This summer past we journeyed to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to attend the International Transpersonal Conference: a meeting of philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists, writers, ecologists, and thinkers on global subjects. Throughout the conference we were able to track down and interview some of the movers and shakers whose ideas and hopes will shape the new millennium. Prague was a fitting venue for this meeting. Poised as it is at the center of European crisis and promise, it is a metaphor for the transformation of the planet and of human psychology that must take place if we are to provide a sane future for our children.
I’m standing in the center of one of central Europe’s most beautiful and mysterious cities. This is Prague, Czechoslovakia, and I’m Terence McKenna. We’re here to meet with some of the world’s most outstanding thinkers to discuss science, spirituality, and the mounting global crisis, and it’s fitting that we should meet in this, the capital of ancient Bohemia, for Prague and Bohemia have always stood for intellectual innovation, chance-taking, and the life of ideas.
In the Jugendstil splendor of one of Prague’s most famous concert halls we encountered Richard Alpert and persuaded him to have lunch with us. Alpert—who now calls himself Ram Dass—is one of the most enduring figures from the American cultural upheaval of the 1960s. Alpert, whose career reaches from Harvard University to the plains of the Punjab, has transformed himself into a spokesman for humanity’s ignored and downtrodden.
…and Ralph Abraham was sitting across the table, watching me have this conversation. And whence after Steiger left, Ralph leaned over to me and he said, “So you see, Terence, the mushroom’s telling you that it can reach out and touch you anywhere,” and I thought that was amazing.
Well, anytime you would like to—or feel that you have the time—to guide me through anything at all I’d be happy to be your…
Oh, excuse me, sir! You are not the famous Terence "Mushroom" McKenna? That is you, my friend?
Oh, how wonderful! Yes, pleased to welcome you on our Bohemian highway. I especially bring you very good black coffee and Espresso. If you may tell me: who is the attractive elderly gentleman you brought on your side, on your companionship here?
This is Mr. Dass.
Oh! The MS-DOS, yes?
No, the Ram Dass.
Oh, the CD ROM?
The CD ROM, yes.
The CD ROM Dass.
The LSC… LSD Dass!
The LSD Dass, that’s the one! Yes.
How wonderful! Take this. It will be making you very Bohemian.
Oh, thank you. Thank you. I’m so happy to be in your fair country.
Oh, my country very fair and happy to help the LSD experience. You know—
What is your name?
My name is waiter.
Waiter? How do you do, waiter? A pleasure.
Yes. See you waiter!
Waiter? How do you do, waiter? A pleasure.
See you waiter, yes!
You don’t think there’s any… It needs the external form of a mushroom?
It would never have happened for me. I only argue from my own experience.
Yeah, but you and I were both so thick and crap when it ha—you know, that’s why we needed it.
Well, but there were a few others out there. We didn’t corner the market on being thick in crap.
Yeah. But I’m talking you about someone like a Ramana Maharshi or somebody like that. You know?
Oh, well these people—
I mean, there are people who…
But the idea is not to come up with something that the best among us can make hay with, but a democratic… something which addresses the species. The thing that seemed to me so important about the psychedelic experience was that it happened to me. I wasn’t reading John Chrysostom or Meister Eckhart. Of course, those guys…
Right on. It happened to me. It happened to me. Yes.
And so I assume that I am a very ordinary person. Therefore, if it happened to me, it could happen to anyone. And that’s really something.
That’s a question. There’s a set of assumptions there. One: that you’re a very ordinary person, and whether the same chemical (given to a dozen people) would bring about eleven other people like this—
—and I think the outcome would be very different. And that’s—I keep getting cast into an evolution of consciousness model about individuals, because there’s such marked individual differences. Three people come before my guru: one completely goes [crazy face] and the other two get at your party. And people take psilocybin, and some go like that [crazy face], and they go like that [scared face], and some go like that [embracing gesture].
Well, don’t you think a good metaphor for it would be sexuality? Apparently, there are some people who can, kind of, take it or leave it. And others of us, it rears its ugly head with great presence. Yet, everybody has to come to terms with it.
I notice as I get older I moved from one of these categories to the other! It leaves so much space in my life. I don’t know what to do with my free time.
I hope it never happens to me.
Aah. Just clinging. Just clinging.
No, just aspiring to cling! Actually, I live the life of an ascetic. It’s my aspirations that are pulling me down!
