The Goddess Guides Me to the Earthly Paradise
The top level of Purgatory was the Earthly Paradise, the original Garden of Eden. It was both a place of rest and refreshment from one’s arduous travails while purging oneself of the Seven Deadly Sins and a final process of more subtle purification, a polishing of the soul to prepare it to ascend to heaven. Here Dante’s pagan guide Virgil left him to return to Limbo and was replaced by Beatrice, who took over as his guide. It was Beatrice, who Dante had elevated to saintliness in the manor of the Romantic poets, who had interceded on Dante’s behalf in the first place, which is why he had been granted the boon of passing through Hell and Purgatory while still alive in order to alert him to his transgressions—of which denying Beatrice was most prominent. When he finished his course through Eden, she bore him aloft to the lower levels of heavenly paradise before he was finally returned to Earth to finish his life.
I am following the scheme of the Divine Comedy because I resonate with it; in many ways it is an effective template for my life’s journey. CIIS is not the Garden of Eden, but as I’ve said, metaphors are only meant to be suggestive of that which cannot be spoken of or described. Another way of phrasing it would be to say that the map is not the territory. Here on the plane of incarnate material existence, we experience everything as relative; and compared to my hellish existence in addiction, being at CIIS is like being inparadise! I mentioned before that I have a sense of being guided and held, as Dante was by Beatrice; and I do feel that a more subtle process of purification and personal growth than that of my earlier recovery is taking place during my passage through CIIS, as happened for Dante in his passage through the Earthly Paradise. This school, this community is for me the alembic, the alchemical retort in which I am being refined in the rich brew of knowledge, the nurturing psycho-emotional support that I find in abundance; through the dynamic processes of teaching and challenging that take place within it. Of course, a consciously determined effort on my part is necessary to make use of these resources in order to activate the process of transformation within me. In any case, while I find the metaphor of Dante’s journey a convenient map for my own, it will not do to push this or any metaphor too far. I am not, after all, a 14th century Catholic and I do not subscribe to that view of sin. But to return to my story:
In 1972, when I encountered ISKCON devotees and the wisdom of the Bhagavad-Gita, I became convinced that spirituality was not necessarily just an abstract belief system that provided social glue to bond people together and assuage their fear of death; I saw that it was a legitimate means of knowing. Since then, though, I had been obliged to hold two conceptual worldviews and value systems which had been declared mutually exclusive by the reigning paradigm of scientific materialism: the esoteric and the scientific—or, as some have styled it because of its demands of obedience and exclusivity, “scientism.” Until I arrived at CIIS, it certainly seemed to me that “never the twain shall meet,” and it created discord and distress in me because I couldn’t see how to resolve the tension between the two systems, each of which had obvious value. The strengths of science were apparent all around us—though we’ve only begun to acknowledge its weaknesses in the last 30 years or so—but it seemed to me that the value of Vedanta, Buddhism and Taoism couldn’t be denied, either.
My deeply-felt sense of the legitimacy of spirituality—as distinct from religiosity—increasingly came to include shamanic practices as I learned more about them. Yet they, more than the established major religious systems of the world, were dismissed as the nonsense magical thinking of primitives by the Western scientific received view, which was rapidly becoming the predominant worldview all over the planet. If one stops to consider that shamanism is still practiced by First Peoples all over the world today tens of thousands of years after its inception, it seems to me only natural to question why that would be so if it had no actual basis in fact; no useful results for the societies that support it. The way that scientific materialism dismisses this known fact is by dismissing the people who practice it as little better than children, because they don’t have mathematics or highways and the cars to clog them. This perspective still reflects the ethnocentric, Eurocentric view that sponsored the colonial period.
The various branches of paranormal science, though practiced by investigators who are trained in Western scientific procedures and ways of thinking, also operate under a cloud because they address issues that cannot be weighed or measured. But since I was attracted to many things esoteric, I found that most, if not all, of the paranormal sciences are investigating many phenomena through modern, Western methods that were described and accepted as legitimate by shamans and different Eastern schools of philosophy in antiquity; so I took interest in them. This placed me further beyond the pale.
So by 2006, when I graduated from FAU, I was floating down the river of life with my feet on two different boats and was growing tired from the tension of holding them together in the current. Further complicating matters was a third element I had to juggle that also clamored for my time and attention: recovery practices and the lessons I had learned in that world, which I could increasingly see applied to other aspects of life than just staying clean. I could not talk about those lessons outside of therapy or 12-Step meetings; on the other hand, I couldn’t talk about anything else that was important to me but them in the Fellowship, which I was beginning to feel was too constrictive for me. Nor could I bring the views and information from school into therapy unless they applied to my psychic wholeness. I wasn’t going to my therapist to discuss history, cultures, worldviews or the principles of psychology, of which I had a superficial knowledge in any case. So I found myself simultaneously trying to bridge three, major streams in my life that I had to navigate on my own.
