So, I haven't posted in a while because I've been busy and because the word program I was using was actually a temporary thing that my mom had on this computer and it ran out or stopped working or some such and I'm trying to figure out how to get another one without, ya know, paying for it.
And I been busy. All good stuff - work, daughter, art, music, snow, good things. I set up a BDSR Bandcamp and put up a bunch of songs. But I haven't been doing this thing, which I don't feel good about because I usually do three or four a month and I feel like I should put something up once in a while at least. So, enjoy some photos of my mom's back yard which she also left on this computer.
Oh yeah, uh, religion is the best thing people ever came up with. I haven't been depressed or dropped acid. I rode my skateboard to the mailbox and back t'other day. I'm reading The Gateless Gate again - it's awesome. My daughter turns five next month! Holy Shite, seems like just yesterday she was in diapers. Not Noise, meditation, look both ways, smell the coffee.
Let me just state right here that, most of the time, I have only a vague idea of what I’m doing. Seriously, I’m winging it more often than not, strolling right in where angels fear to tread. It consistently surprises me how well it works out.
As Espresso Shaman, I’m the one who assembles/produces/slaps together all BDSR releases. I do put some little thought into what goes where and how it’ll all end up, but I also jam shit together somewhat higgledy-piggledy and randomly. Sometimes, I realize why something goes together a certain way long after it’s finished.
That happened tonight. I was at work, confined to the dishpit, listening to some BDSR cd’s that I had in the car. I like to listen to BDSR sometimes when I just wanna trance out. One of my motivations as a musician is to create music that I can listen to when I just wanna trance out because I frequently wanna just trance out and the right kind of music makes that happen a lot easier. So I was listening to The Trout Mask Of God Replica/Ārya Soundtrack, thinking that it was a pretty decent release and I was happy with it and then I started free-associating.
There’s a long section on that’n where a voice chants “everything you do is wrong” over and over while another voice slowly says “I am yesterday, today and tomorrow. I have the power to be born a second time. I am the source and creator of all the gods.” over and over. The first voice is Danny Elfman – it’s a sample from Oingo Boingo’s “Same Man I Was Before” – the second is Smokin’ Joe Campbell and I can’t remember the title of the DVD that I stole that from. I got it from the library, that’s all I know. Anyhoo, I was thinking that the section goes on a little long and then I remembered that when I was putting that part together, I decided to repeat the Oingo Boingo sample 666 times because the voices that Elfman says “start shouting at me ‘everything you do is wrong’”, voices in his head, voices which I’ve heard in my own head, are infernal. That’s what the Devil tells you. You’re wrong, you suck, you’re no good, your dreams are for shit. That’s the Prince of Lies telling you that. So it made sense to have it 666 times. Smokin’ Joe Campbell is the voice of transcendence, the voice of Brahmā, the ultimate and unknowable energy that creates, sustains and permeates all that is and more, of which the other gods are representations. As human beings, we live in the Zone of Middle Dimensions, between the opposites, caught in the middle, constantly torn between “good” and “evil”, but Brahmā/Wakan Tanka/God(head) is not caught in the middle. Rather, the ultimate and unknowable energy is all that is and more, which means that it is both good and evil, but because it is beyond pairs of opposites, it is neither good nor evil.
That’s paradoxical nonsense, I know. When you start mucking around with transcendence, paradoxical nonsense is something you get used to. I’m trying to convey something like the free association thing I had going on whilst listening to Trout Mask at work.
The voice over against the Devil telling you “everything you do is wrong” is not a voice telling you “everything you do is right”. That would be another Devil. The Devil is nothing more than your own ego arrogantly trying to convince you that it is all there is. Poppycock, says me. There is a whole hell of a lot more than your ego, but your ego doesn’t want you to know that so it takes on different disguises to tell you lies. Many people think that “everything you do is wrong” is what God says, or rather what the Church says, and they’re right. The Church has toned down the whole absolute authority business in recent years, but it’s still there. That’s bullshit. You wanna go to Heaven? Fine, do what the Church tells you to do. But if you wanna do better than that, like for example if you wanna actually become one with the One, you gotta break past what the Church says. Somebody – maybe Meister Eckhart – said something like “the Church is the final defense against experiencing God”. This is what is meant by the saying “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”. See, if you meet the Buddha, it means you’re not the Buddha. It’s like how if you’re acting on your inalienable right to “pursue happiness”, you’re not happy because if you were happy you wouldn’t be pursuing it. The goal of Buddhism is not to venerate the Buddha, but to become the Buddha. Yeah, I know all about Amitābha and all that Pure Land jazz, but even with that, the final goal is to realize one’s own Buddhahood. You’re it, right now.