Well, see, the nice thing about this evolutionary argument is that you can sort of make the snake take its tail in its mouth because—
Exactly, exactly. It does.
—because the escape is not into some science-fiction future.
It’s into an archaic recursion of some sort. We once knew everything we need to know, so what we are trying to find out is lost knowledge, not new knowledge. And if you direct people back toward 10,000–20,000 years ago, they see a kind of completion; that an open-ended future is…
It seems to me it’s a confusing thing to use time in that way, because it makes the artifacts of that period seem to be valued, as opposed to the artifacts of this period. And it seems to me that I—I mean, whether you call it… not science-fiction, but science fiction can also be very compassionate, it can be very historically relevant. It doesn’t have to be… it’s just using a different set of artifacts to work with, so…
Well, for instance, I see most of what’s happened in the twentieth century as being unconsciously driven by this fascination with the archaic.
Fascination with the archaic?
Yes. I mean—
Wow! That was… of all the things I predicted you’d say, it wasn’t that. Tell me: what does that mean?
Well, for instance, Impressionism deconstructs the hard image of Realism and gives you a feeling-toned thing, which was very antithetical to Victorian, Edwardian thought. Then Freud and Jung described different aspects of the unconscious. But to do it, Freud has to talk about repressed, primitive sexual imaginings. Jung talks about folklore, fairytales, and mythology. Meanwhile, the Dadaists and the Surrealists are saying we have to break up the linear expectations of the bourgeois mind. And then you get a Jackson Pollock, and those people, who say the image itself has to be thrown out. And then, to my mind, the psychedelic thing in the Sixties—based on rock’n’roll and a boundary-dissolving psychedelic—we, almost by a random walk, are finding our way toward shamanism, tribalism, nomadism…
Go beyond the isms to find—tell me what we’re really finding.
We’re finding a world made out of mind rather than stuff.
Great. Okay. We’re finding the world made out of mind. Every time you describe which mind you find, that’s just a limiting condition. I mean, if we just find the thing of mind created stuff, live in that, then what happens?
Well, I mean, there is a transcendental dimension beyond language. It’s just hard as hell to talk about it.
But if you live in it, and talk from there, then the forms that it will manifest in become just the forms it manifests. It’s nothing more or less and that, so…
So, you mean you download the unspeakable into language and let the chips fall where they may?
Yeah. Well, they don’t fall where they may. They fall in a perfectly harmonious pattern.
Well, that’s them falling where they may.
Where they may, where they will.
Yeah. Well, so, what I’m hearing from you is: you have a very strong sense of the pattern. Strong enough that your necessarily limited personal viewpoint doesn’t tend to get in the way. You can always push the “Reset To Hope” button, and then you hope—almost on principle.
[???] said to me: “stand halfway between hope and hopelessness.” I thought that was very useful.
And is that “eh?”
No! It’s “aaah!” It’s the ecstasy of total horror and total beauty at the same moment. That’s what I feel again and again, Terence. When I’m with somebody dying of AIDS—my God, my heart’s breaking! It’s horrible! I mean, it’s a ghastly, social ostracization, this, that, opportunistic illness. And there’s another part of me that’s giggling. And I can hardly handle the multiphrenia of it all, the sense of the perfection of it all, and the beauty of the moment, and the horrible shit of it.
Yeah. Well, it all is spun together. Is that because you feel confident that the Self is somehow indestructible, or because you don’t even ask that question?
You’ve got to watch the words “indestructible,” because that has a time dimension. I mean, I think that awareness is. That…
But, for example, do you think this is the stage upon which all acts are performed, or that we move up and down many levels?
No, this is one of the stages of an infinite number of… probably infinite number. Because I just look into two minds and I see two different ones. And those are all just on this one. No, I feel I… like, I had this friend Emmanuel—you know, this spook that has no body…
…and Emanuel’s two lines to me were: “Death is absolutely safe,” first thing. That’s a very profound statement. Next thing he said: “It was like taking off a tight shoe.” And then I said to him, “Emmanuel, what am I doing here? Who made this error? What am I doing on this plane?” He said, “You’re in school, why don’t you try taking the curriculum?”
And the curriculum is?
It means the exploration of the clinging of mind within the world of projected form.
So the exploring life?
It’s the exploring life with the pur—its purpose is in the sense of returning back into the Garden of Eden. It’s a return. There is a return-metaphor underlying all of it.