My salvation from this dilemma first began when I discovered transpersonal psychology; then it continued as my studies revealed the mystical core of shamanic practices as well as the mystical origins of the major religions. I found that these anthropological discoveries were coordinated with psychology by the field of the anthropology of consciousness, so I consulted their website to find where I could get a graduate degree in the anthropology of consciousness. Evidently there is not such a thing, because that website recommends attending schools featuring transpersonal psychology, which subsumes concepts addressed by the anthropology of consciousness. That search then led me to the California Institute of Integral Studies. I knew little about integral philosophy or psychology at that time, but I was attracted to the notion of integrating different disciplines that had grown apart through the analytic process of over-specialization, but which desperately needed to be re-integrated to produce a new synthesis. This was also exactly what I wanted and needed in my own life: to somehow unite the three, major streams that informed my existence! That’s why my initial intake interview with the chair of East-West Psychology had such a profound impact on me: it showed me that my hopes for such a process were not just pipe dreams but were a fact in this institute! I was ecstatic!
I had arrived at the Earthly Paradise on top of the Mountain of Purgatory. Here I would further purify my heart and refine my consciousness in the company of others who had reached a similar stage in their own journeys.
The Magic of Isis
Here I introduce another metaphor I resonate with and that I feel applies well at this point. In the pantheon of ancient Egypt, Isis, the wife and sister of Osiris, was among other things the Queen of Magic. Osiris had been treacherously killed, his body chopped up and its parts distributed throughout the known Egyptian world of that time by his jealous brother and rival, Set, the God of Chaos. Isis went throughout the world seeking those parts and, by her magic, she found them. Her preeminent magical act was reunifying the parts of Osiris’ body and restoring life to him long enough for her to mate with him to produce their son Horus, a solar deity. Then Osiris was able to voyage consciously into the star kingdom from whence he reigned over the underworld, or afterlife. The principle here that is relevant to my story is the act of bringing new life through the (re)unification of disparate parts.
This process began for me on St. Kitts when I met Plant Teacher though the agency of ibogaine. The subtle parts of my self—energetic aspects of my somatic form, my vital will, my heart center, and my mind—were reassembled and reunified to produce a whole, functioning person. The heavy veil that had come down over my connection to the divine was pulled back, freeing me to resume a spiritual life. Dr. Mash and her team often said that treatment with ibogaine was like pushing a “re-set” button on the body of an addict: all systems that had become chaotic and unbalanced over time through the constant adding of foreign chemicals and the failure to provide needed sustenance were somehow, magically re-set to their default condition in a single treatment. I began to unite those parts on deeper, subtler levels than I had been able to imagine before.
Like most modern Westerners, I was never prepared for or led through a rite of passage into adulthood; but the healing and sacred journey I experienced on St. Kitts was also that initiation. When I went to the Holistic Treatment facility in Miami Beach, I continued that process as the next phase of my journey of recovery. In early recovery, the primary concern is to establish a sense of hope and belonging in order to avoid relapse; but as I mentioned before, when I advanced further in recovery I felt that I was no longer recovering from my unhealthy state as much as I was now recovering toward the dreams and personal potential I had forfeited during my dark sojourn in the Pit of addiction. One representation of this change in process might be the analogy of going from being a churchgoer to being a contemplative mystic. An example of one behavioral modification resulting from this change in perspective was that I began trying to extend my service beyond the confines of the 12-Step fellowship to the greater world of those suffering addiction in other forms; those suffering in the same form as I, but who had not made it into the rooms of recovery; and those suffering from such proto-addictive states as anxiety, depression and alienation. In our unhealthy, materialistic Western society, that describes over half the population. Today I prepare myself to offer my services to these masses through both my training in and service to the intentional community I found in CIIS. I am preparing myself to teach and do research, my life-long goals anyway and the natural expressions of my gifts; but not in some disconnected, ivory tower branch of the Academy. Though I am in the world of academe, I see myself as a servant of humanity and the biosphere and as an agent for the evolutionary urge inherent in the cosmos.