In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says “he who drinks from my mouth shall become as I am and I shall be he”. So what does that mean? When the Devil tempts Jesus, he appeals to His hunger: “cause these stones to be made bread”, he says. Jesus responds “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God” and we know that Jesus is God because he also says “I and the Father are one”. So Jesus is saying that whoever hears His teaching and understands – has ears to hear – will become as He is, which is God. See what I mean? Understand the teachings of Christ, who came to Earth to bring about the atonement, i.e. “at-one-ment”, of human beings and God. That’s exactly the point of Buddhism.
My favorite clean joke: A Buddhist monk walks up to a hot dog vendor and says “Make me one with everything.”
To know that one is at one with the One is Enlightenment. To become reconciled with God is to become at one with God, which is to become God. This is what the serpent was offering Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: eat of this fruit and you will become as God is. Adam and Eve committed no sin at all. They were simply trying to become one with God. Trouble was, God wasn’t ready for that. The most poignant and overlooked passage in the New Testament is that bit about the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asks some of His disciples to keep watch while He goes to pray. What He’s praying about. of course, is how much He would like to not be crucified the next day, but “Thy will be done” and that’s pretty major shit right there, but He keeps going back to check on the disciples and keeps finding them asleep. That’s when He says “the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. That’s the moment when God, in the form of Jesus, a simple man from Nazareth, understands the weakness of His creation. There is nothing like that until that moment. Read the Old Testament, I dare ya. What you’ll find there is an omnipotent God demanding the impossible from human beings who can’t ever fucking live up. Read Leviticus, for shit’s sake. Nobody can follow all those rules. When Jesus acknowledges the weakness of the flesh, it’s the first time God understands weakness. That’s when God and man are reconciled. That’s when the “sin” of Adam (and Eve) is wiped clean. At that moment, the barrier between God and man – a barrier God put up – collapses. In the East, of course, there never was a wall around Eden, but it all comes to the same thing: there is nothing between the individual and divinity. The Creator and the creation are of the same substance, infused with the same energy, are the same.
There are still infernal voices, of course, which is why it can be a bit tricky to realize one’s oneness with the One. More people than I care to think of have gotten a taste of this truth and gone mad. That’s part of what the Church and the Pure Land sect do – protect people from too much knowledge. I’m not worried about it because I know that I have no credence. I can go around spouting off ultimate truths all day long and nobody’s gonna pay any attention because I’m just some nutjob in a weird hat. The fact remains: Christ and the serpent were offering the same thing.
This isn’t original, of course. The whole Christ=serpent thing was well-known to the Gnostics, those freaky early Christians who wandered off into the desert and had orgies or whatever and who had the foresight to bury their texts good and deep before the authorities, representatives of what became the Church, came out to slaughter them. I knew all this in my brain. Knowing something in your brain because you read about it in something Smokin’ Joe Campbell wrote is not the same as wandering around to it in your own way, which is why free association is good. Free association helps you find your way, your own way, from A to B and from B to eternity.
This is what I had going on in my head while washing dishes and trancing out to The Trout Mask Of God Replica/Ārya Soundtrack tonight at work. It was a good time. I like washing dishes and trancing out to BDSR and I certainly enjoy wandering around in the Comparative Mythology section of my brain. I hope that BDSR can facilitate this sort of wandering and epiphany – that’s another motivation for me to do what I do. I want to communicate what I’ve learned and experienced.
The Trout Mask Of God Replica/Ārya Soundtrack is available from HysM? They’re in Italy. The whole thing is on youtube. Search for “the big drum in the sky religion trout mask” and you’ll find it.
Happy trances to you, until we meet again.
It is no secret that this here Espresso Shaman has ingested a veritable shitload of chemicals. I was a walking pharmaceutical dump for a number of years and I don’t do that stuff anymore. Mind-altering substances do figure into many of the world’s faith traditions – most, actually – so altered states are within my area.
First, I need to define a term: an “entheogen” is a “god-containing” substance, as opposed to a “hallucinogen” which is a drug that makes you see weird shit. For my purposes, entheogens are derived from plants and have been tested and approved by traditional use. So peyote, fly agaric, psilocybin, tabernanthe iboga, silene capensis, salvia, morning glories, ayahuasca, Syrian rue, pitcheri, uncured tobacco, cannabis, kava kava and/or San Pedro are entheogens and blotter acid is not. I know, many people have seen god(s) on acid and many people have taken peyote just to get fucked up and listen to Ten Years After, but I’m sticking with that definition. There are several synthetics which appear to have some entheogenic properties, most notably DMT, but those haven’t been around long enough for any serious research to have been done so I’m leaving them out.
