Category Archives: Mysticism

Friendship, fear and freedom

Recently, I posted an article to Facebook, saying how I sometimes feel isolated because of my mysticism, spiritual use of drugs and drug law reform activism, none of which are well understood by many people I meet. At times, I’ve experienced such occasions as being “me against the world”, with little support from those around me, or those who “should” be there for me. 

I summed it up by saying that, at times I feel like like being “Tank Man” from  the Tiananmen  Square.

 

Tankman_new_longshot_StuartFranklin
Famous “Tank Man” image taken by Stuart Franklin.
Image Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Needless to say, despite my concluding in the post that, “I am not Tank Man, because I have the support of the people who matter (thankfully, I am blessed with having some amazing people in my life) and the laws of the land”,  I was immediately pilloried for having the temerity to even compare myself with someone as outstandingly and anonymously brave as Tank Man.

Ironically, this put me right back in the space where I once again felt like Tank Man. In mindlessly going on the attack, they had simply reinforced the feelings and imagery that I was attempting to disown. Their actions made it clear just how few people really understand, or even care, what it can be like to take the path I have chosen.

It was a classic example of how some people are ready to take the slightest offence, and go on the offense, for fairly much everything (why people feel the need to troll other people’s Facebook posts is something I’ll never understand) and how eager people are to dismiss the possibility that someone, such as myself might feel isolated by what I do and what I have sacrificed. Among these sacrifices includes my career, financial security, family and friends.
(Indeed, social isolation is a huge issue in our modern, supposedly connected, societies and one that isn’t helped by attacking anyone who might feel that way.)
Several days after the Facebook post and just a couple of days after my arrest for the possession of LSD during a peaceful protest on the steps of the Victorian Parliament House, a person that I’ve known for a number of years texted me with the following message:
 
“Hi Greg, sorry, but, I’ve decided not to associate with somebody with a criminal record. Goodbye and good luck to you.”*
This isn’t the first time that this sort of thing has happened since I went public about my use of Transcendent Compounds for spiritual purposes. In fact, there are perhaps a dozen or more people, that I regarded as friends of one sort, or another, who have refused to associate with me and made it clear that my “drug use” was a major reason for them cutting off contact. While some of them are still “friends” on Facebook, their real life rejection really hurts. 
 
It is also one of the reasons that I can often feel far more isolated than many people understand. I am considerably older than most of people in the drug law reform movement and most of those who are my age, are not being completely open and honest about their own drug use in the way that I am. Unlike younger drug law reformers, I am not surrounded by a cohort of friends who are supportive of their life choices, or blessed by a societal expectation drug use is something that young people do.
 
I had spent 15 years in the Army prior to starting down this path. Very few of my friends used drugs and when I went public, many found it far too confrontational do deal with and applied far to little empathy, or understanding to my situation.
Rather than try to manage complexity, they simply bailed.
 
In some ways, the stigma is worse for older drug users, because society generally accepts that  young people will use drugs and will “grow out of it”, so the older drug user is something of an anomaly.

Over the last Easter holiday break, while camping (as in homeless) with my dog, Saasha, I introduced myself to a group of adults in their early forties. Discussion got around to tents and I mentioned that I had bought the one I presently own in order to attend raves and doofs and would preferably use a smaller one for camping. Without any prompting on my part, they asked specifically if I used drugs while at these events and I said that I did. The response was typically hostile, as they then began to lecture me on how I should “grow up” and asked “at what point do you start to take responsibility for your life?”. 

This was especially ironic and hypocritical, because going to dance parties and taking drugs was something that they admitted to doing in their mid twenties. Doubly so, because as they were lecturing a complete stranger (they’d known me all of 30 minutes by then) on being irresponsible, they were busily sucking down on the most dangerous drug of all: Alcohol.

In my mid twenties I already had already completed four years of full time Army service (ironically enough, as a tank soldier). Despite using cannabis prior to enlistment, I made a commitment to stop using illicit drugs of any kind when I joined and maintained that commitment throughout my service.

So instead of being out, partying and taking drugs, I chose to put place myself in a highly disciplined, regimented environment, where I spent my time training and being ready to put my life on the line in defence of their sorry, judgemental arses.

In rejecting me because I am a drug user, or have been arrested for the possession of a drug, people aren’t judging me for who I am and what I represent, but instead because of something I do that has zero impact upon them.

That is sad, on so many levels!

Knowing the friend who sent the text, I understand that their response is based on fear. They’ve never even linked to me on Facebook, because they were afraid of being seen by friends and family as being associated with a “druggie”. Similarly, last year a potential girlfriend said (after admitting that she was attracted to me), “my friends would never understand me going out with a drug user”.

For too many people, all I am and all I’ll ever be is summed up by the toxic and stigmatising label: Drug User.
 

This is the reality of the stigma that people like myself experience on a daily basis. But the oppression inherent in this attitude poisons the lives of literally millions of Australia’s illicit drug users, who have yet to come out about their life choices and have instead chosen to live their lives in the shadow of their fear.

But fear works both ways and it is the worst thing to give into. I say this after having spent decades of my life allowing my fears to dominate who I was, and who I could become.

Certainly, in many ways, I always been far less fearful than many of my peers, doing things such as joining the army, rappelling from tall buildings and any one of a number of stupid and dangerous things that could have gotten me killed.

But when I look back at my life until even a couple of years ago, I my experience is of a man paralysed with fear in so many different ways, especially when it came to relationships and friendships. By far, the emotion that has lead to the worst regrets of my life has been fear. Inevitably it seems that when I’ve acted badly towards others, the underlying problem has been a because I was afraid that if I communicated, or acted honestly, I would be rejected or hurt.

Without my even realising it, FEAR ruled the first 40 years of my life. So, I never discovered that if we never face our fears, we never learn that they are figments of our imagination, rather than actual slices of reality. 

And then one day, during 2010, I felt “Enough!”

I was sick of pretending to be someone who I wasn’t, so went public about who I really was. For once, I faced my fear. But in facing my fear, I discovered my True Self!

I discovered that giving into the fear is the one thing that gives them power over us. Once we challenge them, we discover that, while they contain a hint of truth, fears are most often illusions of our own creation. Once we see them for the trap they are, we can see that there is a reality that we can create that exists beyond those fears.

And it is Beautiful! 🙂

Ironically, much of what I had feared has come to pass. I am unemployable in my chosen profession (counselling; who wants a counsellor who is a “druggie”?) and unable to complete a Masters degree in Psychology. I have been rejected by some of those who I cared about the most. At times, I have felt more isolated than I could ever have imagined.

But, despite everything, my life has a story and that story is filled with meaning and purpose. Intriguingly, despite all the setbacks, I’ve never once doubted that my path is the one that I am supposed to be on and that the story I am telling, through my actions and deeds, is one that needs to be told.

But fear isn’t something that ever disappears. Like some terrible phoenix, new fears always arise out of the ashes of the old. My recent fear of getting arrested was only the latest to crumble before the reality of its occurrence. My fear of going to prison shimmers before me and who knows what other fears will loom ahead?

The difference between who I was and who I am today is that I recognise that to give into fear is to give up hope and to give up growth. Today, I’m so poor that church mice lend me money (banks stopped doing that ages ago…) and things are often very difficult, but my life has been enriched in ways that even I still don’t fully understand.

Granted, I’m hardly the poster child for not allowing your fears to govern your life. But if it came down to a choice between being isolated because of who I am and what I believe, or living a life of fear and lies, I am more than happy to be the man in my shoes!

Fear robs us of far more than the opportunities to enrich our lives through facing the challenges life throws at us.

By giving into fear, people like my friend who sent the text, are going to spend their Eternity never being friends with the truly admirable people who have been arrested because they sought to stand up for freedom from oppression. Without the courage to confront their fears, such people will dump some of the greatest human beings in their lives and will be diminished accordingly.

My friends will never allow themselves to know Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer-Lytton, Martin Niemoller**, Ghandi, or any of the millions of wonderful, but nameless people I could mention, if only history had bothered to record their sacrifice. Heck, more than half the world’s population literally worship a guy who got arrested!

Now, lest should the mindless hordes of Social Media take offence that I should be comparing myself to these great people, I would simply say that as of 19 April, 2016, I now share with each of these worthies the distinction of having being arrested in the course of fighting against bigotry and for freedoms that others in my society already enjoy.

However, my courage in doing so is greatly diminished by the obvious fact that unlike each of these people, I am not fighting a dictatorial system and it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to beat, or kill me (although I have been abused on several occasions) for standing up for freedom. So, no in the courage department, I am definitely not in the league of these great men and women.

However, the point of this post isn’t to bitch about how poorly some people might treat me***, nor is it to bask in the glow of other’s achievements. Its not even about trying to convince others to “come out of the closet” and join me in openly, honestly and fearlessly proclaiming who they are (Although that wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we all went public. They can’t arrest 15% of the population!)

Rather, I simply seek to point out the truth that if you allow your fears to rule your life, you’ll be missing out on the very best that Eternity has to offer.

In 2012, before I began my 28 day hunger strike one of my former colleagues said that she despaired for what had happened to me and my career in the two years since I had gone public. She asked me what I would think if on my deathbed I looked back and all I had to show for my life was failure and unfulfilled potential.

My reply was that if I were on my deathbed, my biggest regret would be if I lived the “normal” life, because I was rendered inert by my fears and failed to take the difficult path that I knew in my heart to be the right one.

A life worth living isn’t a life of popularity, ease, wealth, or even “success” however it is defined by society, or even the self. It is a life of meaning and purpose, spent facing down your fears and finding the strength to overcome the challenges that are inevitably thrown your way. Live your life being controlled by your fears and you’ll not only be living a life not of your own choosing, but you’ll never have the courage to see the very best of yourself and your own potential for greatness.

Facing your fears is risky for all sorts of reasons, but do you really want to spend Eternity trapped inside them? Doesn’t that sound a lot like Hell?

So, in the words of Susan Jeffers “Feel the fear and do it anyway”! ****

 

*NOTE: As of the time of this writing, I do not actually have a “criminal record”. While I have been arrested and charged with the possession of LSD, any conviction is months, or even years away.

 

**Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

***OK. Maybe just a little! 😉

 

****Ironically, I read this book when it first came out and have spoken about it endlessly with dozens, if not hundreds of people, without ever realising just how little I had grasped its true meaning. Or perhaps I did, but was far too successful a hypocrite to ever notice my own lies to myself.

Light, Darkness and Terrorism in Paris.

I think that it is appropriate that we keep things in perspective when it comes to thinking about the November attacks in Paris.

Yes, they are horrible and a real tragedy, both for France and for those involved, but despite their best efforts, the attackers managed a death toll that equals about two weeks of fatalities on France’s roads.

Symbol of Life - French Flag

Symbol of Life with French Flag Overlay Courtesy of Facebook.

 

 

3250 people died on France’s roads in 2013, but nobody batted an eyelid. A curfew wasn’t imposed, French people weren’t advised to remain indoors (or stop driving cars), and the country’s borders weren’t closed.

The difference of course, is that we have evolved to seek out meaningful, yet unfamiliar cues, perhaps because these are likely to be augurs of change and disruption. When we see something like the French attacks, we are drawn to them, like moths to a flame and if we aren’t careful, we risk getting burnt.

But there is more to it than that. As of today, there have been a reported 129 deaths (although this will surely rise, as some of those who survived succumb to their injuries), but a little over a month ago, 99 people died in the Ankara bombings in Turkey. I doubt many people in the West, even noticed. Similarly, on August 14, 2013, the Egyptian security forces massacred at least 817 (and likely more than 1,000) protesters in Rabaa Square.

These victims didn’t warrant a Facebook filter and their deaths seemed to be regarded by Westerners as “business as usual”, rather than tragedies for those countries.

Our responses to these attacks say something significant about ourselves and the comparative value that we place on the lives of people from a Christian, European country, compared to those who are “over there” and separated from us by culture, history and religion.

Perhaps one could say, “out of mind, out of sight”.