Over the course of my life I had gradually become completely cynical and despairing. Even after having met many wonderful people and experienced various miraculous events since I went to St. Kitts, I still had a lingering tendency to doubt that things could really work out for me, who was, after all, lower than a snake’s belly in the mud. Of course I didn’t think like that consciously any more—I was enjoying a renaissance of hope and possibilities—but negative patterns of thought, feeling and belief such as this become encoded in the midbrain and hindbrain of an addict and permeate their personal unconscious. From there they contaminate an addict’s thinking and behavior, manifesting as the “stinking thinking” made popular by Alcoholics Anonymous. This situation is a clear example of Jung’s admonishment that unconscious complexes must be brought into consciousness in order to be addressed and integrated in a healthy fashion; otherwise they manipulate the individual like the strings of a marionette. That work of becoming aware of deeply-held, unconscious beliefs and attitudes constitutes one of the core principles of recovery. Eight of the 12 Steps address the process of psychological self-examination and suggest a type of behavioral adjustment; how the individual addict chooses to actively pursue those adjustments is what constitutes their “program.” Three of the remaining four Steps address the process of spiritual growth and connection with the sacred; and the last proposes a life of compassionate service.
Continuing the allegory of a magical reunification of the disparate parts of my person, my deeply held, self-denigrating beliefs were major stumbling blocks in the process of returning to life. They were not only roadblocks to my progress, they were also signs that told me that I didn’t deserve [happiness, success, acceptance etc.]; that I couldn’t [accomplish, move ahead, change etc.]; that I wasn’t [smart-, handsome-, lovable- etc. enough]; and other signifiers that I was a loser. Over all, they symbolized every possible expression of the archetypal chastisement: “Thou Shalt Not”—live a satisfying life with other humans.
The Magical Alembic
So although the School of Consciousness and Transformation seemed to be exactly the sort of crucible I was looking for and dreaming of, a nagging voice of doubt cautioned that I had probably built it up into more than it could possibly be; in other words, I was just projecting my needs upon this title and that it only represented a fanciful wish fulfillment. There could be no reprieve for this outcast.
Imagine my astonishment and joy when I arrived at CIIS and found my experience of the reality to be even better than I had dared to dream! The chair of my department (East-West Psychology) who conducted my intake interview had to weather my outpouring of enthusiasm; I’m surprised he didn’t disqualify me for mental instability! Not only was I able to join a community of people dedicated to goals and values similar to mine; but I also found that a spirit of dialogical, group inquiry was promoted where the professor was an informed guide but not the ultimate arbiter of absolute reality. This was so empowering to students! Of course even in this academic dreamland all is not ideal and perfect; but I’ve found the closest approach to a Socratic Academy I had ever heard of. I was, quite simply, overjoyed—and I still am. As an undergraduate I came to believe that all psychology (all scholarship, really) should be grounded philosophically, in the sense of bearing in mind the paradigm under which one operates. I had now found a school where questions of ontology (the nature of being) and epistemology (the nature of knowledge) were raised even when they weren’t the primary topic under consideration.
I knew from my recovery efforts that I’d been completely isolated in my head and disconnected from my body; from my heart (which includes emotion but also empathic connection with other living beings); and from my vital energy centers; as well as being blocked from the awareness of spirit that I had begun to cultivate as a devotee of Sri Krishna. My new community was not only academic but one that often challenged me to engage specifically those aspects of myself that were banished to the Dark Lands of my psyche. So long as they languished in the gulag of my old addictive regime, I would never be whole. Seeking them and struggling to reintegrate them into my psyche is essential recovery work, so I had found a community where the three, major energetic streams of my life—recovery, spiritual growth, and academic, professional development—were now merged together into one, great Amazon River of Life: yet another level of integration. Here, I can work towards becoming not just a scholar, but also a more whole and more fulfilled human being.
A trajectory was begun in my little room in the gulag that led through St. Kitts, to South Florida and finally to CIIS in San Francisco. That journey was characterized by miracles, synchronous events and serendipity; it was rarely under my control. I was guided by Spirit or Higher Power as I understood it and my success was in following the trail of bread crumbs laid out for me by Isis, my rescuer, my salvation.
“And Now, for Something Completely Different…”
“The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for.” – Oscar Wilde.
When I was wondering where to go to graduate school, one major consideration was: “Where would my little contribution make the most significant difference?” I remembered Archimedes’ famous statement, “Give me a place to stand and I can move the world with a lever.” So where might I stand to achieve the greatest leverage for my effort, given my abilities? Joining a like-minded community would make the most sense, I thought, and began looking for one.
I have presented a perhaps poetic narrative of my life in order to support my contention that events and circumstances led me inexorably to the California Institute of Integral Studies, an intentional community suitable for my own development; one harmonious with my goals and abilities, where my contribution could become part of a larger effort. In Dante’s time, in order to further such goals I would have had to join a brotherhood and retire to a monastery. This intentional community, international in its makeup, is more open to this world and more engaged in disseminating healers and teachers into it, a change that I believe is consonant with—and indeed, results from—the changing zeitgeist.