And I’m sure you’re asked this all the time—so am I—and maybe we give different answers. Do you think that this can be done without psychedelics fast enough to have an impact on the global situation?
I can conceive that it could be, yeah. You ask, “Do I think?” I don’t really have an opinion whether it will or won’t, but I could see it go either way. Like John Seed said to me, “It’s too late,” as far as the rainforests are concerned. He says the inertia is too great—and the whole system, it’s too late. So I said, “Okay, John.” I mean, it was the first time that he’d said it to me, just like that. He said, “It would take a miracle.” I said, “Oh.” That threw me back on whatever that was. And then he said, “But after all, we came up out of the ocean, we came onto land.” He said, “We have quite a lineage of miracles. I wouldn’t underestimate us.” That was a nice thought.
Well, so my question to you is: are psychedelics a miracle?
Psychedelics are a miracle, yes. They may not be the only miracle…
Are they the miracle we need?
I don’t know that. I don’t know that. I think they may have already done what they were to do.
Really? That’s interesting. I’ve never heard anyone say that.
I think what is done is so much more powerful than anybody yet recognizes. See, I see that all this destruction is just the process of transformation. The question is whether we’ll keep it together in the process of transformation, and that’s why all I’m interested doing is becoming a person and helping others become a person who, in the process of the dramatic stuff, will keep some equanimity, and keep some love, and some presence in that process. But that’s—psychedelics may play a role in that. So you’re right, that comes back to your point.
Well, see, my assumption in trying to think about thousands of psychedelic trips, rather than just mine—what they seem to do, generically, is they seem to dissolve boundaries.
And the ego is in the business of creating, maintaining, and defending boundaries. So, I really see the psychedelics as directly intervening in the core process which is running us over the edge, which is: our inability to emotionally connect with the consequences of what we’re doing. If, for a single moment, we could feel what we’re doing, we would stop.
I understand. It’s interesting, because we take images that one of us know—of the girl running down the street naked in Cambodia, you know, or something like that—and we say, “That wasn’t strong enough!” You know? It won the Life of the Year award, but it wasn’t strong enough, it didn’t stop everybody and say, “Holy shit! What are we doing here?” So, what would be strong enough to do that? And you say, well, psychedelics—but that’s in a one-on-one thing. I mean, we’re talking major game players at this moment. Take—I mean, put China into your computer, you know?
How do you deal with that?
You know? I mean, either you’re spraying it, or it’s water, or it’s some other level of consciousness that does it. There is a certain level of trauma that’s possible that can soften the ground. Not Three Mile Island, and not Chernobyl, but, I mean—I don’t want to create this with my mind—but I can imagine a certain trauma, like in Marin when they ran out of water: it was interesting! Suddenly, all the ego barriers and everything, and neighbors were talking who never even met each other. And the whole—
People were taking showers together.
—exactly! The whole process was happening. Marriages, babies were conceived, everything as a result of that trauma, of that denial. So a massive, significant trauma—I just gotta tell you one scary image. There is a saint in India who lived up to about 1930, I think, or something. And one of his devotees said to me, one night—he was sort of looking off into the distance—he said, “There’ll come a time when you’ll walk 5 miles,” and he said, “You’ll sight the light from a fire of another person, and you’ll be so happy to know another person exists.”
Quite a prediction.
Isn’t that quite a prediction? It’s in there, it’s just in there somewhere.
Interesting. Yes, well, I agree. I think that what’s going to happen is that—
Gentlemen, everything is fine with the evolution of coffee, and consciousness? Both very good with you, too? Yes?
You have come just at the right time! This is just what I wanted. I want you to know, you tuned in to a higher level.
A higher level? Level high, very high yes. Bohemian mushroom soup today, you know?
Ah! We were just talking about that.
Oh yes? You like bohemian mushroom soup?
I like mushroom.
Let me sprinkle, liberally, some water on your chalice, sir.
Oh, please! Liberally sprinkle his chalice, for sure!
I am a chalice, so it’s fine if you wish to.
Oh I know you by your true name. You’re Mr. Chalice, sir. Yes, very good. You also? Some water in your…? Let me put this here. And have fun with the shaman strudel. Bohemian—very good!
Thank you very much!
You call when things start getting dangerous, okay?
I’ll call you!
I’ll be right there.
Not to worry!