Irrespective of this, by giving ourselves over to histrionics and fear, we are allowing 8 or so Parisian terrorists to achieve exactly what they wanted: To instill fear and to force us into rash and self-destructive behaviours, such as the knee jerk rush to drop yet more bombs on the Middle East, despite the fact that yet more death will most likely only feed the narrative that sustains the toxic ideology behind these attacks.

Rather, we should recognise that while ISIS has claimed responsibility for this attack, the attackers (with the probable exception of one who was found with a forged Syrian passport) they appear to be French (or perhaps Belgian) nationals and as such are perhaps more indicative of French policy towards its Muslim minority, rather than any threat posed by ISIS to the West.

While 10% of French people are Muslim, French policy towards its Muslim population has been less than stellar, with many living in virtual slums, known as banlieues, where they are marginalised and face significant barriers to both education and employment. Despite its famous revolution of 1789, France is still run by an entrenched elite, with graduates from its Grandes écoles (Grand Schools), finding an easy path to the heights of political and civil service. Needless to say, the children of blue-collar workers, or minorities are very poorly represented within these schools.

Of course, I don’t say this to provide some sort of excuse for the terrorists. What they did was abhorrent and repulsive and if there is any justice in the Infiniverse, they will answer for their actions. But if we are ever going to be able to succeed in ending these sort of attacks, we need to understand the context in which they arise, lest, in our ignorance, we become their enablers.

To conflate these terrorists with Muslims as a whole, or Syrian refugees specifically (as has been done in the US presidential campaign, where Republican candidates have been quick to call for the complete exclusion of Syrian refugees from the US), is to create yet another divide between “Us” and “Them” that will only perpetuate everyone’s misery.

Indeed, Muslims are just as horrified by these attacks as anyone else. Waleed Aly, an Australian Muslim academic and media presenter, put it extraordinarily well when in a segment on The Project, when he said:

“We are all feeling a million raging emotions right now. I am angry at these terrorists. I am sickened by the violence and I am crushed for the families that have been left behind, but, you know what, I will not be manipulated.

“We all need to come together. I know how that sounds. I know it is a cliche, but it is also true because it is exactly what ISIL doesn’t want.”

Certainly, there are problems within modern Islam, just as there have historically been problems within all religions. But this does not mean that there is a problem within every Muslim.

So, rather than focusing on “Islam”, “Christianity”, “Buddhism”, “Atheism”, or whatever, I would suggest that instead, we focus on the choice between “Light” and “Dark”.

Light represents the forces of creation, growth, love, compassion, hope, optimism, honesty and forgiveness (among others). Darkness represents death, greed, selfishness, power, lies, destruction and the very negation of existence (among others).

One is Life affirming, the other is Life denying and although they exist in opposition, their relationship to each other and ourselves is far more complex than it might initially appear and these terms are not necessarily synonymous with “good” and “evil”.

Once we start to think in this way and assuming that we are not entirely blinkered, we can see that both Light and Dark exist not only within every society, but within every person. Once we understand this, we can more easily recognise that each of us have a choice, but that our choice isn’t about what we believe, but about whether we choose the path of Light, the path of Darkness, or decide to fluff about in the middle.

Most of us (including those terrorists) mindlessly believe that we have chosen the path of Light, but such a commitment requires that we be perfectly honest with ourselves about our own failures and the Darkness within. Failure to engage honestly with our own weakness, temptation and failure will lead us into Darkness because dishonesty and lies are by definition, the negation of truth.

Honesty also requires that we admit that while we may have chosen the path of Light, none on this planet (without exception!) are, or ever have been, worthy of claiming to be Beings, or Avatars of Light. Whether we talk about, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, all the prophets, saints, or ourselves, we are all flawed and in committing to a path, we are merely starting on our journey, not arriving at our destination. Thinking otherwise is hubris.

Having made a commitment to Light, we are now in a position to reach out to others who have chosen our path, rather than blindly including, or excluding people simply because of what they profess to believe. Similarly, by committing ourselves to a path of Light, we can understand that what we happen to believe about the nature of the Divine is less important than how we chose to act and behave towards others.

Frankly, beliefs are only important to the extent that they drive behaviour. It matters little if one believes in a god, gods, or no god. What’s important is how we act towards others and whether we leave a trail of healing, or disaster in our wake. Do we build, or do we destroy? Do we forgive, or do we hold onto every grievance? Do we give generously, or do we take selfishly? Do we make war, or do we make peace?

By focusing on a paradigm of Light and Darkness (notice I say “Light and Darkness”, not “Light vs Darkness” – for reasons I will tackle in a later blog post) we can circumvent the silliness of painting particular groups (who are inevitably outsiders) as being somehow inherently “evil”, while others (ie. US!) are necessarily “good”. Instead of mindless stereotypes we can acknowledge that just because others are different from us, or don’t share our values, it does not therefore follow that they are bad.

In doing so, we can open our hearts and minds to the truth that while we are all different in many ways, we share a common humanity. It is this sense of shared humanity that will allow us to reach out to others and embrace them with their differences, so that we may survive and prosper in a world in which we are sorely tempted to cleave to our own and turn our faces away from the suffering of those outside our tribe, while arrogantly ignoring the festering Darkness within.

Jesus, Ego, Truth and Compassion.

Today, I’ve decided to respond to some of the ideas inherent in an article posted to the ABC’s excellent “Religion and Ethics” page. The astute reader will notice that I am not really responding to the stated thesis of “What’s Love Got to do with It? The Politics of the Cross” by Stanley Hauerwas, but more to the the underlying assumptions. These are often shared by dogmatic religious types irrespective of whether they are Christian, Islamic, or something else entirely. Indeed, one could easily extend this analysis to all sorts of secular “isms” and insanities.

 

Christ on the Cross

Christ on the Cross by Rembrandt
(Image courtesy of The Louvre)

The crux of Hauerwas’ argument is probably as follows: “Is it any wonder that Jesus was despised and rejected? Is it any wonder when the church is faithful to Christ that she finds herself persecuted and condemned? Yet if such a church does not exist, the world has no alternative to the violence hidden in our fear of one another.”

Jesus and the Church are not one and the same. If one reads the Gospels properly, it can be seen that Jesus was a failed human being, much like the rest of us. He lost his temper and he got violent (John 2:14-17). He lied (John 7:6-10). He cursed – literally (Mark 11:12-25)! He made false prophecy (Matthew 16:28). He was intensely resentful of those who didn’t believe his message (Matthew 11:20-24). He arguably invented the “thought crime” (Matthew 5:27-28). He never claimed to be “100% God and 100% man”.

Like many mystics before and after (including myself), Jesus was aware of his own Divinity and aware that there was another way, but found it difficult to live the life to which he was called. It is simply impossible to translate all of the nuances, subtleties and contradictions of Transcendent Experience into the mundane reality of the “monkey suit”.

By way of example, the Church is often a controlling, secretive, dogmatic organisation that has, since its creation by Roman Emperors sought to wield political influence of the most sordid sort. Its history is less about “an alternative to the violence” and more about the exercise of brutal, aggressive power and sometimes farcical zero sum politics. It is condemned, not because it is “faithful to Christ”, but because it is anything but faithful to the highest ideals to which he aspired.

The modern Catholic Church continues to protect child molesters within its ranks and avoid taking responsibility for the great evil it has committed. With a celibate (although clearly not chaste) clergy, it is obsessed by the sexual choices of others. Until the recent arrival of Pope Francis, its main focus has been on two issues that Jesus never even mentioned: Homosexuality and abortion. Other Christian Churches are rarely any better than the Roman variety.

Hauerwas’ essay is evidence enough of the failure of both Jesus and the Churches that have hijacked his life and teaching for their own purposes. The writer finds himself incapable of letting go of the rigidity of Dogma and the zero-sum thinking of religious absolutism and so has to shoehorn the life of Jesus into the story he wishes to create. I can’t help but suspect that only a person of great insecurity, or lack of imagination would need to posit that “the world has no alternative” to his view of reality and that only his prophet is a true representation of an Infinite Divine. As if the Infinite contained only one path, or had only one story to tell!

Blessed (or perhaps cursed) with visions of Infinite Divinity beyond normal comprehension, it is far too easy for the mystic to become trapped in grandiosity and ego. When Jesus claims that “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”, Pilate rightly retorts, “What is Truth?” (John 18:36-38). In doing so, he is engaging not with cynicism, but with a question that is fundamental to any understanding of reality and one which the Church and other spruikers of dogmatic certainty would rather you simply didn’t ask.

Jesus accepts his mystical understanding as truth and lacks the wisdom to question that “truth”. He fails to understand that it is a truth for him alone and that it is impossible to communicate a genuinely spiritual experience to another: The first Disciple, is always the first Heretic. 2000 years later, the real Jesus is well and truly lost in time, while modern revisionists claim to know his very thoughts and to be able to divine his ultimate purpose!

The truth is that an honest examination of the whole life of Jesus, as described in the Gospels, represents a conundrum only to those who imagine him to be something he wasn’t. Yes, he was Divine, but only to the extent that we are all Divine. More importantly, for both good and ill, he was as human as us and the greatest lessons that we can learn from his life are lost if we forget this.

Matthew tells us that his last words on the cross were “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46), clearly demonstrating that rather than being “100% God”, this was a man who was experiencing the disillusionment and loss of faith as his mystical ideas and imaginings clashed with the brutal, painful, terrifying reality of his impending death. Those words were not spoken by a god about to realise his grand plan, but by a frightened man faced with the real possibility of oblivion and the collapse of everything that he had held dear in his life.

Jesus’ last words on the cross, his failed prophecies and his frequent demonstrations of hubris, should give a warning to those of us who share his mystical journey: The “Truth” that we glimpse within the heart of Transcendent Experience, is often not literal truth and we should resist the urge to impose our reality on those around us, lest reality bites back.

If we pretend that Jesus was God, then we are forced to deny his human failings and waste time and energy on apologetics that deny the plain truth of the Gospels. If we recognise that Jesus was only human, we are freed to accept him as he was. We can open our eyes and our hearts to the truth of his story and realise that history has been replete with mystical voices who have called us to a better way. Even more exciting, we can see the life of Jesus as an invitation to engage with our own Mystical journey and to connect with the Divine Reality that lies within the heart of each of us.

The ideals of compassion, mercy, love, justice, tolerance, sacrifice and courage (among others) are all present within the story of Jesus. But so too are they present within the lives of Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius and thousands of other people throughout the ages. When we attempt to impose our reality on others, we inevitably destroy these very virtues, because when we believe ourselves right, and all others as wrong, we stop listening and deny empathy to the “other”; we become incapable of expressing the values we claim our God represents to any but our own.

Rather than working to prove our God’s “Truth” above all others, we should be working to connect with those who share our values and who share our vision of a better world irrespective of how their culture might happen to have packaged those truths.

I firmly believe that people of good will can find a win-win solution to the ills of our world and create a future of peace and harmony. But nothing sabotages good will and creates evil so quickly as the belief that everyone must conform to our view of reality and that people are evil and beholden to Darkness, simply because they believe differently.

The struggle between Light and Dark occurs both within and across cultures.

It is only by letting go of our own rigidity and by empathetically embracing the Divinity of others that we will ever be able to achieve the peace and prosperity that the people of our planet so rightly deserve.

PS: Happy Easter!

Something vs Nothing

Why does something exist, rather than nothing?

The question of existence is a vexing one and lies at the heart of a myriad of other conundrums, such as meaning, destiny and purpose.

 

Taken Under the  Wing  of the Small Magellanic Cloud

 

Despite its seeming simplicity, this conundrum and variations on it, has probably confounded philosophers, theologians and the ordinary person since our species first became able to contemplate its own existence.

While many might otherwise disagree, I am firmly of the opinion that the answers to this question will lie forever beyond our reach and the only “solutions” are speculation. While others may claim to know the “Truth”, the Divine Principle teaches us that we can never have the answers, because we can never be certain of anything beyond our own existence.

The question of existence takes on additional importance, as its answer relates directly to our own existence, meaning and purpose. With the capacity to fear death, and the terror that the thought of our own oblivion produces, we desperately ask ourselves if “this is it”? Is there more beyond this often vicious existence, is there a god and ultimately and perhaps most importantly, do I live on after death?