I hope that I have clarified in this story the genesis of my scholarly focus and personal interests. My professional interests include consciousness studies, which I hope will reveal a more comprehensive view of addiction; psychedelic research, to better understand and support an entheogenic approach to its treatment; and efforts to craft a new paradigm that will, among other things, promote change in the socio-cultural values and structures that at present encourage the development of addictions. My own need for healing and growth benefits from these studies as well, as I garner insight and understanding of my own past and present conditions during the course of them; I also benefit through enjoying the new geographic, socio-cultural, energetic, and spiritual environment of my community. I see it as an alembic, or alchemical container, that supports my transformative effort to evolve. I hope that I have made clear my inescapable sense of protection, guidance, and support by a superhuman agency, that for the sake of simplicity I choose to call Spirit as a generic label for my gradually evolving vision of what that might be.
Included in my narrative is a picture of the damage done to human beings under the influence of modern, Western society. From my studies as an undergraduate anthropology student, I know that the stated laws and defined behaviors of society arise from the implicit mores and unwritten, informally taught values of its culture. This intangible, unvoiced constellation is in a dynamic equilibrium with the language of a people and with their Weltanschauung, a cosmological world view. Culture, language and cosmology are three, vital foundations of human society; although one can consider them separately to better understand each, it is a capital mistake to forget that they comprise a Gestalt, a unified whole. A major fallacy of the reductionist paradigm is to think that each one can be adjusted independently. Such thinking can be seen in modern medicine, for instance, when biomedical scientists think they can correct some nervous disorder with a medication specific to the problem, only to find later that some other part of the complex, interconnected mechanism of the human body responds with another malfunction, for instance, a cancerous growth. My favorite metaphor for this piecemeal problem-solving is the effort to pick up spilled mercury: the effort to gather it often compounds the problem by producing a multitude of smaller droplets of mercury. Thus contemporary solutions, offered by one expert after the other to address the host of modern problems, often produce new problems even if they solve the immediate one in a lasting and healthy manner, which is all too often proves not to be the case. This shows that a narrow view arising from hyper-specialization—a natural result of the exclusively analytic approach of the scientific materialist paradigm—is ultimately unbalanced and thus inadequate. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the dehumanizing effects of biomedical science. Analysis is a powerful and valuable tool, but it needs to be linked with synthesis in order to gain a holistic, and thus realistic, vision of life and the world. The concept of Gaia, historically known as Mother Earth, is certainly one of an interconnected whole, where the physical and biological elements are inextricably intertwined—as is demonstrated by, for instance, the so-called “butterfly effect” and is elaborated in chaos theory.
A Psycho-Social Addiction Manifesto
Not only is the reductionist paradigm an ineffective approach to solving the problems of life, the resulting collateral damage on human beings is that they suffer alienation from themselves, each other, and the larger ecosystem. Addiction is an extreme example of the atomizing process, but similar effects are manifest in modern societies to a lesser degree in the forms of anxiety, depression and despair, with their devastating consequences for the individuals that make up those societies.
It is no longer possible for a single scholar to grasp the whole tapestry of our cosmos—the day of the Renaissance man is over—but an approximation can be achieved by a community of open-minded researchers engaged in dialogical inquiry. Discourse in a spirit of humility and cooperation among those scholars imbued with a sense of awe and wonder at the Great Mystery is well-suited for discovering the interlocking systems and “patterns that connect,” to use Gregory Bateson’s phrase, that best describe the world we live in and the cosmos as a whole. A sense of the possibilities for a meaningful human life is a natural concomitant of this approach, one desperately needed in order to change the social climate from one that promotes desperation, alienation, mental illness, predatory crime and disrespect for one’s self and for others to one that sponsors cooperation, community and fulfilled human lives.
The atmosphere of openness and humility required for dialogical inquiry permits a blending of epistemologies (theories of knowing) developed by Eastern, Western and indigenous cultures; each has its own perspective and attendant body of knowledge to contribute. Meanwhile, a spirit of humility in the presence of the Great Mystery makes it less likely that anyone will hold their path to be the only way of approaching the vastness of the cosmos; or maintain that they actually know the absolute truth for all peoples everywhere. Contention can be replaced by cooperation to produce a more comprehensive and holistic appreciation of the manifold possibilities of the wondrous whole of our cosmos.
