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Push/Pull

by on November 14, 2020

Push/Pull

by Marco M. Pardi

So irresistible is the transformative power of enlightenment that your life seems to be shifted into a new dimension, opened to new and unexpected possibilities.” Eugene Herrigel The Method of Zen.

The action of the creative individual may be described as a twofold motion of withdrawal and return: withdrawal for the purpose of his personal enlightenment, return for the task of enlightening his fellow men.” Arnold Toynbee A Study of History.

All comments are appreciated and will receive a response. Previous posts are open for comment.

Those of us who are parents remember that period when our child was developing the concept of causality. The instant we explained something in what we were sure were age appropriate terms we heard, “Why?” Not wanting to stifle development, we attempted to clarify and enhance the information. And then, “Why?” We entered the ring, convinced that logic and reason would prevail. And got more Why. But some remember a different outcome: “Because I said so. That’s why.”

Though we may not have understood it at the time, this was a foray into the area of potential disconnect between knowing and feeling, the intangible difference between knowing something is so and feeling something is so. That disconnect is not inherently there at birth or through early development. It is developed over time through an enculturation process which greatly values knowledge over feelings. Facts are elevated to the highest position of authority and respect while feelings, senses, are relegated to lower positions as untrustworthy and inferior. Feelings which dare to ascend to the level of fact become beliefs, which you may attempt to counter at your peril. Yet, even Bertrand Russell, the preeminent philosopher of his Age, advised us that, ultimately, everything we think we know rests upon a belief that we are capable of knowing anything at all. This was the famous conundrum of Descartes, about which he threw up his hands and said, Cogito, ergo sum.

But why perpetuate a false dichotomy? Did Socrates rule out the senses and the subjective when he said, Know thyself? Especially in those parts of the world under the influence of Materialist – Reductionist thinking we find at least half the equation missing in a reverse of the common mistake that psychosomatic means “It’s all in your head.” If it were all in your head there would be no soma in that word. The mistake is the presumption that the term means only that a psychic, or mental state caused a particular somatic, or bodily state. The reverse is commonly true. And in the same way we cannot allow ourselves to be just the body without the mind, the soma without the psyche.

Those of us with teaching experience, particularly in higher education, know there are students who learn the material, they know it and mentally file it only until they can vomit it onto a test paper, being careful to not splash outside the box, and it’s gone. They never internalized it, never felt it become part of how they experience the world, much less themselves. They did not have an epiphany. But for those working in the fields of Behavioral Change, internalization is the Holy Grail.

I’m currently working my way through a dense text exploring the latest in archaeobotany and archaeochemistry, in this case the studies of old traces of earlier Man’s activities related to plants and chemicals. True, the going would be a bit tough for the layman, dealing with sequential thermal desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (TD-GC-MS) and pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (Py-GC-MS) applied to residues in drinking vessels and fermentation bowls dating back many thousands of years BCE. But the findings are absolutely startling. As far back as 10,000 BCE, and probably earlier Man (actually women, from all the evidence) developed and utilized effective means not only of fermentation, but of extracting precise measures of naturally occurring psychedelics which, if mixed incorrectly were almost instantly fatal. The ritualized ingestion of these mixtures enabled cognitive expansion into hitherto unseen and unknown dimensions with effects similar to those of N-N-dimethyltriptamine but of longer duration. More than just a light show, these episodes enabled (as they currently do) communication with deceased relatives, friends, and sources of wisdom. And these conveyed verifiable information. Apparently originating in the Levant, these ritual occurrences spread throughout Europe and North Africa though famously associated with Eleusis in Greece. Hence, the Eleusinian Mysteries which, under persecution from the new Christian Rome, evolved surreptitiously into the Christian Eucharist. Later, Church “Fathers” purged women out of all authoritative roles and banned the use of anything but unadulterated wine and simple bread. What had been an intensely subjective experience was flattened into a purely material, objective experience – congregational communion in which nothing happened beyond the swallowing of the approved substances.

