Tonight, many Japanese are going to bed setting an intention for what they want to dream. For in Japan, your first dream of the new year is known as Hatsuyume (初夢), and it can set the tone for the months ahead; and even foretell the future. Traditionally, it's good luck to dream of a hawk, Mt Fuji, or eggplants; ganbatte to anyone aiming for all three in the same dream! But as dreams are personal, archetypes universal, and our imaginations endless, there'll be some interesting discussions at breakfast tables tomorrow. Hatsuyume is also very auspicious for futon sales.
The Japanese word for dream is yume, derived from the kanji for 'a sitting priestess' and 'night'. Shinto priestesses, known as Miko, were often consulted for dream interpretation. Dreams are the realm of kami, when we sleep we enter their world; Miko are the ultimate oneironauts. Like the pythia and sybil of ancient Greece, Miko would also enter trance states to convey messages from the spirit world, and coax kami from the landscape.
It's this ancient link between hatsuyume and ancient Japanese shamanism that fascinates me. The archaic kanji for Miko, 神子 and 巫子, translates as kami/god child and shaman child respectively. Sweeping the temple steps, assisting the priests, and selling souvenirs, today's Miko is "a far distant relative of her premodern shamanic sister" as Lisa Kuly puts it. However, a spark of this ancient shamanic sisterhood endures through the kagura dance. First performed by the goddess Ame-no-Uzume, the kagura dance still welcomes gods and spirits into our world at Shinto shrines all over Japan today.
Shinto and Japanese society are made of dream stuff. Akira Kurosawa, Haruki Murakami, Studio Ghibli, even the many manga artists selling their hand-made works on the street -- all come from that inbetween worlds dream stuff. In his wonderful book Shinto: A Celebration of Life, Aidan Rankin writes:
Shinto... has preserved its intimacy with the world of dreams, or the spirit world, and at the same time embraced all the characteristics of reason and modernity. It has never divided ancient and modern, faith and reason, conscious and unconscious, dream and reality into opposing camps... so that 'modernized' men and women lose contact with the archetypal images and insights that bind us together as humans, connecting us with Great Nature and the cosmos. Such loss is ultimately a loss of self, or in shamanic terms soul-loss. In Shinto, by contrast, the most ancient archetypes and primal dream images are joyfully celebrated and made relevant to an urban, technological society based on the exercise of reason.
There's no real separation of the spirit world, the realm of the gods, and our world. We co-exist, overlapping each other like a wave on a beach. Japan, to me, exists in a state of dorveille, an old French word describing a semi-conscious state, particularly that moment between sleeping and waking. It's why I'm so fascinated with Japan. As Rankin goes on to write, "to the Shinto practitioner, imagination and intuition come from the Kami power within us, which to our great detriment we have buried."
I often dream of Japan. These are "wow!" dreams, so vivid and realistic I wake up feeling as if I had actually been there. I've never been to Japan, despite desperately wanting to for years; I feel a strong pull towards Japan, in my dreams and in waking life. I've had recurring dreams of almost drowning in a car that plunged off a pier into Tokyo Bay. I've made a phone call answered by a woman named Hiyumi, so realistic I can still hear the international dial tone and her "moshi moshi" answer. Most of the time I'm visiting friends; unfortunately I become lucid, and wonder how the heck I'm going to get to work in the morning.
But tonight, don't worry about how you'll get to work in the morning. Wear some comfy pyjamas and let loose your inner kami. Dream big. I'll post what I dream (even NSFW!) -- it'll be interesting to read your hatsuyume as well. Dreams are personal myths, as Joseph Campbell so eloquently put it -- so make 2014 mythic. You never know, dreams do come true.
Further reading from the Grail archives:
- Dream Like A Boss! with oneironaut Ryan Hurd.
- SHADOW: an app to remember your dreams.
- An introduction to lucid dreaming with Paul Devereux.
- Awake Within A Dream: accessing your inner virtual realities.