Such a shift of attitude and intent would help to disempower old, generational cycles of child abuse in which children suffer demeaning accusations of being somehow “not enough.” Belittling and similar challenging behavior is intrinsic to contemporary Western culture’s highly competitive character and excessive emphasis on the individual as opposed to society. Increasing the emphasis on community cooperation without losing sight of the fact that it is composed of individually meaningful individuals can result in a natural withering away of the atmosphere of constant challenge; the view of a dog-eat-dog world that is a lingering remnant from our distant past as primitive beings in a savage, uncivilized world. If widespread child abuse were curtailed, addiction would be much less prevalent in society because human beings who feel themselves to be worthy individuals leading meaningful lives do not seek to escape themselves or to nullify those lives.
These generational, familial cycles are hard to eradicate because parents who suffered from unkind treatment themselves tend to pass it along unconsciously. Though not truly engaged as a parent myself, I was once in the position of helping another to raise a child: to my horror, I found that on one occasion I treated the child in a way that I had been treated, even though I had sworn to myself that I would never subject a child to the disparagement. The tendency to react automatically to children’s behavior in an unconscious manner represents one’s own unwanted and unaddressed complexes that were acquired in the wounding of one’s own childhood; thus the damage passes unconsciously from one generation to the next. Our materialistic society constantly reinforces the message to look outside of oneself for answers and satisfaction; so the vital process of introspection required for individuation and healing is rarely mentioned and not commonly supported—though this situation seems to be gradually changing, thank heavens.
Notice that one’s state of consciousness is at the core of these cycles. In his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Dr. Gabor Maté, a physician who has been treating addicts for over a decade, calls addiction a dark mirror in which society sees reflected its own weakness, fear and false attachments (p. 414). This perspective helps to explain the negative reaction that even the care-giving community tends to manifest toward addicts. He allows that addicts are often a difficult group to treat, but points out that due to their generally underdeveloped emotional maturity, they have poorly defined boundaries and are childlike in their sensitivity to the emotional state of those with whom they have to deal. If one is inwardly haughty and judgmental in one’s dealings with them, what to speak of antagonistic, they reflect that back in their reaction to such attitudes. Notice that the treatment—or mistreatment—of addicts is similar to the mistreatment of children that we just considered, and that Dr. Maté likens addicts to children in their degree of maturation. He points out that current established procedures for handling addicts is more likely to maintain their condition than to heal it—just as the abusive treatment of children continues to propagate generational wounding.
Ultimately one’s reaction to addicts depends upon one’s own psycho-emotional state of being—which, again, mainstream society does not encourage one to examine. Instead, it promotes the idea that problems are “out there” in the world; that bad attitudes arise in somebody else. Even when one consciously thinks that addicts are sick people instead of bad, morally defective people, still there often remains an unconscious taint of judgment attached to this ostensibly humane attitude: it was their bad choices and thus their fault that they’re in that condition; they deserve what they get. An unconscious society wants and needs disreputable and unwanted “others” on which to project its unaddressed shadow issues, and addicts are outstanding candidates for this role.
This state of affairs continues partly because of widespread, multi-generational, traumatizing behaviors in the family and partly because of prevalent judgmental attitudes inherent in some religions and philosophical worldviews. The persistence of such attitudes and their resultant behaviors are major obstacles to the evolution of our species. Inhumane behavior that inhibits the development of children often arises from unconscious complexes in the psyche; thus Jung’s impetus to promote the process of bringing as much of the unconscious as possible into consciousness. This, the core of individuation, is the beginning of recovery for addicts, and vitally necessary for its success.
Callous, even predatory treatment of weaker family members by stronger ones produces in the former a sense that the world is a cruel, cold and fearsome place. This results in a felt need to enact the same behavior in order to protect oneself and to get as much of the limited resources for oneself as one can. Or the individual may, depending upon their native characteristics, adopt the attitude of a passive victim, turning inward any aggressive feelings that arise from resentment of the unkind treatment they have suffered. In either case, “hurt people hurt people,” as they say in the 12-Step fellowship, where “hurt” is used first as an adjective and then as a verb. So it goes on and on, with one outcome being the callous treatment of the ecosystem and our planet by people who have been desensitized by a constant inundation of inhumane behavior that may have begun in their upbringing, but later includes such larger social outrages as war, terrorism, ethnic cleansing and slavery. In his book, The Trobriand Islands (1915), Bronislaw Malinowski spoke of bestial behavior by drunken fathers towards their wives and children in most European families in the early 19th century; yet it was only a few years ago that I witnessed parents allow their child to act in a way that risked his personal injury; then, when he did get hurt, roughly order him to “shake it off” and catch up with them, since they had kept walking and left him behind. In that instant, I knew that a deep scarring of that child’s heart had just taken place in front of me; I felt pain for him; for my inner child who suffered similar unsympathetic treatment; and for my species, all at once in an overwhelming Gestalt. When parents think they’re doing their children a favor by their draconian treatment of them because “it’s a cold, cruel world out there,” so their child will be better prepared for it because of their harsh regime, they don’t realize that they’re ensuring that the world—human society in particular—remains cold and cruel. In my experience, addicts are often too sensitive to suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” so their using behavior is an effort to medicate the constant pain of existence, or existential angst.