Does learning this add to my knowledge base? Yes. Does it change my feelings about the prehistory of self development? Not greatly, but only because I’ve been aware of the probable role of such fungi as Amanita muscaria for decades. But a person encountering this information for the first time must certainly be deeply affected. For me, the information developing in this text simply adds to the early pharmacopoeia we have been rediscovering recently.

In examining the residue evidence for the development of psychedelic cocktails as the crux of such enlightening rituals as the Eleusinian Mysteries and the early proto-Christian Eucharist a number of researchers have opened what Huxley famously spoke of as The Doors of Perception, giving rise to an in-spiration of new knowledge and associated feelings. But let’s look at another opportunity to alter perception. All of us are at least familiar with, and have probably read Homer’s Odyssey. If part of our schoolwork it was probably presented as fictional, epic literature perhaps based in a very few facts, elevating a particular person to heroic status.

But those of us who studied Greek and Latin Classics remember Plotinus (ca, CE 205-270) who, in examining Homeric Greek, decoded the Odyssey not as a simple fable but as a metaphor for our journey through life, and the afterlife. Though he may not have known it, his presentation remarkably tracks the underlying principles in the Egyptian Book of Coming Forth by Day (marketed as the Egyptian Book of the Dead) and the Bardo Thodol (marketed as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Who would buy a book titled “Bardo Thodol”? Okay, I would).

Reading this brought a sudden epiphany, a change of perspective from a Ho Hum, another fairy tale to a deeply felt understanding of the importance and personal value of the story. And the lesson in my coming forth by day is that, once again, we must beware the swing of the pendulum, the drive toward Materialist Reductionism. Too many interpret this as “science” when it is in fact scientism – the unrealized felt belief that only objectively measurable knowledge is valid.

Advocating cult-like belief in their inherent correctness, Republican administrations, built largely on the utter ignorance of many voters, especially the under-educated evangelicals, attack science unless it serves to increase their bank accounts or enhance their military weapons. Health and environmental sciences take a horrific beating. Now that we in the U.S. have an opportunity to reverse some of the damage done, we must be vigilant in clearly stating and adhering to the boundaries of what science can and cannot do. As currently practiced, science is empirical. It demands objective and verifiable proof. That’s fine for most, but not all applications. It must not be used, as it has been so often, as a cudgel to subdue and invalidate the subjective. Science does not advance by obsessively poring over what it already knows; it advances by opening the portals into what it does not know. And that often demands a change in perception. Few people seem to realize that the term science is quite recent; we still award the Doctor of Philosophy degree precisely because it is through the open explorations characteristic of philosophy that our knowledge, and hopefully our understanding increases. And as our understanding increases we internalize both knowledge and feeling in balance. We apply our knowledge, not merely recite it.

Yes, that demands an openness to new avenues of perception. Are you tired of pushing on a door designed to be opened by pulling? Perhaps it’s time to change perception.

As a final note I did find a passing comment in this text to be off the mark. In commenting on the immediate efficacy of the psychedelic potion versus “spending a lifetime in a Buddhist monastery waiting for enlightenment” the author seriously mischaracterized the monastic experience, basically as a wasted life when quickee drugs would have done it. I do not subscribe to the use of drugs, though I grudgingly understand them when needed as a “kick in the ass” for the less thoughtful. A realization of one’s self, in its entirety and its context, deeply felt and subjectively understood, can come as easily as changing our perception from push to pull. It’s our materialist enculturation which tells us we can’t be there yet, which tells us to keep pushing. In the same vein, no Zen master or monastic abbot can tell us when we are enlightened. Or not.

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10 Comments
  1. Mike Stamm permalink

    Excellent, as always, and a reminder to keep one’s mind open. (Though not, as some New Age/woo-woo “disciplines” require, so open that one’s brain falls out.) Per your reminder about the original meaning of “philosophy,” we always have Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I tend toward the empirical and the materialist, but there are many things–some of which I probably need to know–that are very real and yet fit under neither heading.

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    • Thank you, Mike. Yes, there is comfort and security in a belief in certainty, and you are wise to recognize the trap. In speaking to myself I often say, “I just don’t know”. Don’t know what? I don’t know.