Can I ask you a personal question?
You can ask me anything you’d like to.
It’s not a personal question to you, it’s a personal question from me. How do you like having the projection of special identity constantly laid on you?
It’s a sādhanā. It’s my practice.
That’s a good answer. But you didn’t say how you liked it.
I like it to the capacity I have to transpose it. If I can’t—I mean, sometimes, these are going very fast. And to just keep it transposed, then I love it. I love it. It’s like a fire. If the minute I start to lose it, it’s a fucking drag. It really is. Because, you know, I was in a situation in Miami where all these women with blue eyes and coiffured hair were grabbing at the buttons of my jacket. And I thought, “Oh, I don’t want this. Whatever this life is, I don’t want to be part of this. They’ll eat your flesh, finally.”
But I realize at any time I can walk away from it. And it’s my… you know, I’m a free agent.
So you never get in a situation where you say, “Gee, I’d like to do X, but Ram Dass would never do that?”
My stock in trade, or my coinage, is in sharing just those predicaments publicly. See? I’ve turned it into…
You’ve managed to—but public confession is the subtlest form of wastry.
Of wastry, yes!
I do it myself! I’m not a good guy! Don’t follow me, I’m a bad guy! Then I leave the stage saying, “Now I can really be a bad guy!”
Come up and see my holy pictures! That’s one of my lines in my lecture.
I don’t—I’ll tell you: I only see the stuff that would disturb me as inside myself. It has nothing to do with “out there.” Out there is just being what it is, and I’m responding with my own stuff. And if my stuff is my enemy, it’s going to get too much for me. And if it isn’t, you know, it depends on how much I can consume it, joyfully participate in it, passionately, all of it.
Well, you’ve sort of achieved a unique synthesis. I mean, you’re almost a secular holy man because I don’t think people—I don’t care much about what you believe or who you light candles to. Basically, I think I heard you describe yourself once as a kind man. And you’ve gotten incredible mileage out of that because there are so few.
That’s far out!
Right? I mean, this is—
Yeah. Well, when you talked about coming back into the boundarylessness—to me, that’s the whole quality of compassion. It has that boundarylessness to it. It’s that your suffering is my suffering, and your joy is mine, and you are me, and here we are. And if you hurt, I’m responding to your hurt not because I’m a good guy and you’re needful, but just because this is suffering and this is the response to suffering. And we’re both part of the same thing. And that’s the way I like to play it from. That’s, to me—it’s like riding a wave. It’s the joy of just being part of the force of compassion in unity.
Well, when you mentioned in your talk the other night: since some people think the 1990s are going to be a second turn of the spiral—I observed the 1960s as a spear-carrying 14-year-old. I was down in the masses. What were the mistakes that are avoidable if there’s a second chance?
They’re inevitably going to be avoided. The first mistake was idealism. The first mistake. And the mistake was thinking that, because you had seen it, you could just go like that and everybody else would see it. And you could just say, “It’s all love,” and then everybody would love. I mean, it was a naïveté. It was naïveté. It was not working on ourselves deeply enough to be without the clinging of mind that made us try to use it. It was our lurking righteousness that got in our way.
Can you make a revolution, though, without an inner righteousness?
That’s exactly… that’s the far out question of: where would the action come from? And there’s this line in Buddhism that says, “Out of emptiness arises compassion.” And what I’ve experienced is that there is a way in which I can sit down in front of a truck, or feed a person, or go make love, or go surf, and there’s an appropriateness in every one of those acts. And for me to hear that, I’ve really got to shut up. And my work is to keep shutting up to hear which one it is. And if it is a revolution, so be it. So be it.
You know the story of the monk and the army general? And the army general is disemboweling all the monks? And his reputation has spread far and wide as a cruel, cruel man. And he comes into this village and he says to his lieutenant, “Tell me what’s happening.” And the lieutenant said, “All the people are frightened. They’re bowing down to you. All the monks in the monastery have fled to the hills but one monk.” And the general is outraged about this one monk. And he gets up and he goes to the monastery, and he pushes open the doors to the monastery, and he walks into the courtyard, and there’s the monk standing in the middle of the courtyard. And he walks up to him and he says, “Don’t you know who I am? I could take my sword and run it through your belly without blinking an eye.” “And don’t you know who I am? I could have your sword run through my belly without blinking an eye.”