Despite having been granted this amazing and wonderful gift of sentience, the often world speaks to us of randomness and pain. As we seek meaning, we inevitably wonder if it is all nothing but chance? Will everything that we have ever stood for – our hopes, dreams, fears, goals and desires – amount to naught? Could it be that there is more to existence than meets the eye? Does nihilism inevitably beckon?

Traditionally, religions have sought to answer this problem through the evocation of a variety of creation myths. The most famous of these, of course is that found in The Book of Genesis, which is held sacred by over two-thirds of the world’s population. Despite this, few have ever noticed the bait and switch contained within its opening sentence, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”.

The astute reader will note that this isn’t telling us about the “Beginning”, because if it were it would be telling us about how God came into being. Instead Genesis seeks to answer the much less interesting question of how our particular reality came to be.

In all fairness, this bait and switch isn’t the fault of the original writers, but that of those who followed centuries later and who failed to understand the important context of those immortal opening words. It is doubtful that the writer of Genesis was attempting to explain the basic question of existence as I have expressed it and the very question may have been entirely beyond his conception.

Instead, like many of his contemporaries in the ancient Middle East, he believed that the world had been formed out of a void, chaos or some other pre-existing substance and that his gods had been the ones to bring order and to create the world along with the plants, animals and people within it.

The origin of his god isn’t addressed within the myth and it isn’t hard to understand why. This story most likely originated out of the verbal mythologies told by nomadic herdsmen as they followed their flocks. They were illiterate, and lay at the dawn of the golden ages of thought that have given us greats such as Socrates, Descartes and Kant. What many would regard as the “final version” of their myth, captured so beautifully in the King James Bible lay more than 2,500 years distant.  The writers sought to explain the world around them and their place within it and given the difficulty of even imagining a time when there was “Nothing” it made sense to propose a “void” from which the world as they knew it emerged.

Intriguingly, despite being isolated in their own bubble, through the absence of any knowledge of history, few early cultures seem to have taken the apparently reasonable position that everything was as it always had been and that there was no need for anything to have been created in the first place. The closest that many traditions came to this idea was the concept of Eternal Recurrence, which (according to Wikipedia) “is a concept that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space.”

Perhaps because of our own immersion within our timestream and our almost instinctive desire to imagine causality even when there is none (for example with superstition), the universe having a start made more sense than it not.

Modern science now apparently supports this view, with the Big Bang Theory seeming to point to a definite moment in time when everything began. But the Big Bang can only provide an explanation for how this particular universe exists. In our search for an explanation for existence we still need to ask, “What caused the Big Bang?” Even if this were explained, we would still be left asking ourselves what caused the thing that caused the Big Bang, followed by what caused the thing that caused the thing that caused the thing, ad nauseam, all the way to eternity. Infinite regress seems unavoidable.

The problem is that we are locked within a mind that cannot divorce itself from notions of time and causality. Even if universe’s origins didn’t lie within an inaccessible metaphysical realm, our experience and “common sense” ideas about the world make it difficult to put aside our psychological need for causation.

Existence is the most binary of concepts. Something either exists or it doesn’t. But what do I mean when I talk about “Nothing” or “non-existence”? A state of non-existence is a state which is completely devoid of any information content. Nothing whatsoever exists, including time, space and abstract objects, such as numbers. It is pure and absolute state of Not-Being.

In this state, only does Nothing exist, but non-existence precludes existence; they are mutually exclusive states.

Given a state of non-existence, nothing could ever exist. As Parmenides pointed out so astutely in the fifth century BCE, “nothing comes from nothing”.

It is impossible for something to arise out of the state of nothingness. If it were, this would imply that it the state of non-existence actually contained within it the possibility of something existing. But possibility is in fact itself “something”, if only an information state that recognises potential. Possibility itself describes potential within time, and time does not exist within the non-existent state.

Just as something cannot be birthed by nothingness, so to can something not give way to nothingness. For this to occur would require that the “something” never existed in the first place.

For example, while it is certainly possible that our universe might cease to exist, this cessation of existence is merely how we would perceive an encounter with one of its boundaries in time. Its cessation could never undo the fact of its previous existence and it would remain a fact that our universe had certain properties of existence within a certain space-time.

In order to understand this, we would need to picture our universe as a single unit of spacetime. Because of the nature of our consciousness, we perceive only the present, but once the present becomes past it doesn’t cease to ever have existed. Rather it exists in a place that we cannot access. Similarly, the future can be said to exist, even if the only way that we can access it is to wait for it to manifest itself as the present.

An entity residing outside of our timeline and able to view the universe as a whole, would see its entire history simultaneously from beginning to end, just as I can currently see my whole garden from beginning to end. If we imagine my puppy walking from one side of the garden to the other, we can imagine how a particular sentient experiences time within a particular universe.

Time can be perceived as beginning, just as Saasha starts to walk from one fence. Similarly, time can be perceived as ending, just as she gets to the other side. However, the garden is still there and hasn’t ceased to exist simply because we have arrived at a boundary. Thus, it can be seen that while our perception of universe might cease to exist, the actual universe itself would still exist in a very real sense.

Because something can not arise from nothing, the mutual exclusivity between existence and nonexistence and the very obvious fact that something (ie you the reader) exists, it is clear that something has always existed and done so without cause.

While this is certainly counter intuitive to the point that many will reject it outright, this is only because we inhabit minds that are unable to divorce themselves from the concept of time, and the “common sense” impositions that it places upon us. But the very fact of existence precludes that of non-existence and within this context it no more needs a cause than non-existence would: Existence simply is.

Don’t ask me why.

Existence also exists in its entirety. As time is a state of existence, it cannot be thought of as being a relevant determinant of what exists and what doesn’t. Just as the garden exists even when the puppy isn’t there, so do the past and future also exist, even when we are not “there”. Time is the mechanism by which sentence uses to navigate its way around the universe. But just as we don’t believe that the universe is created and destroyed by our movement through space, so to would it be incorrect for us to imagine that the universe was somehow being created or lost as we move through time.

This is not to say that we live in a completely deterministic universe, where we are fated, or doomed to a particular future. While it is the case that the future exists, there is nothing to suppose that only one future exists. Indeed, I see no reason why an infinite array of possible futures (and pasts) could not exist, with our sentience simply navigating its way through one of a potentially infinite number of possible timelines.

For example, if one imagines Saasha the puppy walking across the garden, she could take any one of a potentially infinite number of routes. Some of these might involve going around the pond, others might involve going through the pond. But whether or not she even interacts with the pond, it still exists as a feature of the garden and as a very real alternative path. Similarly, if we observe her sitting in the middle of the pond (after all, she is a Golden Retriever), we can imagine an infinite number of paths (or pasts) that she could have taken to get there.

The possibility that we inhabit an Infiniverse containing a potentially Infinite range of possibilities, raises the question as to whether there might exist a fundamental “unit” of existence, or if any of the various gods that humanity worships might have had anything to do with it.

With respect to fundamental “units” of existence, I would suggest that we would be looking for something that can exist without seeming to require a universe, or metaphysical foundation for its existence. While many would disagree, it seems to me that the only thing that can fit that particular bill are numbers and mathematics.

The debate as to whether mathematics is discovered, or invented and even whether numbers even exist, is far from being decided. However, it seems to me that mathematical (and by extension, logical) truths are true irrespective of whether there is a universe to contain them or not. Numbers represent certain concepts, independently of language, culture, or anything else. Remove the universe, and the number one will still be the number one and it is an intriguing possibility that it is this numerical independence is the fundamental aspect that both precludes non-existence and forms the foundation from which the rest of our existence “emerged”.

How one gets from numbers and mathematics to a universe as complex, wonderful and amazing as ours is of course pure speculation and far beyond my imagining. How mathematics can produce sentient creatures with apparent free will is even more out of our reach (although it would be delightful if advanced mathematics and computing eventually stumbled upon the mathematical equivalent of free will).

While it could be argued that the all-pervading mathematical elegance that we have discovered within our own universe adds weight to such a theory, this should not be considered the case. Even if it were that mathematics is somehow the basis upon which our universe is built, it does not follow that mathematics should be so easily accessible to our senses and that the underlying algorithm should be so simple that a slightly more intelligent monkey should be able to grasp it.

Within this framework, all creation arises out of sophisticated algorithms made real. Somehow, we are the product of mathematical manipulations beyond our ken. And yes, this way of stating the problem begs the question as to who or what is doing the manipulation, but I would suggest that rather than being a result of “mathematical manipulation” in a strict sense, we are instead an emergent property of the very existence of mathematics itself.

Obviously, speculating that mathematics is the fundamental unit of reality is just that: Speculation. Speculating that we are an emergent property of mathematics is speculation upon speculation. It hardly answers the question definitively and for many it will seem like a dodge designed to avoid getting to the crux of the issue. But given that I’ve already conceded that the very issue of the “how” of existence is entirely out of our understanding, I hope readers will understand my mathematical musings for what they are: Speculation!

The interesting thing with respect to the possibility of mathematics forming the framework of the Infiniverse, is that it by their very nature, numbers are infinite. A universe based on mathematics would contain within it an infinite potential and it is highly likely that existence is in fact “complete”: Everything that is mathematically and logically possible to exist does in fact exist.

Not only this, but a mathematical sentience is potentially an infinite sentience (there will always be another possibility to explore), for which death would be just an illusion.

This takes us back to the first lines of the Genesis myth. As discussed this myth starts with a Divine being that already has existence. It ignores the really interesting question of why is there something, rather than nothing in favour of a more mundane one: How did this particular universe come into being? The reason that this is a more mundane question is that it can be answered in an infinite number of ways, ranging from god, to Hamsters and even pure chance. The answer to the question of how our particular universe came into existence is dependent on the metaphysics from which our universe emerged and just as our puppy could have an infinite number of paths into the pond, so to can we have an infinite number of paths (or metaphysical realities) into our universe.

If nothing can come from nothing, it follows that if God exists, such a being cannot be the source of all existence, because God Himself (or perhaps Herself, given that the feminine aspect of the Divine is most closely tied into the creation of Life), is something that exists. Within this context it is certainly possible that a “God” could exist, but rather than being the creator God of the monotheistic religions, such a being would be an emergent property of existence itself.

At best, He is the sentience which entails all others (as demanded by Omniscience), or perhaps even the Ultimate Sentience of the Infiniverse itself, but He can only be considered an emergent property of “creation”, rather than its point of origin, or source.

Transcendent Compounds and Science.

Transcendent Compounds are without doubt the safest mind altering substances known to humanity. They are non-toxic, non-addictive and psychologically safe in an appropriate dose, set and setting.

While it is understand that many may doubt my claims on this the science behind these claims is as about as definite as can be. In this post, I will be looking at some of the science and highlighting what research has to say about Transcendent Compounds.

Two_small_test_tubes_held_in_spring_clamps

 

After over seventy years of research, the science  is quite clear. There are two excellent reviews of the literature that anybody can read. The first is by David E. Nichols who previously held the Robert C. and Charlotte P. Anderson Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology at Purdue University and is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on hallucinogens.

I discuss his excellent 2004 review of the literature, “Hallucinogens” elsewhere and use it to provide my own introductory primer on the subject.

Nichols is a well respected scientist and not an apologist, or activist for the use of these compounds and this is reflected in the quality of his work. In his paper, he addresses the possible harms posed by the use of these compounds, including the potential for mental illness and Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD).

With respect to the mental illness, he reports that:

“these drugs do not appear to produce illness denovo in otherwise emotionally healthy persons, but these problems seem to be precipitated in predisposed individuals”.

While with respect to HPPD, he indicates that: “the incidence of HPPD appears to be very small”.

Whether you call them Transcendent Compounds, Entheogens, Hallucinogens, or Psychedelics, the great fear since the scaremongering of the 1960s is that the use of these substances will create a population of people who are mentally unstable and a danger to the community. The urban myth website Snopes.com dismisses some of the sillier stories here, here, here and here.

