Part 2: It’s All Too Much
(Before proceeding, please note, this is all written from the point of view of a student of Sanatana Dharma who is still struggling to understand the specifics of these concepts. Errors and misunderstandings on my end are to be expected, and with time I will learn to correct my thinking.)
I had not been living my life joyfully. In fact, for a very long time, decades and decades, I never knew a moment of pure joy. I had fleeting moments of joy, but always underneath it somewhere lurked a shadowy depression, or a sour twist of anxiety. Now, I know joy, not only joy, but pure joy, and at times ecstasy and bliss. But how did I learn joy? I learned it by realizing where the roots of my suffering lie, and by tearing up those roots, essentially by allowing Lord Shiva to dance me to destruction!
When I left Christianity, clueless, directionless, a lifetime ago, it left a huge charred hell in my psyche. I became morbidly terrified of death. I struggled to find myself through Taosim, then Zen, Celtic Paganism, and even mythology in general, but none of that fit and I knew it. Finally I became resigned to a decade or more of agonizing agnosticism. And through it all I remained terrified of the dark dank rotting reality of ultimate death. The story of how I felt drawn to Hindusim is long, and not one I can tell here, let’s just say that when Shiva came to me I was not looking for answers anymore. The answers came to me because Shiva knew I was ready. The problem was, Shiva may have known I was ready, but I did not feel ready. Funny that, because THAT is the very crux of what I am trying to get through to my students… YOU ARE READY!
Years ago, when I first began answering the call to Hinduism, I had sincerely installed a Ganesh in my home, and I adored Lord Ganesh, but that was only a first step. At least then I had a Hindu Temple less than an hour away, but once I moved to Florida, that was when my spiritual growth went dark. I was now clueless and all alone in my spirituality. I had no support, no Temple, no Priest, no fellow devotees, just a lot of questions, and nowhere to turn for answers. Naturally, my spiritual development not only stagnated, it regressed.
Yet I installed a Durga and Shiva, along with the Ganesh, in my new home in Florida. But, I was still clueless. I had no idea where any of this was leading or what it was I was supposed to be doing, so I continued to flounder, alone. At times it felt like I had made Hinduism up in some fit of desperate madness, so lonely I was in it, so hopelessly lost and without support. And it wasn’t just the lack of Hindu community and a Temple or teacher, all that was further confounded by the limitless options and possibilities within the framework of what we call “Hinduism.” I was like a child raised in a locked room (that room having been fundamentalist evangelical Christianity), and released into the Wide World in a moment, with no guide, no teachers, and no traveling companion! Unknown to me, this circumstance of birth had loaded me full of vasanas. I had been born into the wrong religion, a religion that may have been right for many, but not for me. How long had I suffered that? Were the vasanas that had become hard-wired in me born in this lifetime, or had I travelled through many before finally realizing from where God was calling? Frightened “child” that I was, I could not help but want to run back into my little locked room, so I all but neglected my spirituality, and worse, as I began to learn more about the Vedas and Puranas, I kept trying to drag them back into the little room I had been locked in.
It is hard to figure out what to become when you are a “Hindu,” especially when you have no Temple, no teacher, no guidance whatsoever, and when you have not been born into a culture of people that understand the many arms of Hinduism. I was overwhelmed. Do you become a follower of Vedic teaching? Do you join in with the Krishnas? Do you walk away from it all and join an ashram (and if so… which one under which guru)? Do you become an ascetic? Do you just meditate and be mindful to be calmer? Do you follow one as saintly as the beatific Anandi Ma, or do you wallow in the dirt of cremation grounds with flesh-eating Aghori? To have come from such a narrow path into a world of infinite possibilites without any help or guidance had paralyzed me. It was all too much, and there was so little for me to grab onto.
But then, and I have never revealed this on my blog, over a year ago a friend of mine showed up with a dose… and I took a hit of DMT, “the spirit molecule.”