All traditional/pagan/primitive/nonliterate peoples, with the possible exception of those living above the Arctic Circle have used entheogens. As far as I know, all peoples that use entheogens acknowledge that they are a shortcut, a less-than-ideal way of achieving a desired state. Again and again, I have read accounts of grass-clad heathens telling anthropologists some variation on “In the early times, shamans didn’t need to use (whatever) because they were stronger. Now our shamans are weak and they need (whatever)”. The substance does the job, but other ways are more desirable. I’ll get back to that.
Eating a handful of ‘shrooms and listening to Ten Years After might be a lot of fun, but it is not even close to proper entheogen use. I’ve eaten ‘shrooms. We were probably listening to Royal Trux instead of Ten Years After, but it comes to the same thing. Getting fucked up is not seeking the divine. I can’t stress that enough. In any real shamanic/entheogenic-type situation, the shaman would have to go through a training period, an initiation into the correct use of the substance. She or he would have to come to know the specific deit(y/ies) within the plant/cactus/fungus, to develop a relationship with them. Use of the entheogen would take place under specific conditions, usually in combination with other, non-chemical, methods for achieving an altered state, i.e. fasting, sleep-deprivation or self-flagellation. Under no circumstances would any real shaman ever “trip balls”.
I know a few hippies who have been to South America. Every one of them has ingested a few of the substances listed above and every one of them will happily tell you about the good times they had drinking mescal and tripping balls on San Pedro. Fucking hippies.
If you want to use an entheogen – and I am certainly not suggesting that anyone should – you would first have to fast for forty-eight hours, at the very least, and stay awake for thirty-six hours, at the very least, before ingesting the substance. That most of that time should be spent in prayer and meditation goes without saying. Self-inflicted suffering – heat, cold, pain, and discomfort – can only help. Hanging upside-down for a while is good. Chewing on habaneros is always helpful. The many different cultures that use entheogens all have their own preparatory rituals which any student of spirituality would do well to research whether he/she intends to ingest entheogens or not - Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, by Mircea Eliade, is a damn fine place to start. After all that, you can eat the ‘shrooms.
Then again, if, as our sources say, the only reason modern shamans use entheogens is that they are weak, might’nt it be better to eschew their use? Should one settle for what is, admittedly, a less-than-ideal pathway to Divinity? Is it not more desirable and advantageous to follow the very best course? Of course, it is.
Fasting, sleep-deprivation, self-inflicted suffering can bring about altered states without chemical assistance. It takes a little longer, but that’s actually better. Mohandas Gandhi, who certainly knew about fasting, said “There is more to life than increasing its speed” and I couldn’t agree more. The long, slow, tedious and boring method is almost inevitably the better, especially when it comes to spiritual growth. I’m not going to get into the details of my own practice here because some things are private, but I do employ non-entheogenic methods to achieve altered states. And I do encourage others to do the research and follow the time-tested techniques. They work.
I must admit that I am not entirely certain that I would not use an actual entheogen. I am sure that they can yield benefits when used the right way. As I type this, Italian Ice, BDSR’s Ambassador to the Third World, is wandering around some tropical rainforest with a Hare Krishna, eating various cactuses and slime molds. Her reports to BDSR HQ have been quite entertaining and insightful. If I ever found myself in Peru, being offered ayahuasca by a local medicine man or if I were somehow allowed to take part in a peyote ceremony with members of the Native American Church despite the fact that I am a dirty wasi’chu, I would probably drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak. I don’t expect to be in either of those situations any time soon. It would be a big thing for me to ingest any mind-altering substance. I’d have to think and pray and be absolutely sure, but I might do it.
Another thing happening as I type this: the fine young fellows at HysM? are burning copies of Entheogenocide, which should be hitting the market very soon. This one is a slight deviation from the typical cacophony you’ve come to expect from BDSR: fucked-up stoner-sludge metal. It’s heavy, man, heavy and dark. 66.6 minutes of heavy, dark, stonerage in open G6 tuning, Locrian mode. You can pre-order it now.
Recently, I announced via F’book and G+ that I was adding “shamanic advice columnist” to the already lengthy list of services that I provide. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I am a shaman and healing work is part of that, but it’s kinda difficult in this culture to get people to seek out shamans, especially in this town where I am known more as a cranky old weirdo than a frequent traveler to and from the Spirit World, so throwing it out to the online community seemed like a good way to get the ball rolling. I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time before I’m witching off warts and sucking bad magicks out of people in exchange for gifts of tobacco, goats and cash.
