I remember watching a documentary with my wife many years ago when our children were still young. It was late at night and the program was about an Amazonian tribe, perhaps the Yanomami. The film-maker had been invited to live among the people and to film at will. I believe his purpose was to show an accurate depiction of daily life and let the viewers draw their own conclusions. I was fascinated at the time, having just finished reading several books about the same part of the world.
I have spoken to and dined with Cachique and Quechua people while hitch-hiking in Guatemala. Once I was shown a well that had been poisoned with certain plants four centuries prior to my visit in order to get rid of some cruel Spaniards. I was taken creek-side and shown too many plants to ever remember along the way.
On another occasion I had coffee with an Ifugao man at the New Westminster Quay. He was dressed in jeans and a soccer jersey and held an expensive cell phone in his hand. As we watched the sunset, he told me he had just returned from a ceremony in the Philippines where he had been culturally obliged to drink a mixture containing his grandmother's powdered bones. He made it clear that he didn't really enjoy the task but it was evident that ducking out of the traditional responsibility was not an option he was comfortable to take.
Among the Mayoruna, the Cat People tattoo lines around their mouths to suggest the whiskers of a cat and imbed stiff thin bristles to form a halo of whiskers on the sides of their nostrils. Among many of the traits they possess is an uncanny ability to communicate telepathically. This was documented by a National Geographic explorer who became credited with the discovery of the true source of the Amazon.
A renowned botanist was once commissioned to find new sources of latex bearing plants for the US Government during WWII. The country had less than three months supply of rubber warehoused at the height of the conflict and war machines don't roll or fly without gaskets. The scientist was most impressed with the ability of the jungle people he encountered to identify myriad varieties of related plants at physical distances that beggar the belief of anyone raised within the walls of civilization and far outstripping his knowledge as a botanist with a PhD.
It is held in theory by some scholars that the Cherokee originated in the Orinoco River Basin and trekked northwards to their more recent ancestral homes in the South-Eastern USA after being halted in their Northward migration by the Great Lakes peoples and encouraged to return Southwards. The rims of their baskets tell the tale for the most part. I have always felt a Southward pull in the direction of the jungle in counterpoise to a North-West draw which has been the place of most of my adult life. I made it as far South as Tikal in 1977 and I was even blessed with the sight of a quetzal bird in flight before I left those woods.
Back in the Yanomami camp on my flatscreen, it was a stormy, chilly night. Beptopoop, the Chief, lay in his hut alongside his wife. The rain penetrated a thatch of palmetto and came through a circuitous route to fall at a rate of 53 drips per minute. These landed athwart Beptopoop's left temple and in the green lens of a night vision camera, he brushed them away with much annoyance.
“The roof is leaking,” he said as calmly as surf at low tide.
“I am dry. It's on your side. You fix it!” rejoined his wife simultaneously rolling away from the leak and settling off to sleep with a soft cluck of her tongue.
Beptopoop rallied and with expressions of surprise and apology to the film crew, and soon he had crafted a working repair to the broached roof. I headed off to bed with my wife and our baby began to fuss just as we drifted into the arms of Morpheus.
“Miggy's crying,” I said as gentle as wind through a horses mane.
“It's your turn. The bottles are in the fridge. Also check his diaper,” giggled my wife simultaneously rolling away from the sound and settling off to sleep with a soft cluck of her tongue.
I saw the similarity of all groups of us humans and felt a newly acquired empathy for both Mr. and for Mrs. Beptopoop. It must be born in mind that nobody behaves normally while knowingly being on camera. This is the conundrum with reality media – it ain't real. This is the principal that the Panopticon idea illustrates to be a fact in a work of fiction. A habitat wherein all parts can be seen from one unobservable vantage is manned with a camera whose condition cannot be verified by anyone without that vantage. Behavior is effectively controlled by the inhabitants assumption that the camera is operational. At least that is the working theory.
Recently I viewed another documentary which dealt with a particular curandero or medicine man in Peru. This gentleman resembled the Dalai Lama and carried himself with the same easy-going dignity. He had built a training compound for the education of foreigners in the use of ayahuasca, a vine that contains naturally occurring DMT or dimethyltriptamine. This is a psychoactive substance that is becoming increasingly mainstream due to the efforts of a dedicated group of teachers, students and others who wish to benefit from the experience.
Many of those who seek the help of the spirit of the plants are from the dark spiritually empty suburbs of the crumbling middle classes. Others are struggling with various addictions. A few are doctors and healers in their own right who wish to expand their knowledge and abilities. Yet others are scientists of varying disciplines.