The point of no return. My entire concept of reality had been upended. From that point it was impossible to ever return to the limited notions of “reality” I’d had before. With my understanding of reality utterly destroyed, I had no choice but to earnestly engage in seeking Godhead. What was more instantaneous than that and quite miraculous, after my fist dose of DMT, is that I was suddenly able to do the impossible… meditate! No, really! I had struggled to meditate for years, both before I became a sysha in Sanatana Dharma (a “student” or “seeker” in “Hinduism”) and after. The ability to meditate had simply been beyond the power my vasanas had over me. Though I had considered myself a “Hindu” prior to DMT, it was DMT that, in one 15 minute trip. knocked down every obstacle between me and meditation, between me and Shiva. DMT became the eye of Shiva in that it utterly destroyed me and all I knew. Ganesh followed in the wake of that destruction and demolished every obstacle in my path. That first morning after the DMT trip when I woke up to meditate, it just so happened that my housemate and a friend were out my window in the yard running a chainsaw! Ordinarily I would have said “screw it,” and gone on with something else, but to me this seemed like a perfect opportunity. If I can initiate morning meditations by doing my very first morning meditation with a chainsaw going on outside my window… well… then, it seemed to me that I was “in.” Yes, that chainsaw was a test and a gift from Shiva… it was now or never.
And I realized.
I realized that ultimately that THIS is the nature of Shiva, both DMT and the noise of a chainsaw were used to draw me closer to him. The path to Shiva is not as sanitized as the path to God that I knew as I child.
So, you ask me:
Q: Are psychedelics a valid tool for genuine spiritual enlightenment?
A) Absolutely not
B) Yes, of course, take DMT now
C) Yes, but only with a qualified “professional” in some unlikely circumstance or obscure locale
D) All of the above
D) All of the above. No, I can’t reccomend that everyone go out and try psychedelics, but I couldn’t, in good conscience, tell anyone not to either. Let me say this, for certain people heading towards certain paths within the framework of Sanatana Dharma, I would say, no, psychedelics are not going to do anything but make things worse, but for others heading down other paths, then, yes, psychedelics can be as valid a tool as any. As a person who has leaned towards Lord Shiva, who seems to me a rather transgressive Yogi, “That Which Is Not,” for someone in whom Shiva is at work, medicinal and respectful spiritual work with psychedelics may well be just the thing. People debate this, but it is said by many that Shiva partook of ganja. Did Shiva partake of ganja? Did Shiva partake of soma? Some claim soma was a poetic reference to spiritual inebriation, but I and others tend to believe soma was an entheogenic visionary drink. Regardless of the validity or lack of validity of psychedelics as a tool, this is important, psychedelics are NEVER to become a crutch. Ultimately, psychedelics open doors for people who cannot otherwise open them, they can break us free from our vasanas by essentially rerouting our mental pathways, but to keep taking them and relying on them… well, doors begin to open right into brick walls. But if psychedelics open the doors of perception, as Alan Watts said of LSD, when you get the message, hang up the phone.
Yes, I do believe some people need psychedelics to open those doors, because those doors are often blocked by nonsense that only a good strong dose of “reality busting” can break through, and there is sound scientific thought behind it, in that psychedelics, as I had eluded to a moment ago, reroute our mental pathways, get us out of our ruts. For some these ruts may be impossible to get out of without a push, and if no guru is available, perhaps a medicinal guru can do the trick. Many of us get rutted into unhealthy pathways… and those pathways are, or become, vasanas. So, yes, if you ask me, psychedelics may be a critical guilt-free part of the journey for some, but if they are the destination, then I personally think that reveals a lack of vision if not a weakness of character, after all, once the doors have been opened, with a little discipline we can learn to find and travel through those doors without the aid of psychedelics. Psychedelics are tools, they are not God-realization, and they will not “open your third eye,” no matter what some white guy with dreads broadcasting from Burning Man may tell you on his Youtube channel. For me, DMT was nothing more than one essential step up a very high mountain, and the rest of the way I will now have to climb under my own power, though knowing that all of my power comes from Shiva, from Brahman, from Sanatana Dharma… and all that power can be accessed from within. My interest in psychedelics and DMT has diminished as I have learned what I needed to learn from them, which is good as it’s damn-near impossible to find DMT… I haven’t had the energy or desire to find it again. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and that’s probably for the best. A very little goes a long way.
