The Spotted Opossum and I were in the car t’other day, going from A to B. The Slits’ Cut was playing at low volume, just sort of there in the background. I’m always conscious of the music I have on when my daughter is around because I’m trying to raise up a smart, active, assertive and riotous grrrl with good taste. The Slits started off as a gang of thrashing, bashing teenage hellions with more attitude than aptitude and evolved into a punk/reggae, feminist assault unit who punched out some great grooves without losing their edge. They carved a place for themselves in the rock’n’roll sausage party, basically ensuring that punk, unlike all other forms, would have some menstrual blood on its tracks. Good goddamn job, says me.
S’anyway, during a lull in the conversation, the grrrl caught the refrain “Don’t take it serious” at the end of “So Tough” and asked me about that. I explained that they were saying not to take things so seriously, that some things are not worth getting bothered about. I was coming at it from that angle because little kids, including mine, have a tendency to get really upset over matters that are, in the grand scheme, pretty fucking trivial. Part of my Daddy job is teaching her that her emotions are fine and good, but that they need to be regulated in some ways. One simply cannot function well in society unless one can control one’s emotions. Understanding that some things can be ignored or brushed off is part of emotional maturity.
She acknowledged the validity of that interpretation and offered an alternative. Perhaps, she suggested, the Slits were addressing someone named “Serious” and they were telling Serious not to take something. Like, maybe they had some Halloween candy and Serious was trying to take it. “Don’t take it, Serious.”
I agreed that this was possible. She asked who was named Serious. I said I didn’t know of anyone by that name. We arrived at B, got out of the car and our talk drifted on to other things.
This morning, after a last-minute wardrobe change, some minor abuse of the roomie’s cat and a hurried search for something to take for show’n’tell, we managed to get down to the car where she suddenly announced that she remembered who Serious was. Serious, she informed me was a dog who belonged to Hunter O’Ryan. I was still struggling with consciousness and was distracted by trying to get her to school and me to work so I was slow to catch on. I thought she was talking about characters in a kids’ show or some something that she’d heard someplace and partially understood. It took me a moment to get it: Sirius is the Dog Star, associated with the constellation Orion, the hunter. We go to the planetarium at the local university occasionally. They have free shows every Saturday, the earlier one for kids. Last summer, we saw a cartoon about Orion, his legend and how he became a constellation. I had completely forgotten it. If you’d asked me, I would’ve assumed that she had too, that it had just sunk onto her brain as one of the fun things she and I have done together.
Nope. She obviously held onto far more information than I would’ve thought any four-year-old could. Of course, this is a four-year-old we’re talking about. She can remember the name of my roommate who has a cat, but not the other one and she sometimes needs help getting her underpants on right, but still. That she remembers from a cartoon six months ago that Sirius “belongs” to the hunter, Orion, is pretty amazing and cool.
What I’m taking from this incident is that my kid is really fucking smart. I already knew that and I’m certainly aware that few people who aren’t immediately involved in our lives give a shit. Parental anecdotes about amazing kids are a dime a dozen. It does tie in with a theory I’ve had for a while about the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and manifestation of the bodhisattva of Divine Compassion, Avalokiteśvara. See, I’ve always treated my daughter like an intelligent person. I’ve always talked to her as if she was an equal, obviously taking into account her ability to understand words and concepts, and answered her questions as completely as possible. I encourage her constantly and I’ve provided her with many opportunities to learn, i.e. visits to the planetarium, art galleries, farms, as well as classes in dance, music and simple construction. She loves classes. She’s taking swimming lessons right now – her Mommy signed her up for those, so she gets the credit there. We have the girl in a Montessori school, which she loves, and we read to her daily. Certainly, she was born healthy and with some inherent capacity for intelligence, but we’ve done what we can to facilitate her growth.