Two very recent studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants have not only demonstrated this concern to be unfounded, but provided compelling evidence that the use of hallucinogens may significantly improve people’s mental health.

In the first study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers examined the data from over 190,000 adult Americans responding to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health during the years 2008 to 2012. They found:

Lifetime classic psychedelic use was associated with a significantly reduced odds of past month psychological distress, past year suicidal thinking, past year suicidal planning (, and past year suicide attempt, whereas lifetime illicit use of other drugs was largely associated with an increased likelihood of these outcomes. These findings indicate that classic psychedelics may hold promise in the prevention of suicide.

This is an important finding, especially, given that suicide is one of Australia’s biggest killers and how intractable it has been to effectively manage. (Personal note: Elsewhere, I discuss how the use of Transcendent Compounds helped me turn my life around during a time in which I was suicidal.)

As if this weren’t enough, recent research involving over 130,000 people by two researchers at the The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) discovered (once again), that not only is the use of Hallucinogens not linked to mental health problems, but it its use positively correlates with a variety of positive mental health outcomes. Their results state:

21,967 respondents (13.4% weighted) reported lifetime psychedelic use. There were no significant associations between lifetime use of any psychedelics, lifetime use of specific psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, peyote), or past year use of LSD and increased rate of any of the mental health outcomes. Rather, in several cases psychedelic use was associated with lower rate of mental health problems.

In a followup study, the researchers once more examined any potential links between the use of psychedelics and negative mental health outcomes. Their abstract is worth reproducing in full:

A recent large population study of 130,000 adults in the United States failed to find evidence for a link between psychedelic use (lysergic acid diethylamide, psilocybin or mescaline) and mental health problems. Using a new data set consisting of 135,095 randomly selected United States adults, including 19,299 psychedelic users, we examine the associations between psychedelic use and mental health. After adjusting for sociodemographics, other drug use and childhood depression, we found no significant associations between lifetime use of psychedelics and increased likelihood of past year serious psychological distress, mental health treatment, suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans and suicide attempt, depression and anxiety. We failed to find evidence that psychedelic use is an independent risk factor for mental health problems. Psychedelics are not known to harm the brain or other body organs or to cause addiction or compulsive use; serious adverse events involving psychedelics are extremely rare. Overall, it is difficult to see how prohibition of psychedelics can be justified as a public health measure.

Given these positive mental health outcomes reported for people who have used Hallucinogens at some stage of their lives, and the undeniably mystical nature of many of these experiences, it is perhaps unsurprising that research has also shown that the administration of LSD to terminally ill patients can result in a significant decrease in symptoms of psychological distress.

In fact, research published in 2014 only confirmed the psychological safety of LSD, with the very first human trials in 40 years revealing that contrary to the scare lore, LSD can actually reduce anxiety associated with life threatening disease. Researchers Rick Doblin, David Nichols and John Halpern are interviewed about the research here.

The Council on Spiritual Practices also has quite a bit of information on Entheogens, including links to recent psilocybin studies that highlight the mystical experiences that people can experience in conjunction with these compounds.

While there is ample scientific research to demonstrate their psychological safety, research has also shown that these compounds can be of significant benefit to persons suffering from a variety of diagnosed medical conditions:

Cluster headaches are reported to be one of the most painful conditions known and there are no reliable treatments. However, both LSD and psilocybin have been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for this condition. From the abstract:

The authors interviewed 53 cluster headache patients who had used psilocybin or lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) to treat their condition. Twenty-two of 26 psilocybin users reported that psilocybin aborted attacks; 25 of 48 psilocybin users and 7 of 8 LSD users reported cluster period termination; 18 of 19 psilocybin users and 4 of 5 LSD users reported remission period extension. Research on the effects of psilocybin and LSD on cluster headache may be warranted.

Recent research has also linked the administration of psilocybin with a significant reduction in the core symptoms of several Obsessive Compulsive Disorder patients.

Whereas most of this research involves the classical Hallucinogens,  (LSD, Psilocybin and Mescaline), A recent editorial from the International Journal of Drug Policy, entitled a “Statement on Ayahusaca“, focuses exclusively on the South African brew in which DMT is the main psychoactive ingredient. In this Editorial, the journal’s editorial board and as well as a number of high profile scientists come out forcefully in support of the right to use the brew for religious and cultural purposes.

Furthermore, in 2012, the American Anthropological Association released a special Ayahuasca edition of their journal “Anthropology of Consciousness”. While most of the articles are hidden behind a firewall, there is an excellent article available freely called “Ayahuasca as Antidepressant? Psychedelics and Styles of Reasoning in Psychiatry”. From the abstract:

This article analyzes the academic literature on ayahuasca’s psychological effects to determine how this style of reasoning is shaping formal scientific discourse on ayahuasca’s therapeutic potential as a treatment for depression and anxiety.

 

Conclusion

Over seven decades of peer reviewed research clearly demonstrate that Transcendent Compounds are not only non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe, but are also of great benefit, both in terms of general psychological well being, but also with respect to a number of very real and very serious medical conditions.

Few would argue that they are perfectly safe (nothing is), but any dangers are certainly within the acceptable limits for an educated and aware population. As I have previously discussed elsewhere, any risk certainly lies within the limits that are already accepted in many of our daily activities.

Irrespective of issues of religious freedom, I would suggest that in a sensible, democratic, well-functioning society, non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe compounds are precisely the sort that we should be promoting as an alternative to the highly toxic, addictive and violence inducing legal alternative: alcohol.

In allowing the use of safe mind altering substances, in controlled environments, governments will be doing more to effectively tackle the scourge of alcohol abuse in this country than any government thus far. While there is some research suggestive of LSD being an effective treatment for alcohol addiction, a person is highly unlikely to use Transcendent Compounds and alcohol simultaneously, especially if using them within a religious and spiritual framework.

In allowing citizens to reduce their exposure to alcohol, by accessing safer compounds, we allow them a greater chance of resisting its addictive and toxic impacts and the severe social and medical harms entailed by its use.

Not only are there no scientific reasons for prohibiting Transcendent Compounds for spiritual and religious purposes, there is abundant scientific evidence that regulated access would be highly beneficial to our community.

Note: I have sourced several of these papers from the excellent Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) website, and one can find quite a few other peer reviewed papers available there.

David E Nichols and a Primer on Hallucinogens

David E Nichols previously held the Robert C. and Charlotte P. Anderson Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology at Purdue University and is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on hallucinogens. His excellent 2004 review of the literature, “Hallucinogens”, discusses a breadth of topics, including history, pharmacology, toxicity, addictiveness and psychological outcomes.

Tulpa1_detail1

Tulpa
Courtesy Mario Martinez (aka MARS-1)

However, it is a long paper and many may struggle with its scientific content. Because of this, what follows is a short primer designed to introduce readers to some of the key concepts contained within this paper. Please be aware that this is simply a commentary on Nichols’ work and he has not authorised my interpretation, or had anything to do with its preparation.

This primer was initially written to be sent to Victorian politicians in support of the campaign to obtain regulated access for spiritual and religious purposes. Because of this, there are a number of references to this type of use within.

It is important to note that rather than address all hallucinogens (aka psychedelics), Nichols focuses on the three classical hallucinogens (which also happen to be Transcendent Compounds): LSD, Psilocybin and Mescaline.

“Hallucinogens, for the purposes of this review, will mean only substances with psychopharmacology resembling that of the natural products mescaline and psilocybin and the semisynthetic substance known as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25).” (p 132)

One of the issues that often confounds people unfamiliar with the safety of these compounds is the obvious fact that they have been rendered illegal the world over. Surely, this must mean that there is something wrong with them? Nichols addresses the discrepancy between the safety of these compounds and the reactions to them by government and law enforcement saying:

“Despite their high degree of physiological safety and lack of dependence liability, hallucinogens have been branded by law enforcement officials as among the most dangerous drugs that exist, being placed into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Depending on the locale, especially in the United States, punishments for using or distributing drugs like LSD are often more draconian than if the user had committed a violent crime.” (p 133)

Furthermore, when faced with the question of “What is it, exactly, that makes these pharmacological curiosities so fearsome?” Nichols surmises that:

“The answer lies, in large measure, beyond hard science and within a complex sociological and political agenda that surround psychedelics” (p 133)

At the risk of putting words into the mouth of such an esteemed researcher, I would suggest that this translates to the assertion that it is politics, rather than science that is responsible for these compounds being treated as they are. That if only the politicians and bureaucrats paid attention to the science, these “pharmacological curiosities” would assume a far less fearsome aspect and could be treated with the respect they deserve and that legislation and regulation would reflect them as they are, rather than the demons that some wish them to be.

But what of the “hard science”? What does it actually have to say?
With respect to the toxicity of these compounds, Nichols is quite clear when he says:

“Hallucinogens are generally considered to be physiologically safe molecules whose principal effects are on consciousness. That is, hallucinogens are powerful in producing altered states of consciousness (ASC), but they do so at doses that are not toxic to mammalian organ systems. There is no evidence that any of the hallucinogens, even the very powerful semisynthetic LSD, causes damage to any human body organ.” (p 134)

Furthermore, with respect to long-term adverse physiological effects arising from their use, he notes that:

“Strassman (1984) and Halpern and Pope (1999) have analyzed the published reports on adverse reactions and negative long-term sequelae following hallucinogen use. Halpern and Pope reached a conclusion similar to Strassman’s earlier analysis that concerning repeated use of psychedelic drugs the results were controversial, but if any long-term adverse effect did occur it was ‘‘subtle or nonsignificant.’’ It should be noted, however, that in both studies their conclusions were specifically developed based on reviews of supervised clinical research with hallucinogens.” (p 134)

While Nichols qualifies his statement by indicating that these conclusions were based on supervised clinical research, I should note that I am not aware of any research indicating problematic sequelae for populations that have used this compound outside of supervised clinical research (Indeed recent research has shown quite the reverse). This apparent safety is a highly important observation, given that there exists an entire cohort within the community who have been using this compound for in excess of fifty years and who would be easily identifiable as being burdened with Hallucinogen induced disease if it actually existed.

Moving onto the issue of addiction he says:

“In contrast to many other abused drugs, hallucinogens do not engender drug dependence or addiction and are not considered to be reinforcing substances” (p 134);

“There are no literature reports of successful attempts to train animals to self-administer classical hallucinogens, an animal model predictive of abuse liability, indicating that these substances do not possess the necessary pharmacology to either initiate or maintain dependence.” (p 134);

“hallucinogens do not produce the type of reinforcing effects that occur after use of substances such as cocaine or amphetamine” (p 138)

Nichols also notes that because these compounds do not produce the cravings associated with other drugs, their usage pattern is markedly different:

“It must be kept in mind that hallucinogen use is generally not compulsive and long lasting and that these substances do not produce dependence. Their use is more often episodic, and most people do not continue to use hallucinogens on a long-term basis after some initial experimentation. Surveys have shown that hallucinogen use is most likely to occur in the late teens and into the early 20s but does not usually continue after users reach their late 20s (Chilcoat & Schutz, 1996). Chronic use of hallucinogens is unusual (Henderson, 1994; Chilcoat & Schutz, 1996). This use pattern is in distinct contrast to the compulsive abuse that is often seen with rewarding drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, or the opiates, which produce craving.” (p 138)

This pattern of usage matches the observations of myself and others within the broader Australian “Entheogenic” community. It is not uncommon for people to move into the community for a couple of years, obtain what gifts they feel the compounds had to offer, before moving back out into the normal community and rarely if ever using these compounds again.

But while chronic (i.e. long-term) use might be comparatively rare, it is these users, such as myself, who form the backbone of the longer term community of users and provide continuity, depth and wisdom that is arguably lacking among most other subcultures of substance users. Certainly my motivations for use, along with many others, whom it is my privilege to know, would agree with the following statement:

“When asked why they use hallucinogens, individuals who take doses with significant psychological effects often say that they use them for personal or spiritual development and increased understanding and self-discovery, that their use seems important to them, and that often they feel they gain important personal, religious, or philosophical insights.” (p 138)

Nichols is not afraid to address the potential negatives of the use of hallucinogens.

