for this state of affairs is that LSD, DMT, ayahuasca, mushrooms and the rest are inherently challenging to the control of the status quo. As Graham sweetly put it, they make you question stuff. And this, above all else, is anathema to a system based upon negative false premises, and upon people just doing what they are told to do.
He described one of my favourite analogies, and one which has appeared on Pale Green Vortex before. How the brain is not (in my view, cannot be) the source of consciousness. Instead it is more like a television set, a receiver, which just normally happens to be tuned to one channel only - 'channel normal'. But we can be far more completely human if we extend the range of channels we pick up. We discover the remote control that got lost behind the cushions on the sofa.
Graham also ventured lovingly into the worldview of the Gnostics. I don't know why this always resonates with me so deeply - maybe it's the resonance of truth. But he fearlessly put forth the Gnostic notions (highly heretical to orthodox Christianity) of the fall of Sophia, the demiurge, who has created a world of error, and the nefarious dealings of the archons. He also explained how polarity as it exists in our world is there as a teaching device, a hugely important but rarely known realisation, one which enables us to make far more sense of the crazy and sometimes nasty world we inhabit.
April 19th is national 'Coming Out' Day, when psychedelic people are encouraged to tell someone about their personal experience of these substances and their potential benefits. One of the more sensible things about psychedelics was said by Dr Rick Strassman. Known sometimes as Mr DMT, as a result of the officially-approved studies he did into DMT during the 1990s, he was also a serious practicing Buddhist, affiliated with a particular Buddhist group in the USA. He suggested that some users of psychedelics would benefit greatly from taking up some Buddhist meditation, developing personal discipline from the practice of ethics etc. General thumbs-up for the goodly doctor. He went on to say, however, that similarly some practitioners of Buddhism could benefit from a small number of carefully organised and controlled psychedelic trips, particularly those who had been soldiering away for years on their meditation cushion with limited higher dimensional success. Fierce disapproval came the way of Strassman from the direction of his fellow Buddhists for saying such a thing; it was an event which eventually led to his own parting ways with this particular group. 'Holiness wins out over Truth' is the succinct way he summed things up. It's a good story for reflection by those who are committed to following rational, tolerant, open-minded Buddhism, I think.
Saturday morning came, and I was out early. This is sometimes the best time to experience the Big City, before it properly wakes up. I was strolling on the way to the train station when the penny dropped, making a loud clunking sound on the Edinburgh pavement as it did so. All my life I have viewed myself as the weird one, the great minority, the anomaly, the outsider. Suddenly I realised it isn't like that at all. I am actually the normal one, as indeed were most of the attendants of Graham Hancock's talk. We do what human beings have tried to do for most of their time on Earth. We endeavour to embrace our humanness, our divinity and to more fully realise that sacredness in our daily lives. We live, however, within an aberration, the socio-economic-political structure of modern times. This is not 'normal', neither is it typical of the human story. It is a relatively recent devolution in the way that humankind goes about its affairs. This is one of the more profound implications of the 'deep ancestry' work of Graham Hancock and others. It changes the name of the game, and it changes the way that I feel about my own endeavours in life. Walk on....
The Psychedelic Society: check it out. The Psychedelic Society of Edinburgh was formed a mere year ago, but succeeded in getting five hundred people to this big event in the Big City. I think that's fantastic. Don't you?