The Dalai Lama, a compassionate and kind man by any standard, was raised to be compassionate and kind. He was found/selected as a toddler and grew up in a Tibetan monastery where his education was specifically directed toward his position as Dalai Lama, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that he grew up to be somewhat kind and compassionate. How else could he have turned out? Sure, he’s a reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara, so he had a predisposition toward compassion and kindness, but all sentient beings contain Buddha-nature, so we’re all capable of awakening to Divine Compassion, reincarnation of a bodhisattva or not. Why don’t we? Because we’re taught not to. We’re taught that we are individuals, entirely separate from other individuals. We are, of course, individuals and thank the gods for that, but we are also aspects of a greater, eternal and infinite, whole. Realization of that fact is essentially Nirvana.
Any individual raised to believe s/he is intelligent, kind, compassionate and essentially at one with all that is must necessarily believe it to be so, at least as much as her/his capacities allow. Her Mommy and I have taught the Spotted Opossum that she’s a smart kid and she has proven she is, so much so that it sometimes surprises her Mommy and I, who were raised with different thought-forms. All of this is fine for raising kids to be smarter and more compassionate than their parents, but it goes further. I was not raised to excel at much. My parents did not set high standards or go out of their way to put me into situations that would enhance my natural capabilities. The under-funded public schools I was forced to attend certainly didn’t encourage me to pursue my interests. I had to find ways to learn about and engage in the activities that mattered to me, not all of which were positive or constructive. Eventually though, my diligence in finding and following my own course paid off. By the time I got sober and started getting effective treatment for my depressive disorder, I was quite experienced with alternative forms of self-education. I had learned to wrap my head around apparently incomprehensible concepts, accept paradoxes and embrace mutually exclusive ideas. As I delved into the world’s vast treasure trove of myth, I found that I could easily understand what was being said.
The sound of one hand clapping? Clap with one hand. That’s it. That’s all there is. Enlightenment is nothing more than that. Love your neighbor as yourself? No problem when you realize that your neighbor is of the same essence as yourself, though individuated on a different time-table and manifesting another aspect of the One. It really is that easy, if you set high standards for yourself and put yourself in situations that will facilitate the growth of the self you want to be.
Suppose you want to attain to Nirvana. You simply tell yourself that you, like all sentient beings, already possess Buddha-nature and then put yourself in situations that will help you realize that fact. You might think that I mean go join a Buddhist monastery. Nope. Buddhist monasteries are filled with people who are absolutely convinced they cannot attain to Nirvana. They’re working and working and struggling and mediating because they believe they can’t be Enlightened. It seems like a paradox, but it’s really just a logical error. It’s the same as the Bill of Rights granting everyone the right to “the pursuit of happiness”. Friend, if you’re pursuing happiness, you’re not happy and you never will be until you stop pursuing.
Anyone, at any age, can change how they think. When you change how you think, you change how you live. As Funkadelic said, “Free your mind and your ass will follow”. It is not difficult. It does take a certain amount of effort and it doesn’t happen instantly. Well, some things do happen instantly. I have experienced moments of satori, when dots are connected and realizations occur, but mostly it’s just a matter of deciding to be something and then acting like you are that something until you are. That’s how I became a shaman, how I conquered death, how I became one with the One.
Of course, I do still get upset over trivial things from time to time, until I remember not to take things so serious. I’m playing a game called life in the zone of middle dimensions and sometimes I get caught up in the game. That’s just part of the fun of playing. It really is just a game, though.
Anybody can change. Anybody can conquer fear, keep their head when those about are losing theirs, enjoy the luxuries of poverty, walk through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil. It’s all about what you tell yourself.
So. What do you want to be?
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.
- The name of this band is The Big Drum In The Sky Religion, shortened when desired to Big Drum Sky Religion, abbreviated BDSR. For some reason, people want to leave off the first “The”, which isn’t a big deal. One time, we were billed as Big Drum & The Sky Religion, which was a little silly. More than once, it’s been sliced down to Big Drum. Sometimes, the unwieldy name is lengthened to The Big Drum In The Sky Religion Is Not A Religion, but not often.
- Little known fact: the last two notes of the Boredoms’ “Melt Down Boogie” are the first two notes of the riff from Pussy Galore’s “Cunt Tease”.
- Harmonics are only supposed to be possible on the fifth, seventh and twelfth frets. I have gotten them on the third. It happened accidentally once and then I tried to do it again and it happened again. I have no explanation for this nor do I feel any need for one. Impossible things happen sometimes.