- Communing With The Gods by Charles D. Laughlin, Ph.D.
- SciAm on Lucid Dreaming.
- Stephen LaBerge on lucid dreaming.
The terrific photo of the Buddha & a hawk is by Niels Henriksen.
Do psychedelics free our creative minds from the everyday shackles we place upon it, allowing us to transcend our normal patterns and expectations, as well as transforming our own self-image? Consider this series of 11 self-portraits drawn by a girl during an LSD 'trip', beginning with the image at the top of this post, and perhaps reaching its apotheosis with the image below, drawn 6 hours and 45 minutes after ingesting the powerful entheogen.
Link: 11 Auto-portraits on LSD
A couple of weeks ago I attended a rather eclectic event called Bonus Creative Week MX, which invited a couple of pretty big names in the alt-thinking community --people like Daniel Pinchbeck, Douglas Rushkoff & Erik Davis. But my reason for attending was because I was seeking to meet Jasun Horsley, author of Matrix Warrior [Amazon US / UK], whose work I've been following ever since he was interviewed by Mike Clelland for his Hidden Experience audio conversations.
The original title of his presentation was "The Smallest Particle in Creation," and if you're someone like me, who thinks the acts of Creativity & Artistic Expression are processes with a lot of mystical --even magickal!-- undertones, then I'm sure you'll get to enjoy Jasun's words, which were marvelously emphasized by his wife Lucinda Horan's paintings.
And here's Jasun's own recap of the highlights of his trip to Mexico:
- The Shadow of My Shining
- The Eye of the Other: A Sort-Of Chronicle of My Mexican Odyssey.
- Coming in from the Cold (A Sort-Of Chronicle of My Mexican Odyssey, Part 2)
PS: That giggling cameraman who made a lousy job keeping the camcorder steady? That was yours truly.
I mentioned in my news briefs last week that comedian Russell Brand was guest-editing an issue of the New Statesman, and had invited alternative thinkers including Graham Hancock and Daniel Pinchbeck to contribute articles. Graham's article, titled "The War on Consciousness", had to be shortened to fit the print magazine, but he has kindly posted the unedited text on Facebook for everyone to read. Here's an excerpt (link to full article below):
Consciousness is one of the great mysteries of science – perhaps the greatest mystery. We all know we have it, when we think, when we dream, when we savour tastes and aromas, when we hear a great symphony, when we fall in love, and it is surely the most intimate, the most sapient, the most personal part of ourselves. Yet no one can really claim to have understood and explained it completely. There’s no doubt it’s associated with the brain in some way but the nature of that association is far from clear. In particular how do these three pounds of material stuff inside our skulls allow us to have experiences?
Professor David Chalmers of the Australian National University has dubbed this the “hard problem” of consciousness; but many scientists, particularly those (still in the majority) who are philosophically inclined to believe that all phenomena can be reduced to material interactions, deny that any problem exists. To them it seems self-evident that physical processes within the stuff of the brain produce consciousness rather in the way that a generator produces electricity – i.e. consciousness is an “epiphenomenon” of brain activity. And they see it as equally obvious that there cannot be such things as conscious survival of death or out-of-body experiences since both consciousness and experience are confined to the brain and must die when the brain dies.
Yet other scientists with equally impressive credentials are not so sure and are increasingly willing to consider a very different analogy – namely that the relationship of consciousness to the brain may be less like the relationship of the generator to the electricity it produces and more like the relationship of the TV signal to the TV set. In that case when the TV set is destroyed – dead – the signal still continues. Nothing in the present state of knowledge of neuroscience rules this revolutionary possibility out. True, if you damage certain areas of the brain certain areas of consciousness are compromised, but this does not prove that those areas of the brain generate the relevant areas of consciousness. If you were to damage certain areas of your TV set the picture would deteriorate or vanish but the TV signal would remain intact.