That’s the place from which revolutions can heal, rather than just starting the cycle all over again.
Then this is the place we never found in the 1960s?
I mean, I’ve always said it was all well and good…
We reduced it to revolution, rather—although we had the taste of evolution, we reduced it to revolution.
Well, and the day they came with machine guns, we didn’t stand like that monk. Everybody said, “Well, my God, you could get killed playing this game!” And I flew to Laos and India for three years…
But already we had produced the “they” by being so busy being “we.”
So that “they” even noticed “we.” The fact that they noticed us was because we were busy making statements instead of just being it.
So maybe—I mean, this is just occurring to me—that being in a place like Prague, the real thing we have to learn here is how to make velvet revolutions: non-confrontational.
That’s exactly right! Exactly right. That’s why I admire Havel so much. That’s why he’s way up there in my… because he’s a compassionate leader. He’s got wisdom, not just knowledge. He is tuned. There’s a quality of his heart that feels present. And he said in this op-ed article I just read in his letter this month—
I’ve read it, too.
You know? What did he say? He said we have to allow the naturalness to come back, the personal stuff, the heart stuff. I mean, he was right there with all the…
Do you see—I mean, I don’t want to put you on the spot, but… I don’t. Let me preface it by saying that. Do you see anybody who could play that role for the millions of kids in England and the United States who are now asking, “Where do we go from here?”
Is that good or bad?
I guess the situation hasn’t demanded the emergence of that being yet. Because it can’t be anybody that comes forward and says, “I’m it.”
Oh no. It has to be someone who the people say, “You’re it.”
Like, the situation can demand the formation. I mean, does the man make the time or the time make the man? And you can feel how, what took a certain person 20 years—like to ride a bicycle—somebody later on can ride a bicycle like that because the whole culture rides bicycles. There’s some process where the situation emerges where the person has to come forward. Just forced out.
I mean, I go and I look at all the senators that are running for this or that, and I go to breakfast with them, and I listen, and I tune. And Jerry Brown I’ve gone out with. And, you know, he’s got interesting ideas, but his heart—my God! He’s got work to do. This poor guy. He’s suffering so much. And I just keep—I love him, and I want those ideas out, but I want him to work on himself, you know?
But do you really care in terms of political terms whether Jerry Brown makes himself palatable to an electorate?
I care because I worked with the Mayan widows in Guatemala, and I feel like I’m representing them. And our government, our administration’s policies are killing them and their children and their husbands. And in some way I’ve got to play my part as a member of the society that is imposing so much suffering on so many people. I can’t just walk away and say, “Oh, I’m helping the nice Mayans.” I’ve also got to realize that I’m an American citizen that’s hurting the Mayans, and I’ve got to play both games to change one one way and to do the other thing.
So there’s a kind of—not to go egghead here—but a kind of coincidencia oppositorum, because on one level what you’re saying is: it’s alright, don’t worry, and on another level you clearly are involved in a search for defining your role where you would do some good.
Optimum judo move.
Optimum judo move. So it isn’t enough to just to say the system will take care of itself?
Judo move. [???] compassion of the system. I am part of the system, because it’s taking care of itself. It’s whether I’m standing inside of it.
So it’s a sense of acting without acting through self?
It’s being non-identified with the actor and not being identified with the fruits of the action. That’s—I mean, to me, one of my basic texts is the Bhagavad Gita, and those are the two injunctions. And I really hear those. And they’re very weird. How you do an act when you’re not identified with being the actor and you’re not attached to the fruits? I mean, I lead this just funny, continuous paradox that suffering stinks and suffering’s great. And I live with both of those all the time.
Well, I think most people do.
I think most people have made a particular position.
Oh, that suffering is bad, they hate it, they want to keep it away from…
Or that it’s grace, that it’s lovely.
Well, and then the great masses of people never really draw the distinction, because for them suffering is like air and water.
It’s life. It’s life. Yeah, yeah.
It comes with it. Burying the many children you bear, and…
That’s why I’ve found, in the villages of India, less suffering than I found around the middle class of America.
Certainly less whining!
Well, that’s preoccupation with what they don’t have.
Well, they have a philosophy of reincarnation that must sustain them.
There is something else that’s feeding them.
Where we have a philosophy of: if you don’t get it now, you never will.