Generational cycles of wounding will go on indefinitely until a greater degree of consciousness, resulting from widespread introspection and reflection, becomes commonplace in society instead of the unconscious and instinctual behaviors which are neo-Darwinian residues from the early days of human history, when we were more often prey than predator. At that time, the constant presence of fear was a meaningful and useful survival characteristic. Jung said that we have two million years of conditioning in our psyches, referring to the collective unconscious that we all share; but the anatomy and physiology of our brains also reveals that the neo-cortex, our proud achievement, is but a thin layer on top of the older mammalian mid-brain and the even older reptilian hindbrain; so ancient programming wired into our nervous systems is still very much with us. Only a concerted and focused effort will enable us to reprogram the harsh lessons we learned during our long evolutionary journey. Business as usual will have us continue to live a medieval lifestyle, when we only needed to mimic the work and behavior of our parents to be prepared for adult life; but now the modern world is changing faster than we can even keep up with. This situation is enough to produce culture shock in anyone sensitive and awake enough to recognize the disjunction; that alone is sufficient to traumatize the more sensitive human beings and create free-floating anxieties in the rest. Martin Buber said in I and Thou that the pervasive norm is for people to be treated as an “it” instead of a “thou,” while John Firman and Ann Gila said in The Primal Wound that a devastating lifelong wound of existential angst is inflicted on us when we are treated as owned objects rather than as independent subjects. In his four-quadrant world system, Ken Wilber said that the reductionist/materialist worldview eliminated the two left-hand, subjective quadrants and left only the right-hand, objective ones to work with, thus creating what he called “Flatland.” This inhumane state of affairs creates a deep wounding in human beings that commonly results in anxiety, depression and addictions.
A mechanistic, disenchanted and meaningless universe is not an environment for vital, spiritual beings animating material bodies. If that is our true description, it goes far to explain the widespread malaise observed in modern American society today. A notice in the June 2005 U.S. News & World Report summarized a study just then completed by researchers from Harvard and the University of Michigan, sponsored by the NIMH and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. The article said that 46% of the American public suffers from diagnosable mental illness, mostly depression, anxiety and substance abuse. The study further reported that at least half of the mentioned conditions manifest by age 14—meaning that they almost certainly arose from child abuse—and are often undiagnosed for decades. We can reasonably assume that after so much time, deep psychic scarring has taken place, so that pressing surface problems will have to be addressed before the originating problem(s) lying deep beneath the “psychic scar tissue” can even be approached.
Meeting Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise
Such considerations—though of course in a more nascent state—were major factors influencing a primary decision facing me when I came to the stage of choosing a graduate school: I knew I wanted to enter a psychology program; but should I try to become a therapist, or prepare for teaching and doing research? I was becoming aware of the larger, historical picture I just described when I approached this decision, so it occurred to me that treating addicts in an environment that promoted addictive behavior was an uphill struggle for both therapist and client—I knew firsthand how long and hard a struggle it was. I decided that I should direct my contribution to the effort to change the reigning paradigm that sponsors unhealthy societal conditions which in turn promote cyclical familial wounding.
That is a tall order for an individual, so I felt I could best execute this plan of action by joining a community of educators of like mind. In this way we could begin disseminating the clarion call for an increased conscious awareness of the crippling socio-cultural cycles plaguing our society, and of the damage to our inner lives as well. It is also true that my native characteristics favor teaching over being a therapist, so that was an important factor in my decision, too.
I found such a community in my department at CIIS. Continuing the theme of Dante’s Divine Comedy as a metaphoric template for my life’s journey I will, however, substitute Sophia or Saraswati, the divine goddesses of wisdom and learning in Hellenistic Greek and Vedic cultures respectively, for Dante’s love, Beatrice. This divine feminine guide took over from Virgil as Dante reached the river Lethe in his course through Eden, the Earthly Paradise on top of the mountain of Purgatory—again, the World Mountain. I have been seeking wisdom and knowledge since I was eight, as I mentioned at the start of my tale; and my own mother was unable to nurture me; so the image of following a divine goddess is very attractive to me. It also explains why I feel that psychology must be philosophical, since that means “loving wisdom” in the original Greek. The express purpose of maintaining a philosophical stance in my psychological inquiry is to become aware of the Weltanschauung, or containing myth, in which I am situated, because that governs the scope of my investigations.