We are, in other words, confronted by at least as much mystery as fact around the subject of consciousness and this being the case we should remember that what seems obvious and self-evident to one generation may not seem at all obvious or self-evident to the next. For hundreds of years it was obvious and self-evident to the greatest human minds that the sun moved around the earth – one need only look to the sky, they said, to see the truth of this proposition. Indeed those who maintained the revolutionary view that the earth moved around the sun faced the Inquisition and death by burning at the stake. Yet as it turned out the revolutionaries were right and orthodoxy was terribly, ridiculously wrong.
The same may well prove to be true with the mystery of consciousness.
Full article: The War on Consciousness
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Billionaire businessman Richard Branson last week spoke on CNN against the 'War on Drugs', labeling it "an abject failure". Speaking in purely business terms, Branson said that if he "had a company that had failed for 60 years I would have closed it down 59 years ago". He went on to cite the likes of Portugal, a country that has achieved success by treating those with drug problems, rather than punishing them (and thus all those connected to them) through incarceration.
Branson's interview was related to his attendance and participation in a screening of the documentary Breaking The Taboo (trailer above) at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The film explores the conclusion reached by the Global Commission on Drug Policy in 2011 that drug liberalization is the best approach in dealing with drug policy, and features interviews with a number of former heads of state, including US Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso:
The War on Drugs has failed. After 50 years of prohibition, illicit drugs are now the third most valuable industry in the world after food and oil, all in the control of criminals. Drugs are cheaper and more available than ever before. Millions of people are in prison for drugs offences. Corruption and violence, especially in producer and transit countries, endangers democracy. Tens of thousands of people die each year in drug wars.
Improving our drug policies is one of the key policy challenges of our time. The time for action is now.
Breaking the Taboo is available to purchase from iTunes.
In the above clip, one of many pieces of extra interview material from the documentary DMT: The Spirit Molecule that are available via the DMTRMX project, Dr. Rick Strassman discusses how his book was received negatively in some parts of the UFO/alien research community, and his rebuttal to their criticism:
One of the criticisms that my book has received from the UFO community, or the alien abduction/contact community, is that I'm just saying it's a drug, or it's just their imagination. But I think on the contrary, that this provides an explanatory model... One of the qualities of both a high-dose of DMT and the entity contact experience is its profound reality. People who have been abducted or contacted, or people under a high dose of DMT, they repeatedly and uniformly say the experience is more real than real...it's the most real that's ever happened to them, that this reality just seems like a dream compared to the pure solidity and convincing nature of what happens under a high dose of DMT. And that's similar to what you'll hear from people that have had a spontaneous contact experience.
If you read the religious literature from thousands of years ago, or even the more recent past - people who have had contact with spiritual beings, non-corporeal beings, for lack of a better word... Those experiences are the most real and shattering and revelatory of their entire lives as well.
I think rather than just discounting the phenomenon as hallucinatory or imaginary, I think it's maybe more useful to look at a mechanism of action. If it is real, then how does it work. And I think using DMT as an explanatory model, as a kind of a mediator between our consciousness and the consciousness of a non-corporeal kind of reality, it's handy and makes sense. And it can be tested.
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Must be ayahuasca week here on the Grail. After yesterday's post on Santo Daime, today I've got a cool little video about the shamanic brew ayahuasca and its powerful ingredient DMT, which uses some sweet visuals and the words of Graham Hancock, Terence McKenna and Joe Rogan to create a nice little rumination on shamanism, ontological musings about reality, and sovereignty over our own bodies and minds.
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...probably the most comprehensive single volume to look at the use of mind-altering drugs, or entheogens, for ritual and shamanistic purposes throughout humanity's long story, while casting withering sidelong glances at our own times - as Paul Devereux points out, our modern mainstream culture is eccentric in its refusal to integrate the profound experiences offered by these natural substances into its own spiritual life.