…you’re never going to get it. That’s right. Exactly. We threw out in the Councils of Nicaea, Trent and Constantinople just the thing that would’ve healed. But we did it so that the church could have power over…
Well, I think it was Frederick Nietzsche who said, “There was only one Christian, and they crucified him!”
Yes! Exactly! God, that’s so good! That’s such a good line!
Have you been waiting for me? Because I’m the waiter. I need to wait.
We’ve been looking everywhere for you, sir.
Oh, I’m sorry. I have been waiting for the here and now, but I was somewhere else. Can I help you here?
You can help us here.
You can help us there.
Very good. I will help you here. I hope you enjoy my conversation. No, I mean…
It’s fine. Do I get a check or is this all on the house?
No, no, I am the Czech! I am the Czech. This is Prague, my sir! God is everywhere, but Czech-land is here, you know?
Okay. I keep one more bottle for you in the refrigerator?
You can leave… yes. Hold it in reserve.
[???] Prague, you know.
But not in the here and now. In the somewhere else, maybe later. See you!
Well my—you know, I was asking you: what did we do wrong in the 1960s? The one thing that has occurred to me, and I certainly felt it with my friends, was: we assumed it would go on forever. We had no notion of window of opportunity. We just thought we’d blown the doors off the hinges and they would never be put back on. To me, the most amazing transformation in my lifetime is not the revolution of the 1960s, but the counter-revolution of the 1970s where they managed to put the cuckoo clock back together again even though we’d kicked it all over the…
Did they or didn’t they? That’s what I’m…. See, you keep thinking there was that opportunity and it closed. And I think it happened then, and all of the 1970s and 1980s, all that, was this kind of reverberation to this process. And that I’m here, and you’re here, and we’re both still here. It’s the 1990s. And I’ve got a lot of people that… you know…. I talk now in middle America. And I look at my audiences, and they’ve never taken dope, they’ve never read Eastern holy books, or anything. And I just say the same stuff I was saying in the 1960s that I was saying to people with flowers and big pupils. And these people in the middle—you know, they’re corseted, nice people. And they’re going [nods head], and I think, “Far out! Look! It happened, and I was looking the other way.”
Well, that’s true.
And that’s where you’re looking for the resonance of a person to come forth that speaks from that consciousness, with the assurance of the truth of it, you know? That’s why I think why all this business of a Christ-figure—I mean, I see how seductive it is. But we’ve gotten very cynical, because we’ve projected into such a person a purpose. That’s it. Purpose. Instead of just that light forming out of the needs of the moment to create that light from which…. Because I find if I speak from enough from a true enough—for a moment that I can do it—from a true enough place in my heart, it reduces subtle veils of paranoia in another person. I don’t do it to them, it just falls away. Because they test. They’re testing. And they don’t get from me anything that says [gestures] like that. And I just watch them. Like a flower; they go like that. And I think, “Boy, I’d give a lot to just be that instrument,” you know? That’s worth [???]
That’s a great role.
That’s worth…. But it’s the role for every one of us. That’s the role! That’s what I said to the ITA. I said, you know, just don’t talk about it, let’s do it. Let’s be it, for God’s sakes!
Exemplify it. Do it. Well, you know, Blake said a wonderful thing. He said—if I can get it right—“If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed.”
Right! Exactly. Exactly! Exactly! Exactly.
So all you have to do is say it.
When can you say it simply enough? Is it only said in silence simply enough? Or are there words? Or is there music, or is there more?
There’s words, there’s music, there’s silence, there’s gesture. Because it’s always going to exceed one’s grasp.
My mantra is the Ghandi line, “My life is my message.”
Yes, you’ve said that. That’s very good.
And that’s that at every level, on every level.
I think I’m at a lower level. Because I’m very aware that I have to struggle to say my life is my message. I would almost say: my message is my message, please don’t look at my life because I’m a fallible human being and I’m constantly fucking up.
But you see how that weakens your message? You see how that quality means that the message doesn’t come from the root, the center. There’s a way in which it waffles.
And that’s the thing. I really can’t—once I saw the possibility of that, I said, “Why waffle?” What is worth holding onto that’s worth waffling about?
Well, I once said to Leo Zeff—I’m sure you knew Leo—I said to him in a meeting, “Leo, you’re finished. You’re completed. You’re baked. Me—I’m half-baked!” And I hope that the rest of my life will finish the baking process.
But you’re not half-baked. That’s what’s interesting. I mean, when you and I talk, you and I hear each other perfectly.
