This is one of Terence McKenna’s most important discussions, as well as one of the most important discussions for humanity to hear in these strange times of crisis.
Terence really gets to the Heart of what is at stake – for planet Earth, humanity, and all that dwells on and in Earth.
Some of what he discusses may be at first difficult to understand because there is a mystic quality to it. I am currently processing all of what Terence spoke of here and know that the ideas he shared will take time to process. I’ve listened to this speech 3 times since I first heard it yesterday and will most likely listen again. The ideas he speaks of here are not just something that can be processed in an instant – which he mentions. The ideas he discusses require much more effort from the common, quick & dismissive, judgmental thinking.
Who has time to think critically though?
With the exceptions of some “ums” & whatnot, I almost certainly transcribed his exact words. (At least from around when I began taking these notes, 30 to 40ish minutes in.) I made sure to transcribe his exact words as he spoke them, because I believe this is that important.
The whole speech is great, but I really got into transcribing his words around the time when he says “…In a way it’s the poets that have failed us…” which are bolded, below. The video of this speech can be found at the end of this article. Please share your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading.
“Culture is a plot against the expansion of consciousness...
And this plot prosecutes its goals through a limiting of language. Language is the battleground over which the fight will take place, because what we cannot say, we cannot communicate – and by say I mean dance, paint, sing, mean. What we cannot say we cannot communicate.
We can conceive of things that we cannot communicate, and I think everyone here has done that.
…the psychedelic inner astronaut sees things which no human being has seen before and no human being will ever see again. But in fact this has no meaning unless it is possible to carry it back into the collectivity…
(^around 32 mins)
“…now what we really need,,,”
“we are the custodians of the destiny of this planet. Our decisions affect every life form on the planet.”
“…In a way it’s the poets that have failed us. Because they have not provided a song or sung a vision that we could all move in concert to. So now we are in the absurd position of being able to do anything, and what we are doing is fouling our own nest and pushing ourselves toward planetary toxification and extinction. This is because the poets, the artists have not articulated a moral vision. The moral vision must come from the unconscious. It doesn’t have to do, I believe, with these post-meaning movements in art, deconstructionism and this sort of thing.
I mean I’m basically putting out a very conservative but I think exciting program, for art — that arts task is to save the soul of mankind, and that anything less is a dithering while Rome burns. Because if the artists, who are self-selected for being able to journey into “the other”( the transcendental dimensions, etc). If the artist cannot find the way, then the way cannot be found.
Ideology is extremely alien to art. Political ideology I mean. And if you will but notice it is political ideology that has been calling the shots for the last 7 or 800 years. We can transcend politics if we can put some other program in place.
You cannot transcend politics into a void.
And I believe that a world without ideology could be created if what were put in place of ideology were the notion of the realization of the good, the true, and the beautiful, ya know.
The three tiered cannon of the platonic aesthetic. (the) Reconnect the notion the good, the true, the beautiful, then use psychedelic to empower the artist to go into this vast dimension that surrounds human history on all sides to an infinite depth, and return from that world with the transcendental images that can lift us to a new cultural level. The muse is there.
The dull maps that rationalism has given us are nothing more than whistling past the graveyard by the bad little boys of science. You only have to avail yourselves of these shamanic tools to rediscover a nature which is not mute, as Sart said, in a kind of culmination of the modern view point. Nature is not mute, it is man who is deaf. And the way to open our ears, open our eyes, and reconnect with the intent of a living world is through the psychedelics.
Now as you know, biology runs on genes. And genes are the units of meaning of heredity. But we could make a model of the informational environment that is represented by culture, and in fact this is done. A word has been invented — meme, m.e.m.e. a meme is not the smallest unit of heredity.
A meme is the smallest unit of meaning of an idea.
Ideas are made of memes, and I think the art community might function with more efficiency in the production of visionary aesthetic breakthroughs, if we would think of ourselves as an environment, modeled after the natural environment, where we as artists are attempting to create memes which enter an environment of other memes that are in competition with each other, and out of this competition of memes, evermore appropriate adapted and suitable ideas can gather and link themselves together into higher and higher organisms.
Now in order for this to happen – There is an obligation upon each one of us to carry our ideas clearly. Because in the same way that a gene must be copied correctly to be replicated or it will cause some pathological mutation, a meme must be correctly replicated or it will cause a pathological mutation.
What is this new level of creativity?”