One of the more commonly stated concerns with the use of these compounds is the phenomena known as “flashbacks”. Nichols addresses this by saying:

“One adverse consequence of hallucinogen use is known as ‘‘flashbacks.’’ Flashbacks were widely discussed in the press, particularly in earlier decades, as one of the most common adverse effects of hallucinogens; their occurrence was emphasized as a deterrent to recreational use. A flashback essentially consists of the re-experiencing of one or more of the perceptual effects that were induced by hallucinogens but occurring after the effect of the drug has worn off or at some later time in the complete absence of the drug. Flashbacks most often appear as visual symptoms and can persist for months or in some cases years, and there appears to be no relationship between frequency of hallucinogen use and rate of occurrence.” (p 135)

and:

“Based on the millions of people who have taken hallucinogens, the incidence of HPPD appears to be very small, and there is presently no effective treatment.” (p 135).

I would make two observations here. Firstly, while it is unfortunate that there are a “very small” number of people who experience difficulty with flashbacks, it is doubtful whether the fact that there are potential dangers inherent to an activity is grounds for making that activity illegal. If that were the case, we’d be banning origami on the basis of paper cuts. Secondly, even while acknowledging the risks inherent in the phenomenon of flashbacks, a reasonable person is still going to be forced to conclude that these compounds are immeasurably safer than the only current legal alternative, alcohol. The UN reports that 5.9% of all deaths (3.3 million) in 2012 were attributable to alcohol so it isn’t hard to imagine why the adoption of hallucinogen use in preference to alcohol  would be beneficial to the wider community.

Importantly, with respect to the aims of the current paper, Nichols points out that research indicated that:

“when LSD was used in a therapeutic or research setting, HPPD appeared less frequently than when it was used recreationally.” (p 135)

This is important, as very few people are arguing for wide-ranging and unregulated access to the compounds, but rather to ensure their availability for religious, sacramental and safe recreational use.

Within the context of my own campaign for regulated access for religious and spiritual purposes, I would suggest that usage would be expected to fall somewhere in-between those of purely recreational and purely therapeutic users. As such, the already “very small” incidence of flashbacks would be reduced even further within a population using these compounds for religious purposes.

Nichols also addresses the issue of physical danger arising from the use of these compounds, particularly in unsupervised settings.

“There are, however, real and significant dangers that can accompany recreational use of these substances. Although LSD or other classical hallucinogens have not directly caused overdose death… (p 135)

Nichols is perhaps incorrect when he says that “hallucinogens have not directly caused overdose death”. There has been precisely one journal article describing the death of a person by LSD overdose. The 1985 article “A Fatal Overdose With LSD”, provides toxicology results for a man who died 16 hours after being admitted to hospital and whose death was determined by the coroner to be due to “LSD poisoning”.

This paper is significantly flawed as it contains no indication of the amount initially consumed, or the time between consumption and eventual death. While there is no data that might allow the calculation of precisely how much LSD might be required for an overdose, the amount is generally held to be at least 1000 times the active dose, which compares well to 10 times the active dose for alcohol.

In any case, a single fatal overdose involving classical hallucinogens after more than 70 years of use by millions of people is a tribute to the inherent safety of the compound. Only the most devious or dishonest could characterise it as being “deadly” in any meaningful sense.

Nichols continues:

…fatal accidents during LSD intoxication have occurred (Jaffe, 1985). This danger is significant, particularly when these drugs are used recreationally in unsupervised settings. Belief that one has superhuman powers while judgment is impaired by hallucinogens can lead to injury or death when an unsupervised user carries out dangerous activities such as walking out on a freeway or attempting to fly (see, e.g., Reynolds & Jindrich, 1985). (p 135)

Accidents will happen, irrespective of whether people are using mind altering substances, or not. Undoubtedly accidents are more frequent when mind altering substances of any sort are consumed. However, insisting that Transcendent Compounds alone are banned on the strength of this argument is untenable, especially given the overwhelming number of alcohol induced accidents and the lack of concern and action that this has generated in government circles.

Although not mentioned by Nichols, the potential for drug driving is a legitimate and real concern, but again is mirrored by the scourge that alcohol has been on our roads even since the days of the horse and buggy. While it can be regarded as certain that an increase in availability of Transcendent Compounds would result in an increase in motor accidents as a result of their inappropriate use, Any government putting this forward as a reason for maintaining full prohibition, while not similarly legislating to ban alcohol is at the very least acting in a duplicitous and hypocritical manner.

Within the context of spiritual and religious use, one could perhaps expect usage within a more controlled environment and it would be expected that this would greatly curtail the potential for drug driving.

It is intriguing that Nichols mentions people “attempting to fly” while on LSD. This has been a recurrent theme among LSD scare-mongers ever since the death of Diane Linkletter in October of 1969 and can arguably be traced back to a scene in the now infamous 1938 anti-cannabis movie “Reefer Madness”. Fortunately, it seems that this particular concern is one that has been greatly blown out of proportion. This story can be considered to have been well debunked by the highly regarded “urban myth” web site, snopes.com, where they not only point out that the girl was certainly not on LSD at the time of her death, but that there was never any evidence beyond hearsay to say that she had ever taken the compound.

The Reynolds & Jindrich article referenced by Nichols is one that I have yet to get my hands on, but it apparently describes a person who ran off a cliff and fell to their death under the influence of Mescaline. While it might be the case that this person believed that he might be able to fly while under the influence of this compound, a single incident is hardly indicative of a wider tendency. It can be argued that people believe all sorts of silly things while under the influence of all sorts of drugs, and one should not discount the possibility of people believing that they can fly while using hallucinogens. But given the breadth of use, it is disappointing when isolated incidences are presented as if they are global trends towards self-destruction.

“Less serious but still very substantial injuries can occur in unusual ways. For example, severe and irreversible ocular damage has resulted from prolonged staring at the sun by individuals under the influence of LSD (Schatz & Mendelblatt, 1973; Fuller, 1976).” (p 135)

We can see a similar situation in when discussing the supposed phenomena of people looking into the sun while under the influence of LSD. Once again, snopes.com has debunked this particular myth, which they describe as being, “one of the 1960s most ubiquitous pieces of drug scarelore”.

While I was unable to obtain the Schatz & Mendelblatt article referenced by Nichols, examining Fuller (1976) is quite educational. It includes the case studies of two patients, both of whom appear to have been suffering from significant mental health issues, with the first patient being formally diagnosed as suffering from “paranoid schizophrenia”.

The situation with the second patient is in itself quite intriguing and deserves to be quoted directly:

“Case 2, a 15-year-old Caucasian female, heard a lecture at her public high school warning of the harmful effects of the illicit use of drugs. The lecturer told the audience that one could sustain a retinal burn with loss of vision if one gazed at the sun while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. The patient thought that “it would be a neat thing to burn out my retinas”. She then proceeded to take LSD, having taken it “a few times before”, and stared at the sun for an unknown length of time.”

Rather than a mishap caused by the consumption of LSD, this appears to be a classic example of the self-fulfilling prophecy. With tragic irony, she was subjected to a lecture on the dangers of drugs that included the scarelore myth that people burn their eyes out by staring into the sun while on LSD. As a result of this lecture, she proceeded to take LSD with that specific intention in mind, because she thought that “it would be a neat thing to burn out my retinas”. Rather than being an example of people doing silly things on LSD, this would be more accurately viewed as a classic case of teenage self harm, albeit by very unusual means.

While hardly being an expert on solar retinopathy, I would suggest that its incidence would be comparatively high among people with mental health issues and particularly high among those suffering from schizophrenia and that these cases would be better viewed as the result of mental illness, rather than the consumption of LSD.

My review of the literature was unable to uncover any other incidents of people looking into the sun and damaging their eyes while on LSD, or any of the other Transcendent Compounds. Once again, isolated, if spectacular and attention grabbing incidents are hardly indicative of widespread dangers to either users, or the wider community.

If either attempting to fly, or staring into the sun were a common result from the consumption of classical hallucinogens, there would be far more than a literal handful of cases after decades of ongoing and unsupervised use by perhaps hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Justifying a ban on these compounds because of these incredibly rare kinds of occurrences is akin to banning houses because planes fall on them.

Nichols also addresses the very real concern that these compounds might produce psychosis in individuals. Once again, it is instructive to quote him in detail on this issue.

“The most significant dangers of psychedelics, however, appear to lie principally in their psychological effects. LSD can induce disturbances of experience, otherwise observed only in psychoses, such as alteration of cognitive functions, and depersonalization. Hallucinogens can catalyze the onset of psychosis or depression, which has sometimes led to suicide, and Cohen (1960) has estimated the incidence of LSD-related psychosis to be about 8 per 10,000 subjects. In another study, one case of psychosis was reported in a survey of 247 LSD users (McGlothlin & Arnold, 1971). Fortunately, however, these drugs do not appear to produce illness de novo in otherwise emotionally healthy persons, but these problems seem to be precipitated in predisposed individuals”

One should never arbitrarily discount the potential for harm arising from the use of any compound and it appears that there is the very real risk of psychological harm resulting from the use of these compounds. However, in recognising this and making allowances for it within our legislative frameworks, it should be noted that the occurrence of these negative events is significantly less than one percent and seems to occur only among individuals who are predisposed.

I would suggest that while recognising the dangers is important, so too is recognising that the overwhelmingly vast majority of people using these substances will not encounter these difficulties and that a significant number of people who do will do so regardless of whether their experience is initially bought on by the use of a Transcendent Compound.

If people are going to be using these compounds, then doing so within a religious and spiritual setting, where support networks can more easily be erected around potentially vulnerable people, would be the best way to ensure that those who do suffer adverse impacts from their use and are best able to receive the treatment which they need.

I would also point out that alcohol, which is the only currently legal mind altering substance (I don’t include tobacco, coffee and others, which, while legal aren’t taken to achieve massively mind altered states of consciousness)  has a far worse track record with respect to the mental health of those who use it, with an estimated 10% of users experiencing difficulties with its use and with significant production of illness among people who would have experienced no psychological issues had they refrained from consumption.

While Nichols doesn’t frame his conclusions in these terms, his 2004 peer-reviewed paper “Hallucinogens” makes it quite clear that these substances are non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe. Given this, there can really be no excuse for prohibiting their use for religious and spiritual purposes within the State of Victoria.

The Legal Argument for Spiritual use of Transcendent Compounds

There is a very good argument to say that the prohibition of Transcendent Compounds for Spiritual Purposes is illegal within the State of Victoria, the ACT, Canada and other jurisdictions like South Africa, that have strong, modern Human Rights protections.*

supreme-court-of-victoria

The Supreme Court of Victoria

Drug Law Reform Objectives and Definitions

When compared to the broader issue of drug law reform, my objectives are quite limited:

“Regulated access to Transcendent Compounds for religious purposes, as required under sections 7 and 14 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act (2006)”.

It is not my intent to upend drugs law as we know it, although this would almost be inevitable once the general public come to understand that the Emperor has no clothes!

Those unfamiliar with my writings may not have heard of “Transcendent Compounds” . Briefly, Transcendent Compounds are those Entheogens which are non-toxic, non-addictive, and psychologically safe in an appropriate dose, set and setting. It includes DMT, Psilocybin, Mescaline and LSD, but excludes others, as cannabis and ketamine.

This reflects the philosophy that a substance isn’t really getting you into good spiritual territory if it controls your soul (is addictive), or is likely to harm, or even kill you (which seems to be getting a bit too close to spiritual truth for comfort).

It also reflects the simple fact that this campaign for religious freedom is difficult enough without continually getting sidetracked on issues of toxicity, addiction and psychological harm. After more than four decades of increasingly strident and unhinged propaganda, many people are viscerally afraid of these substances and “non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe” is a soothing mantra that can easily be repeated until the message finally sinks in.

 

Illicit Drugs and Australian Law

Under the Australian Constitution, drugs law is a state, not federal issue and as such, Victorian, not Federal law is relevant in this case.