Several people responded with questions, most of which were not serious. One young lady, did ask a couple of questions, which I shall treat with below. She used her real name, but I’m going to rename her “Need Information Period” to protect her privacy and because it seems to be how these things are done.
When will I get my first period?
- Need Information Period
NIP, a girl's first period is called "menarche", which comes from Greek "mene", "moon", and "arche", "beginning". That you have not yet reached the "First Moon" of your life indicates that you are trapped, physically and psychically, in childhood, a state of being which, though it has certain pleasures, is changeless. You must break out of your stagnancy. I would suggest going into seclusion, preferably in a natural setting, fasting, going without sleep and praying. During the third night, offer a blood sacrifice to the Earth Mother. It doesn't have to be much - cut the insides of your thighs and let the blood run into the Earth. Menarche should occur within two days of the offering. If it doesn't, consult me personally. A more intense ritual would be needed in that case.
What would you advise me to do with my menstruation once I finally get it?
- Need Information Period
Well, NIP, that is a complex issue. Before I delve into your bleeding vagina, I should touch on a few things.
I am male and therefore have never experienced menstruation first-hand. My thoughts on the matter are, like so much else of what I’ve said in this space, uninformed and ignorant. I wouldn’t even venture to comment on this subject if it wasn’t already covered by so many of the world’s faith traditions, but it is, which puts it in my realm of knowledge.
The Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition, of course, generally denigrates and reviles all things female. One of many examples of this is:
“And if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness, and shall uncover her nakedness; he hath discovered her fountain, and she hath uncovered the fountain of her blood: and both of them shall be cut off from among their people.” - Leviticus 20:18
Or, in other words, bloody sex is icky and bad and wrong and anybody who does it should be ostracized and left to wander and die in the desert, which is just stupid. There is, in fact, absolutely nothing wrong with uncovering a woman’s blood fountain and getting all messy. Feh to Leviticus, says I. However, it must be noted that I do not totally disagree with the Biblical writers, who at least acknowledged the import of menstruation. Among the pagans of antiquity and the modern era, menstruation was associated with powerful magic. Menstruating women were subject to many taboos, lest they accidentally interfere with the normal course of events. For example, menstruating women were required to stay away from hunters and the tools of hunting on the grounds that their “female magic” might negatively influence the “male magic” of the hunters and cause a food shortage. There is recognition of female power. The Biblical writers removed the power aspect and twisted the whole thing into misogyny. Feh again.
Following the Bible’s example, Western society in general has denigrated women and all things associated with them. In the past hundred years or so, women have made enormous progress toward equality - seriously, the Feminist movement has changed the culture unbelievably in just a dozen decades – but not without certain compromises that are, in the long run, harmful to women. Work-place equality has mostly taken the form of women proving that they can do the same work as men, which is fair enough, but which forces women to act as if they are men. Men don’t get periods, which means that they aren’t bleeding out of their genitalia for a week every month, which means that women are expected to pretend that they aren’t either, when in fact, they are. Of course, women are further forced to deny the fact that they experience certain intrinsic aspects of being female by the disgust, fear and loathing which our culture has for menstruation. No woman in the work force or out is immune from insulting comments about “that time of the month” any time she displays emotion or disagrees with the male consensus on any issue. Probably half the pain and discomfort women feel when they’re menstruating is the result of having to pretend that they’re not.
Fuck that noise.
What I would suggest NIP and all other females do with their menstruation is a radical departure from Western society’s norms. I won't suggest a return to a pre- or non-Biblical state of being, because for one thing, the information isn’t available, and for another thing, we now know that bleeding women don’t radiate waves of potentially harmful magic. I’m going totally rogue here, making shit up, but the shit I’m up-making is consistent with the basic premises of traditional paganry and I am completely serious.
Recognize and honor the Goddess within you, NIP. Chart out your cycle and take those days off work. If you get your cut early, just call in sick. Spend shark week in seclusion, meditating on the awesome power of your sex. Obviously, this tree-hugging dirt-worshiper would opt to go out to the Nat’l Forest, squat over a hole and bleed out while trancing out and running wild with various spirits, and I do heartily encourage that kind of activity, but I understand that not all femmes are quite ready for that. It’s a major step from popping over the counter painkillers and pretending nothing is happening in your vagina to all-out pagan menses rituals. It might be better to start gradually: take off work, turn off the phone and spend a quiet few days contemplating your womanhood. Relax, meditate, get together with some female friends, preferably ones who are also menstruating. Take a walk in the park or woods, but nothing too strenuous. If you have a sex partner, get a little messy. At the outset, you’re trying to undo the negativity you’ve been taught to associate with your period. After a few months, getting your period will stop being something dreadful and will start to be something you look forward to, a respite from the rest of the world. At that point, it would be easy to stop. This Espresso Shaman would, of course, encourage you to go further: to make that time of the month the starting point for intense meditation and ritual, focusing all the while on the awesome Goddess power inherent in all females. Whether you do that or not is really up to you.
