The Heart of Psychedelia
The Heart of Psychedelia
As our culture is embracing psychedelic medicines as legitimate psychological cures, as ancient cultures have for thousands of years, we might wonder… What is at the heart of the psychedelic experience?
If we lose ourselves in a fractal or a song, and have that experience that we call psychedelic, in that moment of disorientation we taste it, but what is it?
Is it as Louis Armstrong said about jazz, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know”? Or is it more akin to the title of Jimi Hendrix’s first album… “Are you Experienced”.
Perhaps we go so far as to discover reality itself… who we actually are… or even God.
As we look deeper, into the heart of it, to explore the root of the experience, let us do so with a focus on music.
Looking backwards in time I see that this has been a great passion of my life. My love of mind expansion and traveling has led me to some far out places, including handfuls of trips to the Peruvian Amazon, as well as other parts of the world, to work with master shamans. I have explored this passion for the entheogenic medicines through over 500 ceremonies, each one bringing different flavors of experience and revelation.
As a professional musician in the ceremonial context, I write and perform songs, playful yet profound, that function as existential lullabies to guide us through our madness and lead us into more peaceful, yet vibrant and beautiful dreams. I wouldn’t think to call this music psychedelic, but it is designed to support the journey through altered states.
As a hypnotherapist I provide counseling for those who are moving through, and integrating, the psychedelic experience. I find that the distortions of perception loosens the grip of old understandings of reality. Clients moving through a dark night of the soul, share a similar journey; coming home to ourselves. Reality can be revealed to be far more amazing than we could possibly imagine which points towards the heart of psychedelia.
Still from the music video "My World"
Psychedelia seems to offer that there is always more to know, and as we discover it, things that we thought we knew dissolve and disappear. Sometimes we find decisions we made long ago limit us in the present, or limit our understanding of reality, or limit who we think we are. Perhaps we go so far as to discover reality itself… who we actually are… or even God.
Descending into the rabbit hole of psychedelic music, perhaps it is best exemplified by the beat and the sitar of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows in which the lyrics encourage, “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream”. And, following the hypnotic drum solo that begins Hendrix’s I Don’t Live Today, and before the soaring distortion of his unaccompanied guitar, he intones “Existing… nothing but existing”.
The root of the word “heal” is the same as the root of the word “whole”.
We might find that it is as author Michael Hicks describes, that psychedelic music consists of dechronicization, depersonalization, and dynamization. In other words… the distortion of time, self, and movement. But we might go beyond the question of what it is, to the question of what might we love about it, and why, in order to approach the heart of it. Not just what it is, but why it matters.
To really get to the heart of it, we might venture further back into the roots of psychedelia which grew out of the ancient sacred medicine traditions. Since long before electric guitars or even sitars, healing ceremonies of the Amazonian rainforest have been using psychedelia, medicines and music, to heal the body, heart and mind.
My second trip to the Amazon spoke most clearly to the nature of the ceremonial music experience.
The shaman is a concert quality flautist and seems to be able to play any instrument. In fact, he seems to engage with everything as if it is music, as if everything is play. I once asked him a serious question for the sake of a friend, “What should we do if we come across evil clowns?” His serious answer was, “Juego”, which means “Play”.
Among the participants were some extremely colorful characters; a medicine man from Australia, a well-known singer of beautiful spiritual songs, a fellow who could play the didgeridoo and tambourine at the same time while channeling the Condor Spirit…and me, then a software engineer from San Francisco learning to play the flute.
At one point the Australian healer showed the shaman his shruti box, a droning sort of squeeze box, which he had purchased in India. The shaman looked it up and down. When he squeezed it, it made an awkward squeal. With a mischievous grin he did it again…and again, until his spontaneous invention of a wonderful backwards sounding jungle funk seemed to delight everyone present. The healer, recognizing that the shruti box had found its proper owner, said with a warm smile, “It’s yours”.
Still from the music video "Infinity to One"
The next day, I was visited at my tambo by the Condor Spirit conjurer. He considered himself a shaman, and his name was a conglomeration of symbols from various spiritual traditions. He told me a story with spiritual ramifications, and then, before he left, he paused. “Do you even know how to play the flute?”
In the sharing circle before the next ceremony, a professional bassist from Europe said that when I played the flute it was one of the most profound musical expressions he had ever witnessed.
Neither subtle criticism nor overt complement seemed to matter to me at all. It didn’t seem to belong to me. We each have our own direct experience, as it should be. It came and went without a trace… just a memory. Four or five breaths blown through a flute is nothing to hold on to. Nor is anything else. Whatever has come before is gone and only the question remains, “What now?” All that mattered to me was humility, gratitude, God, and the burning question of how can I give back? How can I be of service to the world?
I had no idea… until I discovered in my mind a plan fully formed. Maybe a part of me had been working on it, or perhaps it was delivered by the spirit of the medicine itself. I knew exactly what to do; I had a directive to follow, with detailed instructions, to resolve the conflict with my identical twin brother. Two weeks later, in our final visit to our childhood home, in the attic with an old friend present as a witness, we engaged in a process of ending the war between us, and becoming the very best of friends. That is another story.
There is the heart of psychedelia. It is in the healing. The root of the word “heal” is the same as the root of the word “whole”. To heal is to whole. It is what the heart does.
Following a ceremony, someone with wide and clear eyes once told me, “I notice when you say ‘I’ in your songs, you’re not talking about yourself.” So true, but I don’t even feel they are my songs. From my perspective, they were written by the medicine and by the circle, which is why they have so much heart.
Of the medicine, the shaman once said, “What does she give us, and what does she take away? She takes away our defects, and she gives us our life.”
Psychedelia warps our perceptions, perhaps so much that we realize that what we are seeing is not real, but the seeing itself is profoundly real. What we feel, what we think, what we believe, and what we know, are all apparitions and appearances. But the thinking, the feeling, the knowing… and each breath, is a priceless and boundless gift.
When we realize, “I am not who I think I am”, “The world is not what I think it is”, and in fact, “This is not my life”, then I suggest, we are being touched, and healed, by the heart of psychedelia.
The images above are from the music videos:
Dear Man: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QbJRKO6lW0
My World: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ttIO4LDSWc
Infinity to One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIWAZItepkg
For integration/healing support, visit complexHealing.com