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  2. mkdohle permalink

    Thank you Marco, well thought out. I do believe, like you, that drugs don’t do it. It is like being drunk. One can be very open and loving because of the lessening of inhibitions. Yet when day returns, and the hangover is gone, nothing has changed

    It is by choosing that we grow in love, and in our ability to understand what life is about, if one is following a spiritual path.

    We should question, but from my standpoint, both left and right are in lock step, hurling the same judgements at one another. Many are correct, but unless we can grow in the understanding that others mirror us, we are doomed to continue to repeat endless cycles of frustration, pain, and yes violence,which seems to be growing.

    Keep writing my friend.

    peace Mark

    inhibition

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    • Thank you, Mark. I’ve long thought the American political system is a fossil of an extinct species: A mainly homogenous and small group of colonists that would be baffled at the make up of America today. I’ve long advocated for a parliamentary system, which would open the arena to be more inclusive and participatory.

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  3. Dana permalink

    Marco this is another interesting piece that I had to read several times for comprehension. I’d like to say I’m just tired, but I’m examining the writing of someone who is currently reading a “dense text exploring the latest in archaeobotany and archaeochemistry.”

    You have me thinking about some of my past mystical experiences. Before I knew you I had no idea what they were or why I had them. They were nearly always experienced outdoors, but never under the influence of any substance other than my own mind. In fact, I think it would be impossible, or at least highly improbable for me to reach that state with any mind-altering substance. It isn’t something I can try to achieve regardless; it simply happens without any warning. For the most part they’ve occurred on overcast days when I’m tired; lack of sleep usually quiets and calms me. Post-rainfall moments outside have also triggered them. The world is tranquil after a rain, especially if cloudy skies remain afterward.

    I could never understand or explain what was happening and yet I’ve had them since early childhood. I don’t think there is any specific explanation. In my experience they’re a sudden, overwhelming feeling of Oneness with everything, from human-made objects such as cell phone towers to trees and other plants. I once experienced one simultaneously with another person who is close to me; she’s someone with whom I’d never discussed mysticism or such moments.

    I once deeply connected with a Russet potato that was covered with dirt in a grocery store. This may not sound very exciting, enlightening or romantic, but in that moment I was suddenly filled with awe at the lowly potato. Similarly, this has happened with a Red Delicious apple and on another occasion a red bell pepper. Then the experience is over and I’m sometimes left wondering if anyone noticed me. I can’t help but wonder afterward how I must have appeared to anyone observing me. It might be interesting to see CCTV footage of myself, but I wouldn’t request that for obvious reasons.

    The most memorable one was at the wholesale plant nursery where I was working. A landscaper walked in holding a gardenia under his nose, and he had eyes that I could describe only as emerald green. He almost seemed to be an angel walking in, seemingly bathed in light (perhaps that sounds weird but it’s how I felt in the moment). I was experiencing unbearable stress at that job and significantly that day. I felt instant calm, and there it was, connecting with the two office cats on the counter, their green eyes, the landscaper’s gardenia, and time was suspended.

    A few weeks later he returned to the nursery but looked just like a regular person………. I almost felt a little disappointed for a moment.

    I’ve shared some of these stories before, but it was pleasant to revisit them. Thanks for inspiring me, Marco.

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    • Thank you, Dana. I’m really glad you revisited and wrote about your experiences. One must wonder how many people almost have them, and then focus on something else and let them slip away. And speaking of wonder, years ago Wonder Bread ran ads touting The Wonder Years, when kids like you and me found ourselves “goofing” on puddles, leaves, decomposing animals, and so on. Far too many lose those wonders as they age into the Materialist/Reductionist culture we live in.

      Oneness is participatory transcendence. No one, Zen Master, abbot, or scientist can say you are experiencing it or you’re not. It is not measurable. And, it is not repeatable for laboratory verification.

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  4. While reading this (finally), I found myself wanting to rush to the end in order to begin commenting on all the thoughts that were suddenly rushing into my usually stuck-in-neutral mind. What a wonderful piece; I can’t thank you enough for writing it.