The worst thing you can do with your menstruation, NIP, is fight it. Midol and vodka might mask the pain and discomfort, but the price will be the full realization of your Self.
I’m still figuring out exactly how I want to go about this advice column thing. For one thing, I need to come up with a suitable pun for the title. Feel free to ask questions. I’ll consult the Spirit Animals and see what they have to say.
At some earlier stage of my spiritual development, I picked up Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection Of Zen And Pre-Zen Writings, compiled by Paul Reps. It’s a great little book of koans and anecdotes and it totally blew my mind. As I read it, I kept having the feeling that I was reading things I’d always known, but had never articulated. The ancient, “answerless” riddles about one hand clapping and the face you had before you were born were so simple, so clear and easy. The wacky antics of Zen Masters made perfect sense. Like this one, (in my words, not those of Mr. Reps):
In one monastery, the Abbot had the habit of holding up his forefinger whenever he reached the point of a lecture.
One day, as the monks were preparing their breakfast, the Abbot noticed two young monks, ages five and ten, talking. The older of the two raised his forefinger as he spoke. Immediately, the Abbot seized a knife from a table and cut the boy’s finger off.
Wow. What a way to start the day.
Seriously, though, the story is supposed to be shocking. You’re supposed to think “What? Did I read that wrong?” Then you read it again and, sure enough, the Abbot cut the boy’s finger off. So, reeling from the sudden and apparently senseless mutilation of a child in the kitchen of a Buddhist monastery, you wonder “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” because all of the koans and stories in the Zen tradition mean something. They’re all very short, very direct and packed with meaning. Teachers would give a koan or story like this to students and have them go meditate on it for a few years, which seems pretty weird to us, for whom the reason for the Abbot’s action is perfectly obvious, but people were a little slower in the uptake 1,500 years ago.
See, a thousand years had passed since Buddhism was founded and a lot of dust had settled on the mirror. Early Buddhism was very monastically oriented. Anyone who was at all serious about seeking Nirvana had to first quit the world, shave their head and take refuge in the Sangha. The rest of the people gave their tithes, generally respected the monks and nuns and aspired to rise to their level in a few incarnations, not this one, thank you very much. After about five-hundred years, at about the same time Jesus was preaching in the Levant, somebody had the brilliant insight that since Samsara was this world of pairs of opposites and Nirvana was the state of mind of one who had gone beyond the pairs of opposites, including the pair of opposites “Samsara” and “Nirvana”, one who had gone beyond the pairs of opposites would not recognize Samsara and Nirvana as opposites, but would, in fact, see them as being exactly the same. Whammo bango, the entire thing was spun on its head and suddenly there was no need whatsoever to quit the world. Nirvana was equally accessible to anyone. Any farmer, merchant, soldier or milkmaid could aspire to Nirvana. These two early forms of Buddhism are referred to as “Hinyana”, “little ferryboat” and “Mahayana”, “big ferryboat”, respectively. Unfortunately, when one is aspiring to Nirvana, one has not attained it, or why would one be aspiring? The little ferryboat Sangha was mostly involved in memorizing Sutras, debating insignificant details of the Buddha’s biography and denouncing each other for having gotten it wrong. The big ferryboat lay community was burning up a lot of incense at roadside shrines, feeling a bit guilty for failing to adhere to the Noble Eightfold Path and sending their second sons to be raised in monasteries in the hopes that it would somehow help. Everybody pretty much assumed that Nirvana was several incarnations away.
Then, after another five-hundred years or so, somebody realized that Siddhartha Gautama Sakymuni, the historical Buddha, had attained Nirvana by sitting still. Sitting still, therefore, was really the key. All that business about incense and Sutras and gold statues and so on was missing the point. This was the beginning of what became Zen.