Of course, each of the individuals experienced ayahuasca in a unique way but when they compared notes, especially after several episodes, there were some definite similarities which emerged and painted a general landscape of what one could likely expect. The scientific minded individuals seemed to quickly reach a place where they were far removed from Earth and looking down upon it in the company of a wee being they variously describe as the spirit of the Earth, the spirit of ayahuasca, the spirit of the universe or God. This spirit seems to be mostly described as feminine. One botanist summed up his learning in the simple observation that he and by extension, all of us humans, know nothing. Many reached a point where they actually communicated with this spirit and described a Jiminy Cricket of sorts that sat Yoda-like upon their shoulders.
Others described a process that is somewhat unpleasant whereby they attempted to navigate through a difficult terrain with heavy emotional baggage. These people, if they continued riding the vine, seemed to reach a point where they experienced breaking open or breaking out of a husk and as they recounted this stage of their process, they usually described it as a sort of “ego death” and this is looked at as a positive experience. Before we throw this word around like a cat's toy lets see what it is taken to mean by those who employ the term. At the same time let's do the same for two other components of the psyche, namely the id and the superego.
Oxford defines ego as: “1 a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance. 2 the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for the interpretation of reality and the development of a sense of self.”
The same dictionary defines id as “the part of the mind in which innate instinctive impulses and primary processes are manifest.”
Superego is defined as “the part of the mind that acts as a self-critical conscience, reflecting social standards that have been learned.”
Now, if we ponder the implications of both individual ego death and of universal ego death, several interesting flowers bloom. There is first the question of what to do next for those who come to the conclusion that they know nothing. The obvious answer seems to be to continue taking the spiritual journey until one obtains an intelligible guide and seek counsel from that guide. This prompts the further question of whether or not the guide one finds is part of ones own mind, another person's mind or rather, the spirit of the universe at large.
Imagine if the process was undertaken by a number of people large enough to invoke the herd mechanics that have already been conclusively measured for our species, resulting in a global expansion of consciousness via the ayahuasca lodge ceremonies. This would resemble everyone merging into a whispering blob of multiplexed giggling and purging and then each individual emerging with the twin awareness that they know nothing and that we are all connected to every other thing. Would everyone have a Jiminy on their shoulder? Would those guides be different or would they be the same entity?
The only world without human egos that I can imagine at present is one similar to a hive of bees, a swarm of locusts, a school of fish or a flock of birds. This scenario seems to negate the beauty of humanity and thus I prefer to think in terms of taming the ego through enlightenment rather than killing it. It has been pointed out in the past by learned men who tried these psychotropics that they merely temporarily remove a set of chemical filters that have built up in the brains of humans over time and increase with the level of civilization obtained. In other words, the modern world as it is constructed and operated within contains so much noise and distraction to the physical senses that a barrier had to develop in order to keep our central processors from freezing up with data overload. This plausible explanation also covers the fact that forest dwelling people have such a heightened awareness of their surroundings when compared to city dwellers.
What if only the CEOs and power brokers of our world took the Amazonian equivalent of the Journey To Ixtlan? What would a cadre of ego less enlightened men and women set about to do when they emerged from their lodges? I'll let you imagine that world for yourself. I can say that the cable TV lineup would sure be different as would the Top Forty, the latest i-phone, the mode of dress, the grocery shelves and the classroom curriculum. There would be a mass of demobilized soldiers and the money saved could be put towards re-integrating them into normal life. I also would expect to see a tendency for advanced cultures to experience a retrograde over time which would likely lead to a shorter, happier lifespan for our species.
Another observation of the scientist-ayahuasceros, was that they perceived that plants came first, the Plant Kingdom was superior to the Animal Kingdom and that animals were parasites upon the plants. Here, I beg to differ with these men and women whose interpretations of their experiences are very similar to views held by the mentors and teachers they had while coming through the higher education they received. Most of these people strive to attain a plateau of politically correct self-loathing in order to fit in with their peers. In some schools of thought it is much taught that hunter/gatherers are parasitic upon the earth. Prof. Quigley held this view.
Anyone digging yams in a rain forest, slapping mosquitoes and pulling ticks off their children at days end while roasting a fish is obviously in myriad symbiotic relationships and is being eaten even as they eat. The fact that plants can manufacture food from light seems to fascinate the scientific mind in such a way that they disdain their own kind. I would remind them that we came to be what we are now and to live the way we do, up until relatively recent times, quite naturally and honestly. It was a hard road and it made us very smart. It also made us group into families and communities.
If we could simply stand in the sun making sugar and fruit we would require no family or friends and chances are, due to the nature of the spirit of life itself, we would only serve as food for other different life forms which would arise as a result of our being. Thus, I would offer an alternative way to enlightenment for the interested but psychotropically shy listener.
I met an alcoholic accountant in Vancouver who had a wicked limp. He and I became friendly when I was his mailman and he once told me a story of standing on a steep embankment off the Squamish Highway after reading the Castañeda books in the Seventies. He was doing the “gait of power”, a sorcerer’s stance designed to “call in one's ally”, when he slipped on a rock and smashed up his leg. This is for him.
