Monday, March 30, 2009

Wholeness - Chris Alford

It is strikingly clear that a growing disharmony exists between the Western world and the Earth. In a personal sense, the reality of this statement strikes a deep chord of truth, resonating with an increasingly fierce need to rediscover this lost harmony. As a Westerner, my journey is but an individual manifestation of a wider search for lost wholeness and harmony. I believe that transcendental experience is a vital link between the Earth and her wayward human offspring.

Hallucinogens can be the awakening of a dormant realisation of truly being of the earth. They can enable one to realise that aspirations for developing intelligence, as the precursor to understanding life, are fundamentally limited. I think that most people in Western society are brought up to feel that knowledge and technology are the only tools for the evolution the individual and human society. This is reinforced by systems of education which predominantly stress a scientific understanding of our relation with the natural world. Winkelman’s (1997) Altered States of Consciousness and Religious Behaviour provides that the use of LSD triggers the transcendence of established psychological functioning, resulting in peak experiences of interconnectedness unity and meaningfulness. This can manifest in realising, through an intuitive knowledge, that one is an organism growing within the bosom of the earth. Moments of lucidity driven by this realisation are contrasted by the deep bewilderment at the grossly fragmented understanding many people have of their existence .

My own experience has fuelled a need in me to continually evolve my experience of reality. I have thus been deeply drawn to particular kinds of experience which facilitate the advancement of perception, discrimination and intuition. I have found this primarily through my immersion in the spiritual system of Yoga. My practices, both physical (asana) and mental/metaphysical, (Laya Meditation) are awakening a greater sense of connectedness and clarity, my outlook being less influenced by a feeling of separation and wholly more a part of the music of earthly rhythm. At least a part of this experience has been qualified by clinical studies on meditation. Winkelman’s (1997) analysis shows that alongside various positive psychological benefits (ego regression, accessing unconscious material, greater understanding of psychological functioning) there is also a tendency for transcendent experiences, arising from meditation, to lead to long-term beneficial changes within the practitioner.

Transcendental experiences or ASC offer us access to subconscious material, giving us the ability to realise insights beyond normal cognition. (Grov n.d.) Thus, in the context of the current state of global ecological disharmony, transcendental insights can be a force for instigating a major shift in consciousness towards rediscovering a harmonious relationship with the Earth. Anthropologist Keith Basso is working towards this goal by trying to invest in the Western mind the intrinsic relationship of indigenous cultures and the land. Basso’s (1996) work with the Western Navaho; Stalking with stories: names, places, and moral narratives among the Western Apache explores the power of the land as a force for regulating the harmonious functioning of Navaho society and the preservation of their cultural identity. It was enlightening for me to realise the active role of specific places or landmarks in mitigating the collective moral judgement of the Navaho. A place such as 'big cottonwood trees stand spreading here and there', plays both the roles of a setting for a story of moral significance and as a constant reminder to a person who has done wrong, of accepted social behaviour.

Dr Tom Pinkson is another Westerner deeply involved in developing a shift in Western thinking towards harmonious ecological living. His experiences related in The Flowers of Wiricuta: A journey to Shamanic Power with the Huichol Indians of Mexico have this key theme throughout; people seeking the knowledge of indigenous cultures in order to rectify their own disharmony can only truly do this with respect for the authority the indigenous worldview. (Pinkson 1995) Pinkson makes clear the nature of our participation as outsiders to indigenous cultures:
We should not seek to copy them (Indigenous peoples) and become something we’re not, but instead, endeavour to learn from them, and with them, in cooperative partnership with sensitivity, humility and respect. (Pinkson 1995)
Pinkson (1995) is involved in sharing and guiding people through Shamanic practices such as quests for vision in the mountains and the sweat lodge. He makes these experiences available to people because:
I see they are also hungry for deeper connection with Spirit. They too are lost and are looking for a way that speaks to their deeper being. I share with them what I know, what Spirit has taught me, and some are helped by this. I ask on my quests if this is what Spirit wants me to be doing. The answer so far always comes back yes. (Pinkson 1995)
He sees the role of the transcendent as an “exploration of consciousness that existed on this land (North America) before its violation” and goes further in saying that:
We can then use this consciousness to guide us in blending with appropriate technology and strategies of sustainable development. (Pinkson 1995)
What then is the most fundamental insight of transcendent experience for the Westerner? It is a call to acknowledge where our collective consciousness is going.(Grof n.d.) The work of Pinkson and countless others is moving Western people towards understanding how this insight can determine the harmonious future of humans and the Earth. I feel that experience of this transcendental insight has most definitely changed the way in which I respond to the macrocosmic environment. Thus the most important task in the West is to transcend the separation of human and environment and realise the truth of our interconnectedness. In the words of a Huichol Indian:
They must learn that when they hurt the Earth, they hurt themselves, and when they hurt themselves, they hurt the Earth. (Pinkson 1995)
Reference List
Basso, K.A. 1996. Stalking with stories: names, places, and moral narratives among the Western Apache. In The nature reader, eds. Dan Frank & Daniel Halpern, 84-105. Hopewell, New Jersey: The Ecco Press.
Grof, S. n.d. Holotropic Breathing, YouTube.
Pinkson, T.S. 1995. The Flowers of Wiricuta: A journey to Shamanic Power with the Huichol Indians of Mexico Mill Valley, CA: Wakan Press.
Winkelman, M. 1997. Altered States of Consciousness and Religious Behaviour. In Anthropology of religion: A Handbook of Method and Theory, ed. Stephen Blazier, 393-428. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

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