    The book you are now digging your way through (my pun, fully intended) must be fascinating; archaeological forensics at its finest. I can’t honestly say I would be patient enough to read it, or intelligent enough to understand it, but its subject matter peaks my interest all the same. Finally, I begin to comprehend the reasoning behind at least part of the religious sacrament that until now has been only so much it-is-what-it-is within a tradition about which I knew so very little. My life (when I had one) has been spent in search of just such pieces of truth; perhaps, by definition, enlightenment. I read once that the moment you think you have reached enlightenment, you haven’t. The very nature of that particular beast is that there is always something new to learn, to add to your personal truth. It is a happy day when I find a new piece to my puzzle.

    I remember you telling me a story about a drug study you did while in college. My son put me through perdition twenty years ago during a bout of drug addiction which not only altered his behavior, but changed the way in which I perceived my world; but isn’t that the point in drugs, to bring about the altering of reality? As a child, I was given phenobarbital in response to a fainting spell. I am convinced now that this is the cause of my belief (held during that time span, and to some extent even now) that I could both float and fly; funny how perception holds with such tenacity even when reality dictates that it could not have been so.

    I tend to look at the world in a holistic manner; mind, body, and all things exterior to us connected in some inexplicable way. I would add “soul” to that equation, but I’m still trying to figure out what that means. Without mind and soul, we are just an animated piece of meat, so cognitive life-force and living energy are my definitions for now. That doesn’t explain why we seem instantly connected to some people, while others are still strangers after a lifetime.

    I’ve recently been reading a book about tidying one’s home by first throwing things away which do not spark joy in our lives, and then organizing only what is left. It is yet another effort in trying to deal with the excess in my home, but at this moment I find it an imperfect metaphor for my life. Perhaps it’s time to take out all my old beliefs and toss out those that no longer fit the me that is now. It’s never too late to edit how we look at, and live, our lives. Again, thank you for the post. Rose

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    • Dear Rose, thank you so much for this exciting and deeply valuable enhancement of what I wrote. Your life, and the developing perspectives have been and are a beacon to so many people who are searching. I am completely confident that I speak for many when I express the hope that you will continue to share the benefits of the wisdom you are experiencing, internalizing, and living every day.

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  5. Identity Masked:

    I agree that psychedelics are a hot topic lately. Such psychoactive substances have provided an exaggeration of benefits, and for me — alarmism.
    Back in the 1950s — Saskatchewan’s Weyburn Psychiatric Hospital (a long-term care asylum), conducted the most important psychedelic research in the world.
    Indeed the word “psychedelic” was coined by Humphry Osmond, British psychiatrist who transplanted to a little prairie town of Weyburn, Saskatchewan to assume the job of Director. This was also the town where socialist and Baptist minister Tommy Douglas was born and raised and who became Premier of Saskatchewan, and Leader of the New Democratic Party that created one of the first socialist governments in North America. He championed the idea of universal health care that Canadians now benefit from (or not depending on perspective — by the current long waits for life-saving surgeries and the constant chatter from doctors and health care workers who decry that the ‘system is broken’.)

    But to psychedelic research: Osmond along with fellow bio-chemist Abram Hoffer were interested in conducting research and hoping for new, revolutionary treatments for schizophrenia/psychosis Ergo, the collaborators set out to create a research program using LSD and peyote that mimicked the psychotic effects of schizophrenia. By producing such a model, Osmond felt he could then better understand the essence of psychosis. Hoffer believed that psychosis was caused by chemical imbalance and sought to treat it with orthomolecular vitamin therapy (mega-doses of niacin and vitamin C) — Tommy Douglas approved of these medical interventions.

    Enter British author, Aldous Huxley who also participated…in the Weyburn psychedelic research project.