The First Patriarch of Zen was Bodhidharma, who entered the historical record when he emigrated from India to China. The Chinese had heard of Buddhism from traveling merchants and a few wandering monks and had the impression that it was some kind of high-minded, intellectual philosophy, which it was, in the Sangha. The scholars and philosophers were somewhat curious about it, but no one saw it as anything other than an intellectual pursuit. Then along came Bodhidharma, this big, hairy, wild-eyed Indian, intense and a bit intimidating, who sat down and stared at a wall for nine years without saying anything. That got their attention. The Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Patriarchs of Zen, whose names escape me, maintained the don’t-just-do-something-sit-there meditation, but didn’t break any new ground. Then, in Japan, an illiterate stable-boy happened to overhear someone reciting the Diamond Sutra and he got it. He was Enlightened. He immediately attempted to enter a monastery, but was not allowed to take the Vows because he was just an illiterate stable-boy and not able to read, memorize and then sit around debating the insignificant details of every shopping list Gautama ever jotted on the back of an envelope. He was taken on as a scullery lad on the assumption that after spending a few lifetimes hulling rice he might rise to the level of literacy. Why they didn’t just teach the kid to read, I don’t know. Anyway, the Abbot of the monastery decided to retire and announced that there would be a competition: whoever could compose a poem best summarizing the principals of Buddhism would become the new Abbot. There was one monk who everybody was sure was going to get it and when he wrote the following verse on the wall in the hall, it was a fait accompli:
The body is the bodhi tree
The mind is a mirror
Clean it constantly
So it doesn’t get dusty
The English is my summary. Our illiterate scullery lad, whose name was Huineng, got a friend from the kitchen to read this to him and then write his response:
The body is not the bodhi tree
The mind is not a mirror
What can get dusty?
Next morning, all the monks were standing around wondering who had written the second verse when the Abbot walked in, got angry, wiped Huineng’s poem off the wall and passed his staff of office on to the monk who had written the first one. Later, he spoke to Huineng privately, advised him not to hit people with advanced truths they were incapable of comprehending and invited him to go away. Huineng became the Sixth and last Patriarch of Zen. He established Zen Buddhism as we know it today and attracted so many followers that Zen no longer needed Patriarchs to keep it going.
One does not have to spend x incarnations waiting for Nirvana; it can happen right now. In fact, it should happen right now. There is no real reason for it not to. So, sit there and realize it. That’s really the crux of Zen, as I see it. D.T. Suzuki might disagree, but who really cares what D.T. Suzuki thinks? Same goes for Alan Watts, that limey beatnik. Another thing – Zen produces enlightened Masters at a far higher rate than any of the other Buddhisms, crotchety old coots sitting around shit-talking Siddhartha like he was a redheaded bastard at a family reunion, an irreverence which this Espresso Shaman especially enjoys. Venerating Buddhas is all well and good and it’ll get you a seat in a closed lotus in the Pure Land, but it won’t get you into Nirvana. For that, you have to realize that there is no Buddha unless it’s you.
And it is you. This is the thing that has to be understood. There is no Buddha other than yourself, which is without a self. It seems paradoxical, I know, but the reason Zen Flesh, Zen Bones hit me so hard is that I just read the black parts and where it said “all things have Buddha nature”, I took that to mean that “all things have Buddha nature”. I have Buddha nature. You have Buddha nature. The fuckin’ roaches on my kitchen counter have fuckin’ Buddha nature. We all, and everything else, have Buddha nature, so why don’t we realize it? Why do we continue to walk around thinking that we’re anything other than Buddhas? My theory is that it seems too easy. Nirvana is described in high-falutin’, flowery language and made out to be this big fucking deal, mainly because that was the writing style in India at the time. Seriously, read The Upanishads, if you can. People have a tendency to want metaphysical stuff to be a big fucking deal, wheels within wheels in the sky, multi-armed gods dancing the cosmos, stuff like that. It isn’t like that – well, not all the time. I have seen some out-there stuff even when I wasn’t on acid, but most of the time a tree is a tree, a river is a river and people are people. Nirvana is not something to be attained. Nirvana already is in you.
As I’ve stated here before, I have taken the vow of the Bodhisattva and will be sticking around, in one form or another, until all sentient beings are enlightened. I would appreciate it very much if all who read this would sit down and realize their Buddhahood. It would make my job easier. If you care to take the vow and stick around to help, that’d be cool too.
If someone was to ask me how to become a shaman, I would encourage them not to. It’s a hard road, what with the fasting and aestheticism and feeding the spirit animals and all that, and there ain’t any money in it. In some cultures, there’s a certain amount of respect or appreciation for shamans, but here in capitalist North America, a shaman is just another degenerate bum in a weird hat.
It does get discouraging sometimes.