- The other day, I took the little girl to church and as we were getting out of the car, I spilled my coffee and said “Oh, shit”. The girl asked “Daddy, why did you say ‘Oh, shit’?” So I lied: “I said ‘Oh, shoot’ because I spilled my coffee.”
As we were walking into the church, holding hands, she looked at me and said “You know, Daddy, it isn’t very nice to say ‘Oh, fuck’.”
- I am male; therefore I have never experienced menstrual cramps. However, I would never say to any of the female people in my life “Your menstrual cramps are not real. You’re just imagining it.”
Atheists are people who have never had religious experiences and who claim that those of us who have are just imagining it.
- The spiritual battlecry of BDSR is “Kill the wounded; mutilate the dead”, but it’s meant in a purely metaphorical way. For now.
- It is not at all unusual for this Espresso Shaman paraphrase Smokin’ Joe Campbell’s theme that myth is poetry, that myth should be read figuratively, not literally. I absolutely affirm that it is so and I love it for being so. However, no one should infer from that that I like poetry. I do not. There was a period of my life when I thought I did like poetry, but really, I just liked my own poetry. I don’t think I was the only person at open mic poetry readings who was only there so they could read their own stuff and didn’t give a rat’s ass about anybody else’s shit. After I stopped smoking cheeba, I realized that my poetry sucked as much as everybody else’s. I do have a book of Japanese death poems, Japanese Death Poems, which has some great pieces, all of which are really short, and I like some of William Blake’s really short poems – “The Proverbs of Hell” are awesome, though The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, of which they are a chapter, is kinda tedious. Other than those few examples, I can’t think of any poetry off the top of my head that I like, but I love me some myth.
- BDSR had two local shows, a week apart. The flier for the first had a picture of a woman breastfeeding a baby; the second had a still from a ‘70’s disaster movie: a woman covered in her own blood. One business downtown wouldn’t put up the breastfeeding woman, but the other one was okay.
Our society is fucked up.
- Browny’s Vox Maxim: There is no vocal track so flat, off-key or otherwise terrible that it cannot be rendered awesome by the simple application of fuzz. (More than one coat may be necessary.)
- The last time I checked, the number of deities being worshiped in India was something like 3,600 which is awesome in and of itself. The thing that makes it even more awesome is the fact that the average Hindu on the street is cognizant of the fact that all those deities are metaphors, images that represent the incomprehensible Mystery which underlies and animates the Universe. They know that there isn’t a four-armed, blue-skinned magic man with an extra eye in the middle of his forehead dancing to keep the stars spinning or a chubby, elephant-headed dude riding around the cosmos on a rat or a flesh-eating, corpse-fucking chick lurking around looking for the chance to chop off their arms for her skirt. They know all that and they still keep right on going with it, century after century. That is fucking awesome.
- People used to say that the music of BDSR didn’t “go anywhere”. Maybe people still say that, but nobody’s said it to me for a few years.
I never understood what the fuck that was supposed to mean. Where is music supposed to go? Where can it go except from its source to your ears? I honestly do not understand. I listen to a lot of music - ragas, free jazz, old-time, punk, new wave, no wave, hardcore, pre-war country blues, anthropological field recordings of naked savages chanting and beating slit drums, bagpipe regiments, grebo, gospel, noise, gamelans, heavy psychedelic, probably some other stuff that I can’t think of. None of it “goes” anywhere. Some of it evokes emotions. I listen to that stuff when I want to experience the emotions it evokes. Some of it helps me enter into a mentally turned-off zone which I find pleasant. I listen to that stuff when I’m drawing or painting or just zoning out. It’s possible that I’m missing out on something, that other people are having some kind of listening experience that makes them feel like they’ve gone someplace, but I don’t think I want it. If I want to go someplace, I’ll take the little red truck. It’s got a cassette player – I can listen to Native American war chants along the way.
- Some great quotes by me:
“Atheists and fundamentalists are equally annoying and for the same reason.”
“Things are seldom as they should be, but they’re always as they are.”