    In the late 1960s I was a student at the fledging University of Regina and found myself in a Psychology class with Professor Duncan Blewett who authored a study of human consciousness using psychedelics and detailed in his book ‘Frontiers of Being’. He offered students the opportunity to take ‘pure acid’ (as opposed to the LSD being sold on the streets in the late 1960s/70s, sometimes laced with rat poison). I took the bait — and had my first LSD trip in a controlled environment. Following are my personal experiences with psychedelics. The controlled lab experiment was uneventful and “guided” — by Professor Blewett who asked a series of questions while we were high. I experienced changes in time and movement — which seemed to slow down or stop. I saw colours vividly with auras and energy lines. And I got 10 marks to add to my Psychology class. My second experiment was with Paul, a fellow student who asked me to join him in an LSD trip. Young and carefree, we dashed off to Wascana Park and filled the grounds with laughter from the absurdity of our hallucinations. We found ourselves in Darke Hall (a concert hall on the College Avenue campus) and we found our way to the stage that featured a grand piano. I climbed the steps and bowed to the empty seats — and sat down to perform. I was in the middle of playing Bach’s Minuet in G when a hallucination took hold and this grand piano turned into a cadillac driven by my passionate piano-playing. I began to cry and softly tinkled the high keys (the cadillac slowed….down…) and then I became somewhat anxious eliciting high sharp staccado notes — which turned to anger as I banged on the deep, low keys, trying to stop, according to Paul, sitting in the front row, watching the show. When I had to turn a corner with my cadillac/grand piano, I made a sweep down the octaves of the keyboard. And all that would have been well and good if I had just left it there. Those experiences did not induce an experience that one would describe as “spiritual “. I had not felt a transcendence, or maybe I was too young to form a literal belief of spiritualism necessary for a mystical experience to occur. My last LSD trip taken with my younger brother was the ultimate death trip that changed me forever. We survived the trip, after much drama. I was traumatized with my brother’s hallucinations of thinking he was in prehistoric times with giant lizards chasing him…as he ran out of my rooming house into a frigid prairie blizzard without a jacket. That hallucination and also paranoia that someone was chasing him with a knife were difficult for me to process in my altered state. I tried to chase him down, but his adrenalin-fueled strength was powerful and I could not contain him. Earlier he almost tossed me out the 3rd floor window of the rooming house until I was saved by my boyfriend who just happened to get home in the nick of time. I called Duncan Blewett who arrived to eventually capture him with the city police now involved, and admit him to the psychiatric wing of the hospital ordering mega doses of Vitamin B. I would never again use psychedelics or any drug for that matter (recreational or otherwise with antibiotics the one exception). The trauma of this last trip changed how I view psychedelics and I found it a dangerous thing to play with activating such receptors in the brain that caused my brother’s temporary psychosis. I barely hung onto my own sanity, but I did survive it by telling myself this was LSD. I will “come down” at some point.

    When I hear the chatter of emerging and hopeful psychedelic research in the modern world, I think about this experience, and the faded promises of Duncan Blewett for new frontiers of consciousness. For my part, I would really like to know if there’s something that can help my PTSD from using psychedelics a half century ago. I just can’t even.

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  6. Identity Masked:

    It’s late and I’ve been burning the midnight oil…so much to do… but I did want to reply and say that I have no lasting PTSD. I was making a point that the experience terrified me enough to respect the power of psychoactive drugs, which has within it ‘an ambivalent potential for good or evil, order or chaos’.* My generation introduced the idea of recreational drugs into the mainstream and I view this as a tragedy if we consider the opioid crisis today. It seems to have become a “rite of passage” for those too young and immature to fully understand the matches they are playing with. In the 1960s — in my youthful days — we were innocent, wanting to challenge norms. The music of my time perfectly described the psychedelic experience that defined our generation. (Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds: …”somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes”… indeed there were those visual hallucinations in brilliant and rich colours. Many of us truly believed in the ideology of peace and universal love. Sadly there is the other side of the coin and I witnessed many of my friends flipping out — and sometimes irreversibly.

    My personal experiences are not connected to the ceremonial use of hallucinogenic plants used by cultures like the Maya, Aztec, Indigenous people… Theirs is more a collective journey into the unconscious to fulfill a mystical goal or need of the group, and often guided by a revered one (a shaman for example).

    Don’t worry about me — I am a survivor and resilient enough. I like to think that I am a mystic — philosophical and always curious how the universe works. I only know what I know in my time and place — which is limited considering that the universe is infinite, mysterious and too complex to fully understand. Van Morrison sings: “Into the Mystic” — “Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic”.

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