I went out to the woods for soul food. Driving out there, I was mostly expecting a moonlit walk down an old fireroad that goes a couple miles into the National Forest from Hone Quarry. I parked the truck at the gate and got out and there was no moon to lit. No stars either – the sky was totally cloud-covered and it was dark as a dungeon. I couldn’t see my feet. I wondered for a moment just exactly what was I supposed to do – this kind of thing falls into the “supposed to” category when you’re a shaman – and then I started walking. My eyes adjusted to the dark somewhat, but I was still just seeing shades of black and grey. The sky was easily discernible, grey between the ragged trees, so I mostly looked up and tried to stay in the middle. I could tell the difference between the rocky mud road and grass beneath my boots, so if I strayed off to the side, I could correct. Sometimes the puddles caught a bit of light and had a glossy grey, but sometimes I just stepped into them. It was slow going and I was keenly aware of the fact that there are places along that road where the side just drops off.
As I walked, I prayed and meditated. I reached out with my mind to my various spirit animals – who also have human forms when human forms are more conducive. I spoke with them, addressed certain fears and concerns. I also addressed my deity, the form of the Great Mystery that seems most right to me, asking, seeking, wondering. My prayers tend to be more “What should I do?” than “Lord, won’tcha buy me a Mercedes Benz?” I am a person with constant doubt about my abilities, my decisions, actions. I always think there’s a good chance that I’m fucking something up somehow and that there will be dire and sever consequences for every mistake and misstep. Most of the time, I’m wrong and everything turns out exactly the way it’s supposed to. My kid is awesome despite the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing most of the time. BDSR keeps growing, even though I can barely play guitar and have only a vague understanding of the sound program I use to record and mix releases. Somehow the bills get paid. Honest to gods, I don’t have a clue how things work out as well as they do. I am not even in the passenger seat of the metaphorical vehicle of my life. I’m in the truck bed, hanging over the tailgate, hoping that whoever is steering is paying attention.
How did this happen? How did I get to where I am?
I was born with certain abnormalities of the mind that would have made life a little difficult in the best of circumstances, which mine weren’t. My childhood wasn’t great. I took the bad hand I was dealt and played it the worst way possible, grossly exacerbating the situation until suicide seemed like the best option. Then I was plucked up. One of the many manifestations of Divinity that people have identified appeared to me and changed the course of my life. I found some folks who showed me how to grow in the Spirit(s), gave myself over to the Deity that appeared to me and I’ve been trudging along ever since. Fifteen years and I still don’t really know what’s going on. I read a lot of books on the subject. I read Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques Of Ecstasy a few years ago and was steered into my current avocation. I’m actually reading that one again. It’s pretty good. I’m not nearly as powerful as some Siberian or Mongolian shamans, but I’m self-taught and they had instructors, so I guess I’m not doing so bad. I’m certainly not unusual in that I didn’t choose this. The whole shaman thing was not my idea – I was assigned. If I had gotten to pick a role for myself, it would’ve been one with a higher income and more blowjobs.
So there I was, stumbling along this mud road in total darkness, praying and wondering why I wasn’t home eating beans’n’rice and watching a zombie movie. There were occasional sounds on either side, something or something else moving around in the underbrush, probably opossums or rabbits, but possibly bears and coyotes. I had a Ka-bar on me, in addition to the little knife that I always carry. I would fight a bear if I had to. It was definitely a scary experience. Mostly though, it was just putting one foot in front of the other, slowly, watching that strip of sky that was open over the road, feeling with every step the ground. I stumbled a few times, but only fell down once, when I stepped into a gulley that ran across the road and over the drop. There’s a concrete bridge that crosses a creek near the end of the road, so when I got to it I knew I was close. Then the strip of open sky just stopped. I was at the end of the road. It was almost disappointing. I had gotten used to walking along in the dark, had become okay with it. I suddenly felt that I could walk all night.
The act that I had set out to do was to walk to the end of the road, unless I had to fight a bear or something. So I turned around and started walking back. On the way back, I continued to pray, to ask for guidance regarding BDSR, my visual art, my daughter. And an answer came: “Just keep going”. It was that simple. Just continue to do what you’re doing. Just keep on walking, blind and trusting, and what will happen will happen.
Just keep going. That’s pretty much always the answer. I have gotten different ones – “Quit the job”, “Stop being such an arrogant asshole” – but the vast majority of the time I’m out seeking some kind of guidance, it’s because nothing much has happened and I’ve gotten all jammed up in my head thinking that I should do some something, something dramatic, to fuck shit up. I can handle crisis. You give me a burning orphanage or a fighting bear and I know exactly what to do. Let me be for a while, let a couple months of slow, gradual development happen, and I start to get edgy. Then I find myself out in the woods doing something that other people have the sense not to do – walking a road in the dark was a fairly mild one – crying out for a vision or a sign or a burning wheel within a wheel or something. The answer is usually just keep going.