The right to Religious Freedom an ancient concept and its protection is often considered to be an essential characteristic of a modern well functioning democratic state. The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act (2006) provides extensive legal protections for the exercise of religious freedom in this state.
Section 14 of the Charter provides extensive protections for religious belief and practice, while Section 7 delineates the circumstances in which a right may lawfully be limited.

Section 14 grants the following rights with respect to religion:

(1) Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, including-

(a) the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his or her choice; and

(b) the freedom to demonstrate his or her religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, either individually or as part of a community, in public or in private.

(2) A person must not be coerced or restrained in a way that limits his or her freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching.

 

From this it can be clearly seen that not only does every Victorian enjoy significant legal rights to practice their religion, but they retain this right, irrespective of whether they are part of an organised religious establishment. Nobody needs to join “my”, or anybody else’s religion in order to have their religious freedoms recognised under law.

 

Section 7.2 is the section of most relevance when it comes to the Government’s obligation to respect religious practices and to not impinge upon them unnecessarily:

A human right may be subject under law only to such reasonable limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, and taking into account all relevant factors including-

(a) the nature of the right; and

(b) the importance of the purpose of the limitation; and

(c) the nature and extent of the limitation; and

(d) the relationship between the limitation and its purpose; and

(e) any less restrictive means reasonably available to achieve the purpose that the limitation seeks to achieve.

A key phrase here is “can be demonstrably justified”, as it is clear that this puts the justification for any restriction, on a right contained within the Charter, onto the Government. It is the Government which has to justify maintaining a ban, not I for breaking it.

Not only this, but any justification needs to be “demonstrable”, which in this case I take to mean that the Government would need to justify their prohibition using science (and again and again and again), rather than the usual resort to distortion, lies and logical fallacies which are the main justification for the never ending War on Drugs.

To date, the Victorian Government’s official response to my campaign to achieve regulated access to Transcendent Compounds for religious and spiritual purposes has been that the compounds are illegal because of “community health and safety”.

There are two factors which make this position untenable. The first is the fact that by definition, Transcendent Compounds are “non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe”. In other words, they are the gold standard of “community health and safety”.

The contrast is stark: Alcohol – the current benchmark for allowable substance harm in the community – is highly addictive, highly toxic (it is a disinfectant!) and psychologically dangerous, being reliably linked to aggressive and anti social behaviours, including nearly half of all Australian murders and possibly hundreds of thousands of assaults each year. In Victoria alone, it is responsible for over 25,000 hospital admissions. Furthermore, it kills an estimated 3000 Australians each year. Frankly, any move away from alcohol and towards Transcendent Compounds should be encouraged and applauded by any sane society.

The second untenable aspect of the Government’s position relates to the fact that the current ban is black and white and does not acknowledge the legitimate religious uses of these substances. It confuses “use” with “abuse” and in doing so fails to conform to section 7.2(e), which requires that the Government adopt “any less restrictive means reasonably available to achieve the purpose that the limitation seeks to achieve”.

My lobbying of the Government has been specifically aimed at obtaining regulated access to these compounds for religious purposes. I have no intention of arguing for these compounds to be legal in the same way as alcohol or tobacco, nor do I believe that they should be legal in the way that these are .

Even if one were to agree that there were legitimate reasons for a complete ban on the recreational use of non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe compounds, it does not follow that a less restrictive regulatory regime that recognises their religious importance should be simply ignored.

One could debate whether a specific substance is in fact worthy of being regarded as a “Transcendent Compound”, but if the Government wishes to make the case that the substances that I have identified as “Transcendent Compounds” are not as safe as I have claimed, they need to do so using peer-reviewed research and scientifically valid data. This is highly unlikely, given that decades of research have consistently demonstrated that these compounds are safe, especially when consumed within regulated frameworks.

As such, it is clear that in maintaining a prohibition against the use of Transcendent Compounds, the Victorian Government is in fact in breach of its own laws, and needs to be held accountable for this in Victoria’s courts.

Caveat: This Law is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

Sections 29, 32 and 36 of the Charter make it abundantly clear that the provisions of the Charter do not in themselves render Victorian Law invalid.

As such, until the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act (1981) is explicitly altered by the Victorian Government, it will remain a crime to use Transcendent Compounds for any purpose.

The benefit of the Charter is to provide a way to force the Victorian Government to acknowledge in a court of law that they do not have any “demonstrably justifiable” reasons for impinging on the religious and spiritual freedoms of Victorians.

Success in the Victorian Supreme Court will result in that court issuing a “Declaration of Inconsistent Interpretation”, which will inform the Victorian Attorney-General of the discrepancy between the law and the provisions of the Charter. Even if such a declaration is made it is important to note that Section 36 states:

5)     A declaration of inconsistent interpretation does not—

        (a)     affect in any way the validity, operation or enforcement of the statutory provision in respect of which the declaration was made; or

        (b)     create in any person any legal right or give rise to any civil cause of action.

This means that even if a Declaration of Inconsistent Interpretation is handed down by the Victorian Supreme Court, the person charged may very well still be found guilty, and sentenced according to the penalties laid out in the law.

Furthermore, Section 37 of the Charter provides six months from the receipt of the Declaration for the relevant Minister to issue their written response to the Declaration.

At any stage, the Victorian Parliament would be well within the law to simply use the “Override Declaration” powers contained within Section 31 to simply exclude the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act (1981) from the Charter, thereby maintain the status quo. Doing so in order to get around an adverse finding in the courts would be embarrassing for the Government, it might be considered politically expedient.

It is important to note that this legal defence is not the sort of thing that just anybody can use after they have been charged with drug offences.

Unless a person is able to demonstrate a history of the spiritual use of Transcendent Compounds they will likely just be regarded as a recreational user and subject to the full force of the law, irrespective of what claims they might seek to make regarding religious, or spiritual use. In this situation, under Section 33 of the Charter, the case is unlikely to even make it to the Victorian Supreme Court in the first place.

As an aside, I and perhaps the whole Entheogenic community would be really annoyed if some random were to attempt to use this defence, make a mess of it and ruin things for everybody else.

 

 

*My discussion here relates specifically to the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act, but applies equally to legislation that uses the same wording, such as that found within the Australian Capital Territory and the Canadian Constitution. South Africa’s Constitution also contains similar language, and I expect that many jurisdictions will find that they have similar responsibilities under their own laws. 

Entheogens and Transcendent Compounds.

Entheogens are chemical substances which allow people to experience the “Divine Within”.

Generally classified as “Hallucinogens”, they have been used by many religious traditions for thousands of years and are an integral part of the religious practice of tens of thousands of people today.

Mars-1-NatureofTime_905

Nature of Time
Courtesy Mario Martinez (aka MARS-1)

While the word “Entheogen” is over three decades old, it is hardly known outside the “Entheogenic community” of people who use these substances. In addition, there is considerable debate regarding what an “Entheogen” actually is, with some people arguing that it includes any substance that has had a sacred use at any stage, while others believe that it should refer to substances that create the subjective experience of communion with the Divine.

Given the original intent of the people who coined the word and its roots in Ancient Greek, which stands for “God inside us” (en εν- “in, within,” theo θεος- “god, divine,” -gen γενος “creates, generates”), I hold to the second camp.

For a while I advocated a more limited meaning of the word, one that would suit my own personal view of these compounds. However, while some in the community had sympathy for my position, few felt that it was true to the original intent of the word.

Accordingly, I have chosen to coin yet another term, “Transcendent Compound”, (so you won’t find it in Wikipedia until a few more people start using it!), in order to refer to the compounds that are both spiritually valuable and undeniably safe.

A Transcendent Compound is as substance that:

1. Reliably allows a person to touch the Divine Mind.

2. Is non-toxic.

3. Is non addictive.

4. Is psychologically safe, within an appropriate dose, set and setting.

This reflects the philosophy that a substance isn’t really getting you into good spiritual territory if it controls your soul (is addictive), or is likely to harm, or even kill you (which seems to be getting a bit too close to spiritual truth for comfort).

While there are quite a number of substances that might to fall into this category, the main ones used in Australia are as follows:

Mescaline: The psychoactive compound found in certain types of cactus. It is used legally by the Native American Church, who consume it through the peyote cactus.

Psilocybin: The Psychoactive compound found in sacred, or “magic” mushrooms that have been used traditionally by the Mexicans. These mushrooms are also endemic to Victoria and grow throughout Melbourne, although I am not aware of any record of their traditional use by the local aboriginal populations.

LSD: A synthetic compound with effects very similar to both Mescaline and Psilocybin. Despite its dangerous reputation, it is perhaps the safest mind altering compound known to humanity, with an estimated lethal dose well in excess of 2000 times the active dose (compared to ten for alcohol) and only a single overdose death ever recorded in peer-reviewed medical literature.

DMT: Known as the “Spirit Molecule”, this is found in the South American Ayahuasca Brew. It is also found within numerous grasses and wattles that are native to Australia. Brews using these are sometimes referred to as “wattlehuasca”.

Salvinorin A: Found in Salvia Divinorum, which is also called “Diviner’s Sage” it is used by the Mazatec Shamans of South America.

This listing is borne out by the results obtained in unpublished research by Dr David Caldicott (2007, unpublished). In this survey of over 100 members of the Australian Entheogenic community only two Mind Altering Substances were reliably identified as being used for “Enlightenment”. These were:

Magic Mushrooms (ie psilocybin): 92%

LSD: 91%

Given its importance to the Entheogenic community, DMT, which was accidentally left off the survey, would expect a similarly high response.

Similarly, Mescaline with very similar effects to both LSD and Psilocybin is also be considered a Transcendent Compound and is widely used within the Entheogenic community.

Interestingly only, four other substances, cannabis (50%), Ecstasy (MDMA) (31%), Ketamine (39%) and Nitrous Oxide (40%) scored higher than 30%, but none of these exceeded 50%.

Ketamine, which was reportedly used by 39% of the sample is an example of an Entheogen which doesn’t rate as a Transcendent Compound. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, it is highly addictive and secondly it can, with prolonged use (often inevitable with highly addictive substances), cause potentially irreversible damage to the bladder.

Only three percent of the respondents reported using alcohol for “Enlightenment”. This should not surprise anyone, especially those in the community services sector, who have had to deal with the fallout from the anti-social behaviour, violence and aggression that it often causes. Alcohol isn’t the sort of substance that assists people to achieve a connection with the Divine. Quite the reverse, in fact.

Intriguingly, it has recently been revealed that Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous wished to use LSD as part of the AA program, but that this idea was rejected by more conservative members, who felt that using one drug to treat another was somehow bad. Some research in the 1950s and 60s hinted that LSD could be a viable treatment for alcoholism, but this research was never validated and efforts to do so came to a close with the halt to all LSD research when it was made illegal.

As with all psychoactive compounds the use of Transcendent Compounds may entail some risk. For example, Cohen (1960, cited Nichols, 2004) estimated that the incidence of LSD related psychosis was perhaps 8 per 10,000 people. However, given that life entails risk (a plane could hit you as you are reading this…) this shouldn’t worry people unduly, especially as the risks of toxicity and overdose are absent.

Indeed, when compared to other activities, the use of these compounds compares quite favourably. For example, the New South Wales Injury Management Centre’s “Sports Injury Report” dated September 2006, identifies that motor sports sustained 11.3 serious injuries, or deaths and 94 hospitalisations per 10,000 participants.

So while they can’t be regarded as perfectly safe (nothing can), decades of research clearly show that they fall within the acceptable limits of safety when compared with other activities that are legal within our communities.

Each of the Transcendent Compounds can be considered psychologically safe to use, assuming an appropriate “dose, set and setting. If any of these are an issue, a negative experience may emerge at some point of the “trip”.

“Dose” refers to the amount taken and as with any activity, sensible people will approach dose cautiously, starting with threshold amounts, before scaling up to more “shamanic” doses.

This is important, because different people respond differently to the same dose. For example, I know many people who never take more than half a tab of LSD, while others wouldn’t experience anything meaningful at that dose.

As one becomes more experienced, the dosage can be increased. My first experience with Transcendent Compounds was four mushrooms, which was a great introduction. Had I taken significantly more I almost certainly would have had a horrible time and never gone near them again.