“Unsought advice is insult; unrequested help is injury.”
“Better to suck originally than be great at copying.”
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t know any better.”
“I don’t hit on women. I avoid any situation in which success is the worst-case-scenario.”
“When you’re dealing with crazy people, it’s important to remember that they’re crazy.”
“If what you see is all you see, you’re missing most of it.”
“Honesty is the best policy if you don’t want friends, sex or money.”
“Fuck a bunch of irony.”
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.
“The wounded healer is an archetype for a shamanic traii(sic) and journey. This process is important to the young shaman. S/he undergoes a type of sickness that pushes her or him to the brink of death.” - Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaman
I am forty-three years old, 5’8” tall, and 135lbs. I’m a vegetarian with a devotion to caffeine, garlic and weapons-grade peppers. Every four or five years, influenza knocks me down for a day, but beyond that, I don’t get sick. A few months ago, I noticed that I can no longer focus on small objects that are nearer than eight inches from my face, so I can’t claim perfect vision anymore, but since everyone I’m related to by blood or marriage required reading glasses by first grade, I’d say I’m doing pretty well with it. Beestings, mosquito bites and the poisons ivy, oak and sumac, don’t even make a red spot on my skin. I started going grey in my late twenties, like everybody in my maternal line, but my hair is as thick now as ever, which is thick enough to draw commentary from barbers. My ears are sharp, my bottom firm, my knuckles hard, my muscles honed to bowstring tension. Some people believe that exposure to my sperm actually cures STD’s, but this claim has not been tested in a clinical setting. Certainly, the one child I’ve begotten is so radiantly beautiful that Latinos genuflect when she passes and Tibetan monks regularly show up to worship at her lotus feet, and that despite the fact that her mommy is allergic to reflected sunlight, sensitive to all foods containing molecules and becomes light-headed when dust motes. In short, I’m as healthy as a bull-ox yearling on good grass.
Mentally…not so much. I have dysthymia, a.k.a. neurotic depression, which basically means never-ending mild depression. As far as I can tell, I’ve always had it. That doesn’t mean that I was depressed as a four-year-old, though I might’ve been, just that my own perceptions of my own childhood are colored by the years of mild depression that came after. Like many people with dysthymia, I assumed that what I was feeling was normal and didn’t seek treatment until after I’d had almost a dozen major depressive episodes, which to me seemed like the same thing only a little more so. Major depression on top of dysthymia is known as “double depression”. I’m a “double Aries”, too, but that doesn’t really figure into this. Nobody who knows anything about this kind of thing will be at all surprised to learn that I’m also an alcoholic and drug addict, as substance abuse and dysthymia are co-occurring disorders in up to 50% of cases. I ingested my last mind-altering substance 26 February, 1998, at about one in the morning. It was marijuana, lightly dusted with something, probably crystal meth.
My dad once said, “I know that what I experienced there made me the man I am today, but there’s not enough money in the world to make me do it again.” He was talking about his tour of duty in Vietnam, 1970-71. I feel the same way about the thirteen years I spent fucked up.
The depression and addiction are well contained by prayer and medication and I’m doing fine, thanks. Cognitive therapy helped, but what really turned the tide and put me on the sunny side of life was religion and myth. I agree completely with Bongwater’s “Folk Song”, “Joseph Campbell gave me hope and now I have been saved”, but I mean it sincerely and with Bongwater you can never be sure. Campbell’s The Power Of Myth blew my mind and opened me to the entire long history of humans trying to make some semblance of sense of the ineffable. In those first few years of sobriety, my brain was still pretty scrambled, but the stories of gods and goddesses, tricksters and talking animals, windigos and ice giants cut through the confusion and reached some inner recess of my psyche, giving me the wherewithal to continue going and growing. The meanings of the tale of the prodigal son, Zen koans and The Bhagavad Gita rose up to the surface as I became able to understand them. Táin Bó Cúailnge, Beowulf, and von Eschenbach’s Parzival, the Norse Eddas, the Upanishads, Levi-Strauss, Watts, Eliade, North and South American Indians tales, Polynesian myths, Australian outback lore, and everything Campbell, all of it has seeped into my psyche.