Around late minute 41, closer to 42^^^
“… and each artist is an antenna to the transcendental other and as we go with our own history into that thing and then create a unique confluence of our uniqueness and its uniqueness we collectively create an arrow, an arrow out of history, out of time, perhaps even out of matter that will redeem then the idea that man is good. Redeem the idea that man is good. This is the promise of art, and its fulfillment is nevermore near than the present moment…”
“…that what is called gnosticism is a very strong strain in the human animal and especially in western thought. And gnosticism in its most severe form can be boiled down to the proposition that we are strangers here, we don’t belong here. This is not our world. We come from a place made of light and we will never rest until we return to it. Now the problem with that formulation is it sets us up for tremendous discontinuity and unhappiness until we achieve that return to the realm of light. It’s a kind of faustian thing.
And yet the other possibility…is isn’t there some way we could make our peace with the earth? Isn’t there some way that we can have archaic and eat it too…”
“.. somehow the living spirit has to be brought with us. And this is really the high task for shamanism. How can we who have always as shamans had a relationship to the spirits of the earth, of the waters, of the sky. If we are setting out for alpha in Sagittarius or something like that, how can we do that and not leave our soul behind?
Well, I don’t think we should leave our human soul behind.
Somehow we have to internalize the entirety of the biological world if we are going to become a spacefaring species, otherwise we are going to get out there and discover that something vital was left behind…
..and this is a great tension between ourselves and the earth. Between our destiny as an energy-using, dream-compressing, spacefaring, storm trooper kind of species, I mean that’s all male dominance and male mentality talking, and the need to somehow fold that into a nurturing stance, a preserving stance, a stance that recognizes that the conservation of (our?) archaic values is really our only hope.
And those two things exist in a dynamic tension.
This is maybe the issue that the artistic community can clarify, and that must be clarified before we can make a definitive step into the future.
Right now we are uncertain.
Stewardship or angel hood? Which shall it be?
What I’m proposing is more,, there’s no man in it.
It’s the compresence of the collective soul of humanity.
That somehow I see history as an alchemical task and process, and the artist, as artificer, it is the task of the artist to complete this alchemical compresence, and it’s a kind of irrational thing. It is irrational.
It’s that “mind” and “matter” are approaching each other on a trajectory that will bring them together with no damage to the quintessential nature of each. And we can’t image that. Because for us things are “mind” or “matter”.
We can’t conceive of a coincidentia-oppositorum (the coincidence of opposites). And yet it’s that which we must hold in our minds if we want to seek truth. I mean even in quantum physics they teach you that the universe is composed of what they call islands of boolean algebra embedded in an ocean of ordinary algebra. What they mean is they are having their archaic and eating it too, they’re trying to say that it’s “both, and”.
And it is an irrational process. It isn’t a Nietzschian program of realization. It’s a kind of an opening. Something wants to be born. The promptings of our religions with all the irrational and hysterical trappings that attend them nevertheless have a core perception that there is between man and nature a kind of compact, and this compact is, it will be redeemed. I mean I really think that this is the psychedelic faith. That we are the prodigal species. We have descended into the inferno of matter to try and recover the pearl of immortality.
The pearl of immortality is the perfected and reconstructed Earth, and somehow we are to be the critical factor in this equation, or the point species.
We are not acting for ourselves, we are the energy manipulating species that I believe carries the hopes of all life, all nature is watching this drama. The life of our star is finite. The life of the planet is finite. But potentially self reflecting understanding may be in fact immortal, and yet it is breaking out of the trappings of matter, and this is a process so large, so strange, that I don’t think a single mind can encompass it within a single moment.
It’s something that we triangulate over and over again. And for me, the psychedelic experience is how you do that.
The psychedelic experience is literally a rising into a higher dimension, in the geometric sense, and from that higher dimension the psychedelic voyager carries out a transecting of the lower dimensional object which is the world, and in the same way that we can build up an image of a cone out of an infinite number of ellipsoidal transections, we can build up a true model of the world by carrying out a number of these transections from a higher dimension, and then it shows us how the world really works.
And when you understand how the world really works, I’m beginning to get just a hint of it. It works through love, and dream, and intention to connect .. through love and dream and intention toward connection, and these are ultimately irrational values and they ultimately must be irrationally embraced, because the momentum toward irrational conclusion is tremendous, but unfortunately completely fatal. And this is the invitation that the artist has always extended – toward a radical break with the momentum of rationalism.
It’s simply that now, in this moment of tremendous crisis, when the artist is at last called upon to perform, and there must be no stitches dropped, because this dance is the dance of transformation of the planet itself. This is the moment of empowering. This is what all the Shamanism of the past built toward. This final magical invocation. James Joyce said man will be dirigible. That’s simply a way of saying that we will find a way to make our dreams, and the dreams of the planet and the life it carries, one dream.
And the way to do it is to reconnect up to the Gaian Mind through the channels of communication that were always there but that have not been really taken up since the late Neolithic.
It’s time for us to call home.
And you know how to do it.
It’s just a matter of having the courage to do it.