I no longer feel ashamed of admitting my limitations, as that is the human condition. That frees me to offer my fundamental stance, the beginning point and foundation of my investigations, openly in any discussion of theories, discoveries, and perspectives. This furthers the cause of scholarly discourse by way of first, confessing a sense of humility which prepares the ground for open and non-contentious discussion; and second, by clarifying the set of definitions and assumptions supporting one’s argument, which helps to avoid confusion and inappropriate discord that may result from a comparison of apples and oranges.
The sum and substance of my life’s journey has led me to believe that all things observable must be subsumed within and organized by an all-pervasive and conscious Source. That led me to accept the concept of God, which I construed as Krishna through my involvement with ISKCON. There I studied the Bhagavad-Gita, Bhagavat Purana, and Chaitanya Charitamrita while worshiping the murtis (forms) of the Lord and performing other devotional service. But eventually, as I progressed in recovery I began to feel that this container no longer completely held me, though it was still my sense that I had encountered a feature of Truth there. I just began to feel that it was time for me to include other faces of Truth, which is infinite. I recalled my earlier attraction to indigenous wisdom and shamanic practices, and wondered how to incorporate these aspects of Truth, too, in my growing worldview.
I was guided by Spirit, by the divine ministrations of the goddess of learning Sophia/Saraswati, to find CIIS. When I arrived there, I discovered the integral philosophy and yoga of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother expressed through the work of Haridas Chaudhuri, the school’s founder. I found this to be a revelation: it helped me to find not only a way to expand the vision I had garnered from the Vaishnava path of bhakti yoga, but also how to incorporate indigenous wisdom as well. Moreover, I found esoteric Western teachings being studied that are generally ignored by mainstream American education; I saw that those investigations into the Great Mystery expressed valuable perspectives which enriched rather than contended with the wisdom of the East. I was impressed by the openness to multiple perspectives and ways of knowing that I found in the department of East-West Psychology, which allowed discussion of psychedelic science; I had not encountered this before. Thus I found a scholarly community that was inclusive of spirituality and philosophy, where I could unify the diverse currents that informed my life and where I could pursue my investigations into psychology and psychedelics—or entheogens, as I now call them.
At CIIS I also found the beginnings of a project to develop the conception of integral education. This is vitally important to the healing and unification of damage done to the psyche by the rationalist-materialist paradigm. If the health and holistic sense of individual psyches is preserved and encouraged rather than denied and defeated, so too will our society—which is, after all, composed of individuals—become healed of the inhumane tension engendered by the denial of meaning inherent in the Flatland mentality arising from a reductionist view of a disenchanted universe. As that cruel denial of purpose is removed and those intolerable tensions reduced, then and only then will we see a reduction of the all-pervasive existential angst inherent in our society that leads to depression and addictions. This vision is consonant with the intention I expressed above to direct my efforts to the project of fixing the broken social apparatus that generates addicts in ever-greater numbers rather than trying to fix broken people one by one—which I know by personal experience to be a long, hard, painful and expensive procedure.
This larger healing of social ills can be achieved only through what Thomas Kuhn described as a paradigm revolution. Until the governing worldview is changed, it seemed to me that efforts to fix and heal individuals would be band-aid measures at best; rendered ultimately fruitless as suggested by the metaphor I mentioned earlier of picking up mercury. So I see my contribution to developing an integral education and an integral perspective in general to be fulfilling of the mandate to help other suffering addicts that I acquired when I became part of the 12-Step fellowship. While I am no longer active in the fellowship, my responsibility is life-long. If I can help coax the educational system to adopt an integral perspective, then I would contribute to the creation of a new engine of enculturation that would begin the long range project of changing the dominant paradigm. I see this project as vitally necessary, as the old one is holding our society frozen in a diseased condition, the ramifications of which grow daily more serious. Our citizens are filled with anxiety which arises from the existential angst they feel as a result of the sense of meaninglessness that organic beings feel when they are forced into the mechanical form of corporate units of production and consumption. Our natural capacity for self-righting, or homeostasis, is short-circuited when we are taught to seek answers and happiness outside ourselves.