In many ways, dose can be thought of as riding a motorcycle. Only a fool would jump straight onto a 1100cc racing bike and expect to not get hurt.  Smart learners will stick with a low powered bike, that will take them where they need to go, but not be uncontrollable.

“Set” refers to a person’s mindset at the time that they are taking the compound. Just because something is wrong, in your life, it doesn’t therefore follow that a negative experience will be felt. For example, I know of a person who took a low dose of LSD at his father’s funeral, and he described it as one of the most meaningful, beautiful and profound experiences of his life. Similarly, when in 2012, I was diagnosed with cancer, I took a large dose of magic mushrooms, which allowed me to put the disease and my life back in perspective.

“Setting” refers to the physical environment that you are in and people around you. Especially at the outset, it is important to only go on these journeys surrounded by people who you trust and in a peaceful environment without undue distractions.

Parties are perhaps the worst place for inexperienced people to start taking any hallucinogen.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is to take adequate precautions, such as learning about what to expect prior to the experience and having an experienced, trusted sitter present. If you take the time to educate yourself and know what is to expect and there is almost no chance of something going wrong.

Click here for my Beginners Guide to Safe Tripping.

THC – The Spiritual Compound (AKA Cannabis)

Because of its addictive potential, marijuana cannot be included as a Transcendent Compound. However, despite this, it is still the most widely used Entheogen in the world and rightly deserves its place in the sun.

Many, including myself, have found this compound to be very useful for spiritual exploration. Even scientists, such as Susan Blackmore have reported that they use it for its capacity to help the creative processes. Cannabis has safely been used as an Entheogen for thousands of years and despite being illegal in most countries is still consumed by millions of people annually, although few realise its true potential as a Spiritual Compound.

A personal example of this was my realisation that “god can never know if god is God”. I initially discovered this truth while engaged in deep thought under the influence of cannabis. However, it was not until six months later, when I returned to the concept, again under the influence of cannabis that I realised how important and devastating this realisation is to the fundamental assumptions of traditional monotheistic religious belief.

While not Entheogenic in the same manner as LSD, or DMT, cannabis has considerable potential for the mystic who wishes to explore the deeper realms of reality and consciousness.

Unlike alcohol, marijuana is non toxic and nobody has ever overdosed on it. This is unsurprising given that a person would need to consume over 550 kg of the plant within 15 minutes before you even had a chance at overdose. Try to smoke that much and you’d asphyxiate first!

Similarly, while it can produce short-term psychosis (that is after all one of the reasons that people take it), there have decades of research have been unable to draw any clear links between it and long-term psychosis. Even the much vaunted link between the use of this plant and schizophrenia doesn’t hold up once one looks at all the evidence available and remembers that correlation does not equal causation. Over the years I have known a number of people with schizophrenia who reported using cannabis because it moderated their condition and made life easier to handle. Several have told me that if it weren’t for their use of cannabis, they probably would have committed suicide.

Unfortunately, THC has some potential for addiction. Research shows that this potential is less than that found in compounds such as alcohol, or heroin and is comparatively easy to manage. Prolonged and intensive use can still mess you around quite a bit, but there appear to be no significant long-term adverse affects from its use.

NOTE – Cannabis is not one of the compounds that I have been lobbying the Government to provide regulated access to. While it is useful, I only use it rarely, and it will be made legal quick smart, when the half a million (OMFG!) Victorians who use it each year get of their bums and tell the Government that they want it made legal, “or else”.

The Symbol of Life

The Symbol of Life is a mystical symbol, which represents four attributes of existence, Sentience, Meaning, Purpose and Wisdom.

Symbol of Life - White- Labeled
The Symbol of Life emerged (was revealed to me?) during three separate mystical trances over the course of about 18 months, in which I visualised each element sequentially.

After visualising “Sentience” and “Meaning”, I knew that the symbol was not yet complete, but after visualising “Purpose”, I knew that the “Symbol of Life” was both complete and symbolic of Infinite Reality.

Interestingly, enough, the representation of “Wisdom” didn’t emerge from a trance state, but instead its realisation occurred during my meditation of the Symbol itself. This is important, because it is only through contemplation of our experience and through continually questioning our own assumptions, beliefs and creations that we can ever achieve anything remotely resembling Wisdom.

While the symbol itself is finite and quite simple, it is of Infinite reference and symbolically fractal, in that it applies to every scale of consciousness, ranging from the barely existent, through to that which we would regard to be practically infinite and Divine.

Irrespective of the size of the symbol, there is always a finite space within the ellipse that represents purpose, yet there will always exist an infinite space in which Sentience can expand.It is only through the expansion of our finite awareness and understanding that we achieve Wisdom.

It is important to understand that Absolute Wisdom lies forever outside the grasp of any Sentience: Even for the Eternal Being, there is always potential to achieve infinitely more growth, understanding and Wisdom.

There is much meaning contained in the Symbol of Life and my thoughts here are certainly not the last word.

 

Sentience

Sentience is represented by a snake giving birth to itself, in the form of an Ouroboros, in the shape of the Infinity Symbol.

While the ouroboros has an ancient pedigree, and has traditionally been in the form of a circle, it has also increasingly appeared as an infinity symbol. Until my vision, I didn’t have any particular conscious awareness of the symbol, although I’d certainly have encountered it prior.

Traditionally depicted as a snake biting, or eating its own tail, within the context of the Symbol of Life, rather than devouring itself, it is giving birth to itself (although I suppose that stagnation, or diminishing of the Symbol could be regarded as the snake devouring itself).

Sentience, represents life continually giving birth to itself and forcing itself into existence. Failure to do so results in stagnation and death. Life can never know from where it has emerged, or how this has occurred.

In this context Sentience can also be regarded as a placeholder for existence itself and the Eternally unsolvable conundrum of “Why Something Instead of Nothing?”

 

Meaning

Parallel bars represent the forces against which life must struggle to overcome. They continually press against Sentience, threatening its existence and represent the challenges and difficulties from which we derive significance and value.

Should one cease to struggle against these obstacles, stagnation and contraction are the inevitable result, as one is slowly forced into spiritual retreat and a loss of meaning. Once one resumes struggling against these forces, so too does one regain meaning in their lives and resume their spiritual expansion.

Meaning within the context of the Symbol of Life does not entail violent conflict. Indeed, the most worthy struggles are those that are undertaken with the view to avoiding violent conflict and such conflict is often a sign of spiritual immaturity and absence of Wisdom.

Many of the struggles that we face are inherent in the very structure and story of our lives. For example, the ultimate fact of all of our existences is that death awaits all of us eventually. How we deal with and manage ideas about our own deaths as well as those of our loved ones is often a significant determinant of meaning in our lives.

Challenge also needs to be appropriate for our level of personal and spiritual growth. Too great a challenge and many will balk at the difficulty, but not enough and there is no challenge.  In either situation finding Meaning can be difficult.

Ironically, the absence of challenges in our lives doesn’t mean that Sentience can expand unhindered into Wisdom. If challenge isn’t presence, stagnation will also occur, because there is nothing to  motivate and drive Sentience into greater achievement and learning.

For example, imagine playing a game of chess against an average six year old, compared to playing against a Grand Master. For most people, a game against a three year old, would present no challenge and be meaningless within the context of the game itself (as opposed to one’s relationship with the child). Similarly, playing against a Grand Master would be equally without meaning for the average person as the challenge would be far too difficult.

 

Purpose

The oval represents sentience expanding into the unknown. What is contained within the oval is known, but irrespective of how much is known, there is always an Infinite yet to be explored.

Many spiritually insecure people argue that there is one path for all, be it “Enlightenment”, or being “saved by Jesus”, or whatever. The Symbol of Life illustrates otherwise. Just as one can move from the centre of the ellipse in any direction, so to can one fine purpose in any one of an infinite number of different kinds of life.

Just as each sentience is unique, so too is the source of meaning for each sentience. For some it will be striving towards the forever unattainable goal of Spiritual Enlightenment, for others it will be achieving a gold medal at the olympics, while for others it will be being the best parent that they can be.

Ultimate Purpose can only be determined by the individual connecting with their Ultimate Self (and as indicated by the Symbol of Life, this Ultimate Self isn’t stagnant and unchanging, but exists in a perpetually evolving, dynamic of progression .

Once this recognition has been achieved, one’s Purpose will become integral to the person and while a new raft of obstacles will emerge to provide meaning, acting in accordance with one’s purpose will become the path of least resistance.

Purpose is not to be confused with “Destiny”. In an Infiniverse in which every logically and mathematically possible outcome exists, there is simply no one best, or ultimate path for any particular sentience to take.

For example, when I was young, I was an outstanding singer, having appeared on TV and performed in several professional operas by the time my voice broke. I loved singing, so pursuing a career as a professional singer is a path that has undoubtedly kept alternate versions of “me” entertained for many lifetimes. The same could be said of my time spent as a soldier, or counsellor.

Today, I choose to be on the path of the mystic, but who knows how this path will change and evolve over whatever years, or days I happen to have left.

 

Wisdom

The area both outside and inside the oval represents the Infinite into which Sentience expands and the potential inherent within the Divine. Wisdom and understanding is to be gained by learning and experience of the new, and true wisdom requires experience and understanding of all aspects of existence.

At each point in time every Sentient has a certain finite amount of Wisdom that is expressed as the space within the ellipse, but irrespective of how much Wisdom we believe that we possess, there is always an Infinite amount of Wisdom yet to be discovered.

It is important to realise that within the context of any spiritual journey, whether Infinite, or just over the course of a lifetime, much of this new Wisdom will directly contradict that previously accepted.

If one imagines the Symbol of Life as being an onion with an infinite number of rings, one can imagine the spiritual journey as being a process of peeling layers off the onion from the inside. Each layer that is removed expands the empty interior of the onion, increasing our Wisdom.

But eventually, we will encounter a “joke layer”, which when removed off proves that everything that we previously thought to be true was in fact substantially incorrect. For example, we might discover that instead of being inside an onion, we were in fact inside a set of Russian Dolls.

To close one’s mind to continued learning (such as through the acceptance of  Dogmas), is to effectively put a brake on one’s ability to gain new Wisdom.

In using the word “Dogma”, I am not using it only in its strictest sense of “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true”, but also in respect to any belief, or idea that is held to be fundamentally correct, or beyond challenge.

The point is that as soon as you think you have the answers, you’ll stop looking for new explanations. Despite all the lessons that life might throw your way, you’ll cease to learn, cease to grow and start to stagnate.

The American businessman Ray Kroc, summed this up well, saying: “When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.”

 

Russian Dolls

The Joke Layer: The onion becomes a Russian doll.
(Image Courtesy of Wikipedia). 

Worship of the Hell God as a Character Flaw

TLDR: Belief in the Hell God is unfortunate. Worship of this God is a Major Character flaw that puts you on a Path of Darkness and closer to Hell.

Billions of people in the world today actively worship a God that they believe is going to torture even more billions of people for eternity. This should worry you, especially if you are one of them.

In a previous post, I discussed how Hell is pointless because it fails to meet any of the moral justifications for punishment. Furthermore, I demonstrated that its existence would be completely alien to any genuinely loving, just, merciful and Good God. Indeed, the most rational explanation for the origin of the idea of hell is that it is a technique for controlling people through fear.

Today, I would like to discuss the psychological implications for a belief in Hell and why the worship of a Hellish God is the sign of a significant character flaw.

Abu-ghraib-leash

This doesn’t suddenly become OK because God holds the leash.

(Specialist Lynndie England holding a leash attached to a prisoner, known to the guards as “Gus”, who is lying on the floor. Image and Image text from Wikipedia entry on Abu Ghraib.)

 

I was raised in a devout Roman Catholic household, attending mass every week, going to private Roman Catholic schools and receiving the Catholic sacraments. From my earliest days I was surrounded by Roman Catholic iconography, thoughts and assumptions. During my teenage years, my parents were heavily involved in their local church and in the emerging Catholic Charismatic Movement, which was a bit like Pentecostalism Lite for Catholics.