To act and then to have that empowering act spread back through the psychology of the planet. I am very optimistic.
I think we are awakening to a new day from a long long night of the soul, but it must be done collectively, gently, lovingly, and with a complete faith that we are an infant held in the arms of nature. That nature wants this to happen. That we are not an aberration. We are granted peculiar, but we are not an aberration.
We are a necessary oddness to the completion of the whole and this is our glory and this is why we’ve been graced with self-reflection, and we can redeem that tremendous empowerment by going forward in love and faith to save the world through art and the pursuit of meaning.
Likely the setting is a murky, submerged Monet. Conversations of grave importance are whittled to a phrase or single word, if you can recall any at all. Often it’s the sheer fear of being chased, the horror of teeth cracking from oozing gums, the uncontainable joy of flying, that sticks with us in the waking state.
I can no more eloquently detail my solo psychedelic expedition.
But as you might describe your nightly and matutinal routines: brushing, flossing, drifting off to monotonous tones of a murder mystery podcast, so can I share my trip prep and epilogue: SET, SETTING, SUBSTANCE, SITTER, SESSION, SUPPORT, & SURRENDER.
I asked myself “Why?” Why take psilocybin mushrooms under a blindfold and headphones for four hours? My journaled response:
to look the dragon of fear in the mouth
to gain experience and knowledge to offer others.
There’s always a certain fear surrounding psychedelics. What if I have a bad trip? What if I’m that one person that keeps tripping forever? What if I need the paramedics? What if…whatif…whatif…Every time, without fail, this preparatory cry plagues me like a colicky infant to an exhausted mother. I console my small self with wisdom from Michael Pollan, who experienced a similar protest before each of his psychedelic experiences in How to Change Your Mind.
“That voice, I came to realize, was my ego trying (selfishly) to prevent me from a having an experience that, among other things, would undermine that ego.”
Even as I sat with the chocolate truffle in my perspiring palm, invoking divine Reiki energy and protection, my heart slammed like a relentless wave. I took a deep breath, then another, until my pulse subsided.
Fear would undoubtedly rear its ugly head again, snarling and snapping jaws at my bliss, and so I designated my breath as my anchor. After years of practicing yoga and advising students to “return to the breath”, I figured this would be second nature, a well-honed tool to mitigate anxiety during the trip.
As beginner in the burgeoning field of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, I needed to wade through my own internal terrain before I could hope to hold space for others. Hence I write right now, attempting to distill the ineffable experience into words.
Next I SET intentions:
to dissolve mental barriers
to make peace with the past and calm qualms for the future
to immerse myself in love and gratitude
At least, that’s what they would have been. There is no guaranteeing what will emerge in the psychedelics state. Whatever needs to surface from mental rabbit holes around which I typically veer, will surface. So I chose, with full faith in my spiritual guides, higher Self, and divine energy, to SURRENDER to the process, leaving my open journal alongside my bed as a remindful totem.
Although I find that submerging in nature is the most idyllic setting for psychedelics, this adventure was meant to explore the inner landscape. Snuggled in bed behind a locked door with sunlight splashing upon my thawing body on a cold winter afternoon created physical and mental comfort from which I could embark on my journey. With a fully charged battery and downloaded playlist compiled by John’s Hopkins University’s psilocybin researchers, I cut cyber connection to the outside world.
I knew that the music would evoke an array of emotion, that some songs I simply wouldn’t like: the deep Gregorian chant reminiscent of a Catholic Mass; the tinny pitch of a single flute; another crescendo of screaming violins. I promised myself that I wouldn’t skip a song in attempt to skirt something I’d rather not face. “Music becomes a mirror of transcendental forms of consciousness,” the playlist developer, psychologist Bill Richards, Ph.D., explained in an interview with Inverse. My only option would be to surrender to the piercing choir and sharp cello notes evoking tension in my hands, as well as the Hindi chanting and drumming spreading smiles across my face. Along with the music, I steeped a fresh thermos of chamomile tea alongside lavender essential oil and tissues, and cleared the air with sage plumes, additional esoteric comforts to augment calm throughout the experiment.
Just like a beginning backpacker might start with a one-night trip before venturing out into the wild for a weeklong excursion, I wanted to dabble with a light dosage for my first solo expedition sans sitter. After an hour, I considered nibbling an additional sliver, but I decided to give the mushrooms time to work their magic. I’m grateful for that patience, as I soon felt akin to the protagonist in Gulliver’s Travels, subject to minuscule pixies swarming my skin suit. Of course due to the lesser dosage, I was very much still grounded in the realization that I was, in fact, settled in my own bed and not strapped down on the tiny island of Lilliput.