Changing the governing paradigm of a culture and society is a massive project. Efforts to do so directly can no doubt be made through outreach programs, media campaigns etc., but it would be best achieved by changing the education system first, since that would engender gradual change rather than a traumatizing revolution. It is in higher education that students, future citizens, are confirmed in their culture’s reigning worldview, as it is there that the enculturation process that they have been exposed to since childhood culminates. Eventually, students learning the new paradigm in school will become parents and in due course elders, who will teach the new view to coming generations from birth; but in the beginning there will be several transitional generations that will have to deal with the discord of conflicting perspectives. A truly integral education will help the transitional generations to see that they don’t have to deny everything they have learned before; they just have to add more—and what is added will help them to feel better about life and about themselves. That aspect should not be too hard a sell; then eventually we may see the gradual elimination of the truth value in Albert Einstein’s quote, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”
In the beginning, integral education will be transformative for those raised in the old paradigm —like me. Then they will have to learn that all of the human dimensions—body, vital, heart, mind and consciousness—can and must be invited to participate in the co-creative group creation of knowledge through dialogical inquiry. We can see that such activities in academe will gradually promulgate similar attitudes in society at large; which should lead to a pluralistic cooperation among people of differing cultures and belief systems.
I won’t pursue this obviously rich vein of thought further here; I only want to reiterate that the current social, cultural, educational, religious and philosophical forces that promote fractured, alienated people—from which come the current, burgeoning crop of addicts—will be changed to instead promote a holotropic movement in society that respects and encourages the fabulous multidimensionality of that extraordinary creature known as human beings.
Nurtured in the Arms of the Goddess
And now I beg your indulgence if I wax poetic and even a bit sentimental. I am a Romantic and a Leo as well, so such manner of expression comes naturally to me; also, my stay in the Earthly Paradise of my intentional community at CIIS has had a profound effect on me.
One must approach Truth like a lover: with one’s heart in one’s hands, love on one’s breath and adoration in one’s mind. This is the way to approach the sacred precincts of the holy, wherein resides the divine Truth of all beings.
That is how I feel about the search for divine wisdom and the reunion with soul, with which I feel that modern, Western people—and by virtue of the colonial nature of global corporatization, much of the world’s population—have lost contact. This search is a holy mission for me as a human being and a necessary part of my healing as an addict. It is a never-ending pilgrimage to the Great Mystery, one that ennobles the spirit, uplifts the heart and makes life itself an ecstatic experience. I think that the Muse, a goddess of nature, sang the siren song of this pursuit when she influenced Jimi Hendrix to sing, in the song “Are You Experienced?” on his 1967 album of the same name: “Trumpets and violins I can hear in the distance, baby, calling my name.”
The hallowed path of this pilgrimage leads through ancient forests of ancestral wisdom. It is strewn with rose petals by angels and fairies to scent the atmosphere with tendrils of imagination that guide us to regions of fantastic, archetypal influence—also with thorns that return us with a bump from there to practice what we learned there, here on this Earth. This path is lined with secret bowers where divine revelation is heard in the gentle burbling of sweet, timeless waters singing paeans of possibility to us as they burble over the rocks hoary with age that are the knowing bones of the cosmos. Here naiads, handmaidens of the Goddess, gambol in the primal waters of Creation that still reflect the Eternal Light which illumines our otherwise dark world. This world is made of love and consciousness—if one has but the eyes to see it and the heart to feel it.
“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
By cleaving to this path, I have an opportunity to transmute the pain and suffering of my long, dark, addictive path through Hell, and the difficult struggle up the holy mountain of Purgatory, into the possibilities inherent in the role of Wounded Healer. In this way, I may be able to ascend to the socio-cultural role of elder and be transformed by the process of giving. By honoring this path, I am honoring the Goddesses of Gaia, Isis, and Sophia who protected and preserved me for a greater mission, when I only sought to end my travail. This is a somewhat different perspective than I had as a dying dope fiend, you may notice. If I did it, then so can anyone.
Friedrich von Schiller said “Keep true to the dreams of thy youth,” and Joseph Campbell said “Follow your bliss”; these are the signposts that help me stay on the path that began with the numinous, heavenly calling I experienced when I was eight. At St. Kitts I added to that a sense of connection with the Earth and my ancestors that I was given by the plant teacher of ibogaine; and through meditation in Vaishnava temples and in other entheogenic experiences, I have been graced with visions of God. I will follow such dreams as lead me to freedom, knowledge, and divine Love for all the days remaining to me. I pray that in some, small degree I can give back what was so freely given to me and serve the divine will of Source through my actions. As long as breath is granted me, I will continue to explore the fabulous mystery of life in the company of angels and soul mates who masquerade as my friends and mentors.