In those days, my sense of the connection to the Divine was embryonic, but real enough for me to never question the existence of God. I seriously considered becoming a Priest, at least until the age of twelve, when my sense of adventure lead me to decide instead on a career in the Australian Navy.

For many people, such a story would be the beginning of a rant about how they were permanently scarred by their early exposure to abundantly overt religion. Fortunately, my parents were genuinely spiritual and caring, providing me with an environment in which I felt secure, loved and valued. For this, I am in their debt.

It was around the age of seven that the concept of Hell began to seriously register on my small mind. Hell isn’t a big part of modern Roman Catholicism, but under the influence of my strict Catholic nun teachers, religious education and my own emergent understanding of death, it emerged as a very real concern for my future.

As a child I was continually getting into trouble. Today, I’d have been diagnosed with ADHD and most likely medicated back into “behaving”. Childhood tantrums aside, was I never deliberately mean, or nasty, but I was forever getting underfoot, forgetting what I was supposed to be doing and generally leaving a wake of chaos. Unsurprisingly, I was continually getting into trouble and aggravating my parents, who often responded with less than dignified anger to my troublemaking.

Over the course of months, I began to believe that I was a bad person and that I was going to go to hell. While I wasn’t obsessed with the thought, it was certainly an issue that began to prey upon my growing mind.

After yet another episode where I pushed my mother’s buttons once too often, it all became too much for me and I burst into tears, wailing about how I was going to go to hell because I was such a bad child.

My mother could have responded in one of three ways. She could have agreed with me and used the threat of Hell as a tool of control, she could have ignored my worries and let them fester, or she could have had one of those miraculous adult conversations that parents so often don’t seem to have with their children.

Thankfully for me, she chose the third path. Comforting me, she made it absolutely clear that while I was a naughty child, I certainly wasn’t a bad child and that there was nothing that I had done that would warrant my going to anywhere but heaven. She made it clear that I was just a child doing childish things and that her love for me wasn’t dependant on absolute good behaviour, but was unconditional and forever.

I doubt that my mother would even remember the event today, but for me it was truly transformational parenting and the sort of behaviour that I try to emulate when I am working with people spiritually.

Her comforting reassurance was enough to help me realise that the fires of hell were not in my future. Given how vividly I remember the event decades later, it will surprise few to know that it was with great relief that I went to bed that night.

I was fortunate. Over the years I have encountered dozens of people, whose parents took the exact opposite path to my mother. Since childhood, these people have been tormented with the “reality” of Hell and the belief that they could easily find themselves there. They invariably carry deep emotional scars and a foreboding sense of guilt just for being themselves and not being able to adapt to the dogmatic straightjacket into which they were born.

Invariably, the straight jacket isn’t discarded as an adult, which in turn leads to hypocritical behaviour as a person seeks to be their true self, while presenting a false face to the world in order to maintain their social acceptance. In many cases, the expression of the true self is regarded as somehow evil (even when it is obviously not) and held by the individual as being further proof of their ultimate damnation.

In several cases, these people have engaged in systematically self-destructive behaviour, almost as if they seek to act out the self that they have been told they are, at the expense of the self that they aspire to be. These behaviours have included everything from self-mutilation, to alcohol and drug abuse, to violent and otherwise antisocial activities.  This behaviour then feeds into and provides justification for the Hell narrative.

Should the straightjacket be discarded, the result is often significant social and family disharmony, up and including penalties, such as being disowned, disfellowshipped and rejected by one’s entire social support network. The person becomes free to plot their own path through eternity, but at significant cost.

Whatever the outcome, in my experience, inflicting the belief in Hell on children to the extent that they believe that it is a possibility for them, is uniformly destructive to the welfare of those children.

Make no mistake: Teaching belief in the Hell God is child abuse.

 

What is Hell?

Let us pause and consider what we mean when we speak of Hell. Both the Islamic Quran and the Christian New Testament are equally definite about Hell, although the Quran is especially graphic in its descriptions of the torments that await.

Judaism is mostly silent on issues of life after death, so Heaven and Hell don’t feature significantly within its theology.

At the most basic level Hell is considered a place of eternal torment (Matthew 13:41-50Mark 9: 43-49; Sura 4:56, Sura 19: 29 ) . Once you are there, there is no getting out Luke 16:26Sura 22: 19-22, Sura 47:15) so it is not like the doctrine of Purgatory, where there is at least some hope of escape.

Both the New Testament and the Quran make it clear that this is a destiny that awaits not only those who do evil in the world, but also those who reject the very teachings of Jesus, or Mohammed, respectively.

In other words, irrespective of which religion you are talking about, literally billions of people are condemned to eternal torment, not because they were evil, or caused harm to others, but because they couldn’t bring themselves to believe the unbelievable, or because much of their benign and even generous behaviour was considered sinful by someone else’s God.

 

Psychological Impact of a Belief in Hell

This belief has to be about the biggest psychological screw-over in history. To understand why, we need to put ourselves into the mind of a person who genuinely believes in the Hell God. So, for the remainder of this discussion, I’d like to ask you to imagine what it must be like to actually believe in this God with the same strength as you believe that the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

Firstly, our God has no problem with sending billions of people into eternal torment, so what on earth is going to keep us safe? How can we ever know that we too aren’t destined for the fires of hell? Short answer: We can’t!

God knows our every thought and deed and no amount of pretence is going to fool him, irrespective of how much our hypocrisy might fool others.

When burdened with this belief we aren’t just walking around with a possible death sentence over our head, we are walking around with the certain knowledge that the slightest transgression or doubt could land us in the fires of Hell.

Without massive self censorship of our thoughts and behaviours, our doom is almost guaranteed.

But even if we, as Hell believers thinks that they we in the clear, imagine what must it be like to live in a world where most don’t share any belief in our particular God?

Every day, each of us talks and interacts with many perfectly wonderful and admirable people, many who would willingly take great sacrifices on our behalf and perhaps even give their own lives in defence of ours (think police, firemen and ambulance). But because they aren’t followers of our God, we must face the undeniable “reality” that all of these amazing, generous and compassionate people are destined for eternal torture.

Unless we are a sociopath, how can this not play havoc with our mind? Unless we were the most emotionally and morally stunted people on the planet, how could we not see that this represents the utter repudiation of love, justice and mercy? In holding that fundamentally good people deserve eternal torture, we are turning morality on its head.

That all these wonderful people are destined for Hell, can only play havoc with our sense of right and wrong.  When good becomes evil, and evil becomes good, any and all barbarism in the name of religion can, will and has been justified.

Most of us know good and evil when we see it. There is a reason that we cheer Luke Skywalker, over Darth Vader, or Harry Potter over Lord Voldemort. This is because we recognise that irrespective of their beliefs, the former represent the forces of Light and growth, while the latter represent the forces of Darkness and decay.

Once we believe in the Hell God, there is no real point in cheering any of these characters. None of them are believers, so they are all destined for eternal torment in the fires of Hell, irrespective of how good, courageous and loving they were during their lives. There could be no joy in these stories.

For the Hell Believer, there are no happy endings.

Staying in the mind of the Hell God believer it seems clear that they are already well and truly on their way there. Fear cannot help but be a major part of their lives. If not fear for themselves, then fear for those that they love and care about. In many religious communities, apostates are shunned, cast out and even killed. Fear of Hell for the individual very quickly morphs into actual Hell for the community.

The idea that belief in Hell has a corrosive impact on people’s wellbeing is supported by recent, robust scientific research that shows belief in Hell is significantly correlated with and causal to unhappiness.

Fear of eternal damnation leads to fear of any idea, or ideology that contradicts that of the Hell God, and the very denial of the universe discovered by science.  The logical conclusion of belief in the Hell God is a repudiation of reality itself, lest the self be distracted from worship and end up in the fires of Hell.

 

Worship of the Hell God as a Character Flaw.

Belief is something that is largely out of our own control.

We believe things because we encounter sufficient evidence for them and for a child raised on a diet of Hellfire and Brimstone, this evidence, in the form of social, cultural and parental “proof”  has been frequent and often overwhelming.

If you doubt it, just try to believe that you teleport thousands of miles in an instant, just with a single thought. With the exception of people suffering some sort of psychosis, I’d suggest that you’ll find it impossible to believe something so obviously out of touch with the reality based universe that most of us inhabit. Such is an utter contradiction of the reality that we’ve experienced our whole lives.

We can’t deny our own reality, even if we don’t necessarily all agree about what it looks like. For example, I have a schizophrenic friend, who routinely tells me that dead people are in the room and that UFOs hover over his house. Nothing I, or anybody else says is ever likely to dent the certainty of these beliefs.

In my experience, it is difficult for people raised within the Hell God traditions to ever fully escape the existential dread of this worldview. It can take an enormous amount of work and personal self discovery before they are finally free.

 

holocaustgermancitizenswitnesses

Multiplying this by Infinity doesn’t make this an act of LIGHT.

(Image: German citizens forced to confront the reality of the death camps after the Nazi defeat in WWII.)

 

Worship, on the other hand is a voluntary behaviour over which we have control. While we might believe that a particular God exists, it is up to us whether or not we decide to Worship that being, or follow its dictates.

Now, some may argue that Worship follows naturally from the existence of God to the believer. If you believe it is inherent that you worship. But, I’d disagree with this, and to illustrate I’ll use the example of an earthly leader.

Followers are to leaders as worshippers are to Gods. But whether we choose to follow a particular leader is something that we decide. Our decision to follow isn’t entailed by the fact that someone is a leader.

Not only this, but if the leader is barbaric enough, we have a moral obligation to not follow them, irrespective of what penalties might befall us.

For example, if our leader is Adolf Hitler, or someone equally abhorrent, most would suggest that our moral obligation not only involves not following them, but in the active obstruction of whatever diabolical plans they might wish to implement.

Resorting to the Nuremberg Defence in these situations is rightly regarded as a moral cop-out. Our own personal culpability is not rendered null and void, simply because a leader orders us otherwise.

Similarly, if our God-Leader orders us to obey Him, we have a similar moral obligation to refuse those orders if it is clear that this God-Leader happens to be a servant of evil.

Those of us with even a shred of compassion and empathy rightly quail when presented with images of the victims of humanity’s inhumanity to each other. Whether it is the holocaust, victims of crimes such as rape, murder or assault, the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, or the brutal killings of the modern Islamic Fundamentalist we not only recoil from these acts, but understand that at they represent evil and the forces of Darkness at the most basic level.

Multiply these by Infinity and you have the depths of depravity that the worshippers of the Hell God seem to think is not only acceptable behaviour, but admirable to the point that the perpetrator must be idolised and elevated above all other beings.

Now, one might argue that in light of the brutality presented by such a barbaric and omnipotent being, the logic of Pascal’s Wager becomes even more convincing. Irrespective of what one might know to be the ethically correct thing to do, worship of such a being is an act of self-preservation, much as the following of an evil leader is also an act of self-preservation.

The Nuremberg Defence might have been a copout, but at least those people were still alive and well to make that defence, rather than being dead, or irredeemably broken by torture. Far better to stave off eternal torment through worshipping an evil being than try to face it down and face pointless suffering.

I certainly understand and sympathise with that argument. I doubt that I would have the courage to face down the barbarians who rage throughout our own world, let alone one who holds my infinite destiny in His sociopathic and heartless gaze. While I would hope to have the courage to spit in the Hell God’s face on Judgement Day, I can’t fault those who do not.

On the other hand, at least now we are being honest about the true nature of the threat and acknowledging that the Hell God is evil, rather than loving, merciful and just. Surely the moral reasons for opposing that being are just as real as those for opposing any other evil.

The greater the Evil, the greater the moral imperative to oppose its influence.

Irrespective of the justifications put forward, worship of an Evil God of Darkness is indicative of a flaw of character that mirrors that of any follower who obeys and idolises an evil leader.

Whether it represents a lack of empathy and compassion, cowardice, willful ignorance about one’s own path, or even a true commitment to evil and the Path of Darkness, worship of the Hell God is a sign that something Dark lurks within the breast of the worshipper and a sure sign that they are perhaps closer to the Hell that they see for others than any Heaven that they hope for themselves.