Physically, psilocybin connects parts of the brain that aren’t usually linked, temporarily dissolving the default mode network that is responsible for the ego. My ego, however, was still very much present, albeit in the passenger’s seat rather than behind the wheel. I would’ve (and still would) liked to more deeply explore the universe from within through a stronger dose, but not without a sitter to hold space.
“Would you mind staying with me for upwards of 5 hours while I lie in bed and listen to classical music?” is a huge favor to ask; and in fact probably categorizes better as a job. As I didn’t have access to such, I shrugged and said, “I’ll be my own sitter, let my breath be my guide.” Although that resolute determination seems sensible in sobriety, it quickly dissolves under a mind altering substance.
I used the bathroom mid-trip, dazzled by the ethereal, vibrant world glowing outside myself. As I nestled into bed again and saw the eye pillow’s slow descent, the Fear Dragon’s scorching breath ignited my worry. I don’t want to go back under. Oh God. I actually just want this to be over. Maybe I should stop the music, toss the eyemask, and explore myself through yoga. No…that won’t solve this anxiety either. Fuck, I’m thirsty. Gulp. Should I call a friend?And tell them, what, that I took mushrooms and am having a difficult time? That would only make me (not to mention them) more uncomfortable. Oh God, this is why having a sitter is recommended.
“A SITTER” was the first bullet point I scratched in my journal towards the tail end of the trip. Have a sober someone to hold safe space; a thread of continuity weaving a safety net to assure that you’re doing great, that everything is ok, is paramount. That presence provides a foundation from which the ego can relax so that the rest of consciousness can continue traversing the unknown.
At first it felt like I was lying in bed for an afternoon nap. Sunlight danced between branches seemingly in time to Vivaldi’s mandolin measures. But I can no more sequence thoughts or detail images after the first hour than describe how I fell asleep last night. I can, however, identify warm fuzzy feelings of contented bliss amongst harmonious strings and hauntingly enchanted voices. Until I had to tinkle during the trip’s peak.
It was as I returned to bed that I struck myself with a sudden desire for it all to be over. It dawned on me that I was in the middle of the ocean in a rowboat. Briefly I deliberated biting into an emergency Xanax, but realized that I would be robbing myself of a rich opportunity for growth.
“Surrender” the word jumped from my journal as I sipped tea with shaky hands. I knew that, even if I had a sitter, shaman, entire paramedic team, I would be the only person able to help myself. The psychonaut mantra echoed, “The only way out is through.” And the music will carry me through, I told myself. Although there wasn’t another physical person present, I knew that I wasn’t alone. Calling upon divine feminine energy, The Great Earth Mother for protection, I saw my small self cocooned into her cosmic cuddle.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
A moment later Mozart’s heavy Vesperae Solennes de Confessore gave way to Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Major, releasing rushing relief throughout my entire being. Through jubilant strings I saw a landmass, a continent upon the horizon, and knew that I was going to make it.
Night darkened. I’d been lying in bed for nearly 5 hours. I really wanted to make it to the end of the playlist, featuring Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles and Louie Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, but needed a break from music and my room. As I ventured outside to gaze upon the moon and stars, tears welled, not from relief or astonishment at life’s intrinsic beauty and interconnectedness, but from an overwhelming sensation of isolation. Mopping exhausted eyes, I returned inside, grounded myself with (non-psychoactive) dark chocolate, transcribed what I could, and slept.
I’d always experienced psychedelics with another soul, holding hands to skirt dark shadows. Afterward, the space that was usually full of reminiscent giggling was rife with lonely contemplation. I’d noticed the gaping disconnect between the altruistic, wholesome life I desired and my current, unfulfilled existence. As after every psychedelic trip, I felt as if I’d come back with a handful of seeds, but lacked the tools with which to cultivate them. Wreaked with worry, I reached out to an old friend.
Over chips, salsa, and frosted mug of Pacifico, Smeagol held space for me to vent smoke clouding my mind. “We can really only do the best we can with what we have,” she mused in response to my whines of wasting potential and squandering opportunities. With a wry smile she added, “Besides, it’s not like we’re really free,” nodding to our many past dialogues on of the farce of free will. It was a relief, but still I realized why these experiences are often communal, as in ayahuasca ceremonies, and involve a shaman for integrating a transcendental overload.
In the days following, I wrote and wrestled, attempting to solve a mental Rubik’s cube, spinning worries round and round, until I noticed that the puzzle was color changing. Maybe there is no solution. It’s ok to not be ok, to walk away from this battle with anxiety.
Surrendering, I realized, was an avenue to peace.
As for the seeds, I’m planting them one at a time. Literally in gardens, and figuratively, through this piece here, hoping to grow a community in which we can facilitate safe, supported consciousness exploration, thus expanding awareness of interconnectedness.