The final step in the shamanic thing is sharing what I’ve learned. See, I do this shit so you don’t have to.
If you’re not living in the way of the Spirit(s), then this doesn’t apply to you. This is for people who are already committed to a course of action and being that is in accord with whatever form of spirituality that makes the most sense or has the most appeal for them. People without any form of spirituality – well, I dunno. Do whatever. Maybe that’ll work out for you. People who are walking on a spiritual path and who have the occasional doubts because it seems like nothing is happening and/or there appear to be some dark clouds on the horizon, possibly of a dark financial nature because you don’t have a regular job and there ain’t no income comin’ in, just keep going. The way may be dark, there may be bears in the woods, but just keep going.
I’ve been mediating a lot lately. I attend a regular mediation session which involves some discussion – we read a passage, meditate for twenty minutes, talk about our meditation experience. I’ve also been meditating at home for about 30 minutes a few times a week.
The group is made up of a couple dozen people from different backgrounds and with different spiritual identities. Some are Christians; the others are I don’t know what. I doubt that anybody there is as nontraditional and ecumenically pagan as your humble Espresso Shaman. Without putting on airs, I think it’s safe to say nobody there has logged as many hours in meditation or spirit traveling as I have either, but they’re good folks and participating in the group helps me to remember to sit still once in a while. I tend to approach life like I’m storming the beach on D-Day, which is a lot of fun and the proper approach to some situations, but not all.
Joseph Campbell defined meditation as “the intentional stopping of the spontaneous action of the mind stuff.” I think that’s in The Power Of Myth, but I don’t remember which episode. You’ll just have to watch the whole thing. The benefit in stopping the mind stuff, he explains, is that it allows you to see things as they are. He uses the image of a lake: as long as the surface of the water is being rippled by the wind, all reflections are broken and fragmented. Only when the water is still are things reflected clearly. As long as the mind stuff is agitated, the mind cannot perceive anything but broken and fragmented perceptions.
That sounds pretty good, but it’s never worked for me. I have a frantic and frenetic mind, enhanced by the liberal and frequent application of bitter, black beverages containing the best of all possible drugs, caffeine. My mind stuff doesn’t stop. I have multiple tracks, all playing, all the time, a constant gamelan of brain noise. This isn’t unusual. Everybody at the meditation session talks about the difficulty they have getting their mind stuff to stop. Everybody has some brain noise. Most people just live with it and don’t even notice until they get to a mediation session and start trying to make it stop.
I don’t try to stop the brain noise. I just let it go on and on, unimpeded. The clatter and din inside my head are just part of how I perceive reality and it doesn’t matter. When I’m working on visual art, I sometimes have music going, sometimes not, but when I do, it’s usually of the long-form, instrumental variety, the kind of stuff that can easily be tuned down to a low buzz. Some reviewers have mentioned the fact that some BDSR releases work better when they’re background noise, which is true. I don’t know if those reviewers knew or guessed that that was deliberate. The background noise application is something I’m actively striving for, without eliminating the possibility of active listening. It’s a fine line, but there’s good on either side, so it all works.
The brain noise doesn’t mean anything. The stuff that happens inside the head is not real. If you can’t tell the difference between what’s happening inside your head and what’s happening outside your head, then you, my friend, are a schizophrenic. This is a very basic observation, but it’s one that had to be pointed out to me. Several years ago, I was talking with a knowledgeable friend about the noise in my brain and he said “So? Just ignore it. It’s not real.” I was somewhat blown away. It’s so obvious. After that, mediation became easy. I stopped trying to accomplish anything with my mind stuff. All I need to do to meditate is to sit still. That’s it. Sit still and let the mind stuff/brain noise do whatever it does. When I meditate frequently, ignoring the brain noise becomes automatic. I’m sitting here right now with all this jibber-jabber happening behind my eyes and I have no idea what the voices are saying.
People at the meditation session talk about how hard it is to stop the mind stuff. When it’s my turn, I say I don’t try. I just let it roll on. They look at me like I’ve just said something that’s so fucking crazy it just might be right.
That’s my only contribution to the group. Other than the possibility of ignoring the brain noise until it subsides to a low and easily ignorable drone around the edges, I have nothing to say about meditation.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.