Do Psychedelics Allow Interspecies Communication?
by Paul Devereux
Societies of the past have used the psychedelic experience to strengthen, renew and heal the spiritual underpinning of their social structures. The ever-deepening social unease that Western civilisation seems to be caught in is the real source of our 'drug problem': natural hallucinogens are not the problems in themselves, it is the context in which they are used that matters. If there were orderly and healthy structures and mechanisms for their use and the cultural absorption of the powerful experiences – and knowledge – we could separate these from the culture of crime that surrounds them now. In short, the problems are not in the psychoactive substances themselves, but in a society, which on the one hand wants to prohibit, mind-expansion altogether and on the other chooses to use mind-expanding substances in a literally mindless, hedonistic fashion.
Perhaps only a shock of some kind could break our society free from the patterns of thought and prejudices that lock it into this crisis. The desire for such a shock may be hidden within the widespread modern myth of extra-terrestrial intervention. In fact, we do not have to look to science fiction for a real otherworld contact: it already exists in the form of plant hallucinogens. If we see them in the context of a 'problem', it is only because they hold up a mirror in which we see our spiritual, social and mental condition reflected. And they hold that mirror up to us as one species to another just as surely as if they were from another planet. Indeed, that champion of the psychedelic state, the late Terence McKenna, argued that the ancestral spores of today’s hallucinogenic mushrooms may have originated on some other planet. (This is not as fringe an idea as it sounds, for even some 'hard scientists' – the late Francis Crick, co-discover of DNA, among them – have suggested that the germs of life may have had extra-terrestrial origins, brought to Earth by means of meteorites or comet dust.) The psilocybin family of hallucinogens, says McKenna, produces a "Logos-like phenomenon of an interior voice that seems to be almost a superhuman agency…an entity so far beyond the normal structure of the ego that if it is not an extraterrestrial it might as well be."
Other 'psychonauts' have emerged from the altered mind states enabled by plant substances with similar impressions. For instance, New York journalist Daniel Pinchbeck wrote
In seeking to solve the mystery of the near-death experience, researchers have put forward a number of theories regarding possible causes, which range from Carl Sagan's (rather weak) 'reliving the birth experience' hypothesis through to a lack of oxygen, psychological dissociation, and neurochemical theories. In that latter area, two chemicals in particular have often been implicated: the psychedelics ketamine and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). In his seminal book DMT: The Spirit Molecule (subtitled "A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences"), Dr. Rick Strassman suggested that after death, decomposing pineal tissue might empty DMT directly into the spinal fluid, allowing it to reach the brain's sensory and emotional centers and causing residual awareness. "The consequence of this flood of DMT upon our dying brain-based mind", Strassman wrote, "is a pulling back of the veils normally hiding what Tibetan Buddhists call the bardo, or intermediary states between this life and the next". Michael Persinger and D.R. Hill have also argued that mystical experiences of all types (including NDEs) might be caused by circumstances that trigger the release of DMT from the pineal gland, and near-death experience researcher Pim van Lommel has written about the similarities between DMT trips and the NDE.
But is this the case? In the most recent issue of the Journal of Near-Death Studies, Dr. Michael Potts of Methodist University compared the elements of the DMT experience, as listed by Rick Strassman, with the elements of the near-death experience present on the authoritative 'NDE Scale' put together by Dr. Bruce Greyson. The results were surprising: although there were some similar phenomena between the two experiences, there were a lot more unique characteristics to each. And importantly, Potts notes...
...frequent or key NDE phenomena have not, to my knowledge, been reported among DMT experiencers, such as traveling through a tunnel into a transcendent realm or reporting subsequent to the experience that one perceived veridically during it. And finally, aftereffects of the experiences are dissimilar: Apparently permanent changes after NDEs are the rule rather than the exception, but after DMT experiences are the exception rather than the rule.
Potts makes clear though that he is not saying that DMT plays no part at all in the NDE. But thus far, he says "the evidence in its favor is not as strong as its advocates have claimed", and we can be reasonably certain "that DMT is neither the only nor the chief mechanism in the production of NDEs".
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