So, there, one vasana finally eliminated, at long last, I now could meditate and I was now on the path of no return. But what the hell path was I on? I’m back on the limitless highway of Hindu possibilities. I love Sadhguru, but he probably will not turn out to be my guru. I am devoted to Lord Shiva, but the path of Devotion (bhakti) may not be the path for me, though I practice bhakti still. Should I travel to India and be in the company of Anandi Ma? Again… do I join the Krishnas? To be honest, as much as this may freak people out, a lot of what the Aghori say, do and believe, makes a lot of internal sense to me… but I am definitely not an Aghori either. But that part of me that is fascinated by and appreciative of what the Aghori represent has, perhaps, made me unfit for more mainstream options within “Hinduism.” In a sense, a new vasana had been revealed to me, the same vasana one might say Hamlet suffered from.
I have long suffered from neurotic confusion (neurotic confusion having been an habitual state for me, one from which I frequently reacted) that manifests as over-concern for the destination when I should have been enjoying the journey. This had manifested itself for years in my artwork, in which I have rarely enjoyed the process as I always had an eye on the results. Now this was revealed to me as a vasana, but in this particular case, I was worried about where I was supposed to end up in my spiritual life rather than recognizing or enjoying the process of seeking. The removal of this “To be or not to be” existential struggle, this confusion and state of ignorance particular to my spiritual journey, came to me from the humblest and most unexpected of sources, a waiter at an Indian restaurant.
I had become friends with many employees of the local Indian restaurant, so I sometimes bring them out to where I live for a day of relaxation. I was standing on the lakeshore with him, and while he was staring out in wonder at the beautiful landscape of floating islands, exotic birds, lakeshore, lake and light, I was churning up concerns for the future, distressing over my destination. I said, “Vikram, I don’t know where this is going. I mean, am I going to end up in an ashram somewhere or what?”
He held his hand out over the lake and said, “Don’t think of the fruit.” He then told me how beautiful the lake was.
All in the teachings I know, but I had never heard Krishna’s teaching about how we are entitled to our actions, but not to the fruit of our actions applied in this way. To me this teaching meant that however hard I worked to learn how to draw, I had no right to expect being rewarded for it, but now, with Vikram, this teaching took on all new depth. From that point on I have stopped thinking about where I am going… and instead I am simply going, am simply seeking! It seems I have defeated one aspect of this monstrous vasana, I have stopped worrying about what path I will resolve and resign to traveling spiritually. I am traveling, and that is enough. The specific path and destination will reveal itself, as has everything else. This vasana of having too much an eye on the results and not enough focus on the process has many forms, but having defeated one manifestation, one avatar, if you will, of this vasana, it will be easier now to begin defeating it when it manifests in my art, or in other areas of my life. In other words, I had won one battle in my war with this one single vasana, but from this point, it should be easier to win the other battles.
The real vasanas I had been battling inwardly were my inherent tendency towards depressions, anxieties, obsessions and fears that had become part of the marrow of my being, and had been so since I was 3 years old, but probably since birth and long before. I had the habit of feeding those wolves as if they simply had to be accepted as part of who I am, as a permanent part of my life. Like many people with anxiety and depression, anxiety and depression had become an important and accepted part of my identity. These were diseases I wrongly understood to be ME.
For a start, it was Sadhguru who got me to realize that this way of thinking is backwards. In one of his teachings he asked, what if your hand was flopping around hitting you all the time when you weren’t using it… would you consider this a sickness? Well, he went on to explain, this is exactly what your brain is doing when it tortures you with undue suffering. Your mind, like your hand, should sit still and calm when not in use. He then explained that we have simply lost control of our minds, and that as common a condition as it is, it should not be viewed as normal, nor should it be resigned to.
Thus I became aware of one major vasana, I had lost control of my mind!
NEXT, Part 3: Beware Of Darkness