Shaman initiations commonly contain an episode in which the neophyte is taken to the underworld, ripped open and his/her organs are replaced with crystals, precious metals, oddly colored stones. No doubt, many Inuit and Cherokees have taken this literally, just as some Christians cling to the notion that God created the world and universe ex nihilo in seven twenty-four hour days, placed into it a naked couple who incurred His wrath after being led astray by a talking snake; but anthropological reports contain plenty of instances of shamans sidling up to the anthropologists and letting on that they know it’s not literally true, that the images they relate to their fellows are metaphors, poetic depictions of experiences that cannot be conveyed accurately in everyday language. I know that my guts are still just guts, but it is as if they have been replaced with diamond sutras, rocks of ages and golden scales, so deeply and thoroughly have the myths permeated me. This is not because I am in any way unique. Years of self-imposed isolation coupled with several tons of natural and man-made psychoactive substances may have helped me to see things somewhat differently from others, but they may just as easily have hindered my progress. The left-handed path got me halfway up the holy mountain, but I passed a few corpses on my journey and I don’t encourage anyone to follow that route.
In some class I took, we learned about depressive realism, the theory that people who have mild to moderate depression lack positive illusions of superiority and optimism bias and therefore have a more accurate view of reality. As theories go, depressive realism is somewhat controversial and has been contradicted by some studies, but I believe it because it makes sense to me. I have never understood how humanity could allow such things as famine and war. Rape and child abuse are beyond me. I took some speed and more than a few hallucinogens, but the vast majority of the pills, powders and potions I ingested were downers. I was trying to shut my brain off, not expand it; to make the voices stop, to end the horror of the world around me. Without meds and myth, I would do nothing but weep, perhaps taking a catatonic break once in a while; with them, I can function well enough, though I am occasionally reminded that there is a chasm betwixt myself and others.
11 September, 2001 was one. People were wandering around, pie-eyed and slack-jawed, as if everything they’d ever known had gone up in smoke, and for me it was just another day. The terrible, senseless violence was a little closer to home, but I’ve never lived in a world without war and cruelty and mass murder so it wasn’t a big shock. I was more upset when U.S. bombs started falling on Iraq, because I was minutely responsible for that. And because I knew “we” would kill far more people than “them”.
But I digress. I was saying that I am in no way unique. It’s true. I have a strong immune system and my feet are extra wide, but that’s about it. Nothing special. Two quotes come to mind:
“Of myself I am nothing; the Father doeth the works.” – common paraphrase of John 5:30
“The myth is not mine, but from my mother.” – Euripides, introduction to “The Separation of Earth and Sky at Creation”
I am just a cynical, working class, middle-aged man from rural Virginia, smarter than some, but not very good at using it to make money, and in possession of a strong immune system. I have no more musical or artistic talent than the average chimp, but I have spent decades messing around with the tools of those trades – pencils, guitars, technical pens, banjos, paintbrushes, sound programs – and I’ve learnt a few things. Religion and myth interest me, so I seek them out and again, I’ve learnt. This is one of the core principals of The Big Drum In The Sky Religion: anybody can do this. Anybody. Any sincere halfwit who exposes him/herself to any or all of the world’s religions for long enough will wake up one day to discover that, to paraphrase that talking snake, their eyes shall be opened and they shall be as gods. Yep, “as gods”. It wasn’t the serpent, symbol of the powers of the Earth, who was fibbing; it was the jealous sky-god, Jehovah. Eve’s work was well-begun, for it got the game going, but only half-done.
Satori, enlightenment, at-one-ment with the Celestial Blue Heaven, all are attainable, right here, right now, on this planet, in this incarnation; equally available to all who will have them. God is not lost; He does not need to be found. All beings have Buddha consciousness. That is what I learned in the other world(s). That is what BDSR is for. That is what I have been, and will be, born again and again and again to cry out in the wilderness. Religion – all of them – are medicine for our sick(ening) world and I’m doing what I can to apply it. I believe that because I am a product of the world-as-it-is and religion – all of them – is what worked for me.
Paradise is here and now. If you want it.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.