One of the best ways to kill or tame the ego in order to reach enlightenment and thus find ones true purpose in the grand scheme of human life within the universe is very simple and is hidden in plain sight. It is, however, a much harder road than puking out ayahuasca and peyote or sweating out psilocybin. It is clothed and confidant rather than being naked and afraid. Its simplicity reminds me of several points which are covered in a recent Michael Moore documentary.
In that presentation, we are shown that the French eat better than Americans. The Finns are the most accomplished scholastically. The Italians make love and take vacations more often. The Germans are happier at work. The Portuguese haven't prosecuted drug use for fifteen years. The Slovenians provide free university. Icelandic women politicians steered the country out of financial ruin in record time and the only bank that didn't fold up in 2008 was the one owned and operated by women. Iceland also successfully prosecuted all the financial sector crooks while in America this was egregiously incomplete.
What's the connection to my aforementioned alternative way of enlightenment, you may rightly ask? OK, stand with your legs slightly apart and your weight almost evenly balanced on the balls of your feet. Hum in monosyllables as you progressively stomp each foot in turn. Stomp a little harder each time. Look up the word “egregious” in a dictionary. Learn that it means “1 -outstandingly bad. 2 archaic -remarkably good.” Learn that its origin is from the Latin egregius, which means “illustrious” which literally translates as (standing out from the flock) The key root word being “grex” or flock.
Cease stamping your feet, put down the Dictionary and back away from it. Ponder that while some time ago it was considered remarkably good to stand out from the flock it is outstandingly bad to do so now. Says who? Maybe its the same fellow who first said, “Sick!” when he heard a song he liked on the radio.
In my opinion the French eat better than Americans do because they refuse to do otherwise. This is kept up by being part of their culture or superego, if you will, and is relearned by each generation. It is totally sick and I applaud them while pointing out that any country could do the same if they had the will.
The Finns simply abolished homework, multiple choice exams and shortened the school day. The human spirit and mind did the rest. Any country could do the same if they had the will.
The Italians, like the French simply refuse to alter their culture by quashing the id out of existence. Any country could do the same if they had the will.
The Germans are happier at work because it is law that all Boards of all companies must contain 50% regular workers. Further, they have been transparent in the telling of their dark histories to their young in order that future generations don't forget and make the same horrible mistakes. This is something that North America has either not done or has done incompletely, in my opinion. It could and should be acted on in earnest at any time chosen. I agree with Mr. Moore that North America was born in genocide and raised up on slavery. I don't hate myself, however, for deeds I had no part in.
The Portuguese took a chance and it paid off in smaller jail populations, less drain on the economy and an overall reduction in drug abuse. Any country could do the same if they had the will. Indeed, several others have.
The Slovenians simply refused to see education in terms of being an industry. Any country could easily and logically adopt that same attitude and reap the social benefits.
The Icelanders have simply proven what any North American farmer already knows, ie. That any farmer's wife would be capable of running the budget of a country far better than the army of politicians and economic experts that have created the financial slime-mold in which we find ourselves now.
This isn't to say that those countries mentioned have not had difficult pasts or that North America has never known peace and plenty. Rather, it is a snapshot of a changing world scene and we must attempt to derive lessons from it. Some modern thinking people may point out to others who value older modes of being that North America lacked the wheel when the strangers arrived. I would point out to those people that the wheel isn't much use in river canyons, mountains and forests already abounding in food, water and fuel.
I see the wheel now being used to export resources without just compensation for the inhabitants of the areas where those resources are extracted. That problem was tackled in Louisiana many years ago by simply making Standard Oil pay a 1% tax to the state on all the bayou crude they wheeled out to their New England refineries. Louisiana got paved roads, free school books, a new hospital and much more. The literacy went from low double digits to among the highest in the nation in the blink of a sharecroppers eye, be he black or be she white.
To cinch up these thoughts, I return to a simple alternative method for taming the ego, that I alluded to earlier. I realize I am saying this in a world where earplugs are handed out at emo music concerts as a courtesy by the performers themselves. Sick! But here goes anyway. Simply take on and maintain a long-term (read permanent) relationship that involves the procreation of and/or the fostering of children through to adulthood. There is even a naturally occurring sexual sublimation process which manifests in those mated for life. According to the curanderos under the copal trees down in the Petén jungle this is a definite aid to spiritual vision.
Someone will have to teach this to the Italians in due time and I do not volunteer for that task. By the end of this daunting, uphill, completely natural human process, your ego, id and superego will have beaten each other up, sorted themselves out and you will feel a kinship with every human on the planet of any age, race or sex as well as a respect for the environment that sustains you and yours. Along that trail, imagine that a tiny Mark Twain is sitting on your shoulder saying, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.