And so, where are we hearing each other from? I mean, then we each play our game, the way we play our game, you know? And you can play your game saying, “I’m half-baked.” That’s your strategy, if you choose it.
It’s a mercurial strategy.
Yes, I understand.
Here’s to Mercurius.
You have somehow been able to survive the gauntlet of American media in a way that your colleagues and comrade-in-arms didn’t seem to. They either had to step away from their leader role or they transmuted it into some lesser thing. So now, Allen Ginsberg is poet laureate. Tim Leary is, you know—keeps the club scene in Los Angeles interesting. But you, in a sense, never backed down, never re-tooled. You were also not first among equals back in the original thing. But when all is said and done—
I was always the second. In a way, it’s like birds: if you stay just behind the lead bird, you don’t have to do much, you know? You’re just kind of riding along on the…
Well, and then Ralph tells me: to be third is the real good position. It’s like being the young prince: you won’t ever be king.
It was actually only until about five years ago—over the past five years they’ve stopped introducing me as Tim Leary’s partner. And I think that was great. I see him as one of my teachers; great teachers. But I don’t have—the fun for me is that I have no model of myself. I mean, I don’t know who I am. I don’t know whether I’m an anachronism from the 1960s, or I’m a just-about-to-happen.
Yes. I have no idea. And I don’t care! That’s what I say. Because all the things you get, either way, are a drag and they’re beautiful—equally.
Yeah, well, I think you’re a prophet-to-be. I think we all are. As Bilbo Baggins once said, “The greatest adventure still lies ahead!” I believe that. I’ll believe that when they lower my box.
I do too. I do too. Exactly. Exactly.
Well, thanks for coming by. I’m sure you had many, many demands on you.
Thank you. It was a pleasure. I was afraid of you up until now. Now I’m delighted to be with you.
No, no. Don’t be afraid of me. The people who are afraid of me don’t know me, or they know me better than you ever will!
Angeles Arrien is an anthropologist and workshop leader from California who brings the unique perspective of her Basque ancestors to the formulation of a new discipline which I would call neo-shamanic anthropology.
…so there you have it, as the king said to Mozart.
Yes. As the caterpillar on top of the mushroom said, “Who are you?”
Well, so, I looked over your newsletter, and it looks sort of like neo-shamanism is the category that you are now defining in your public talks. Is that right?
Yeah, I’m doing a lot of that, but mostly universals—what we all have in common, finding those basic roots, which then take us back to indigenous cultures.
Archetypes. Especially the archetype of the warrior, and the healer, the teacher, and the visionary. Those are the four that the shamanic or indigenous cultures really focus upon.
Well, so you’re genuinely in the mainstream of the archaic revival.
I’ve never thought about it that way, Terence!
Well, actually, I’m sort of subliminally plugging one of my books, which is called The Archaic Revival. But the notion is that what this whole cultural thrust of the twentieth century, and especially the last 30 years, will ultimately be understood to be about is a return to aboriginal models. And that means especially shamanism and, to my mind, especially psychedelic shamanism.
But the Renaissance went through a rebirth of classicism, probably without ever really articulating that that’s what was happening. But I think this shamanic, or aboriginal, ecological, feminine, partnership impulse is now pretty explicit. So that’s what I’m in.
Yeah. I think that I love the title like “archaic revival” because, at the same time what’s coming up is, everyone talking about a new world order. And yet, in order to understand what constitutes a new world order, we need to take a look at what the current world order is. And so we really have essentially four worlds. We have the industrialized first world, and we have the socialist bloc, which would be the second world, and we have the third world countries, which are really the developing countries like Brazil. But the fourth world is really the aboriginal, indigenous cultures that are within cultures but don’t have the same kind of rights. And the first three worlds say that the land belongs to the people. But the fourth world says that the people belong to the land. And so that people belonging to the land is really—it’s your archaic revival, but it’s getting back to nature and owning those roots brings up that revival, which is the shift that we’re going to need to make in order to do the new world order; is to get the people back to the land.
Well, it’s too bad that there’s no place in the world where that aboriginal position is in a governing position.
Starting for the first time in the last three years is the establishment of the World Indigenous Council. And this summer, in July, is the first time that there will actually be a vote to have a seat on the United Nations where there will be representatives from each of the world indigenous peoples. And so that’s—I’m real hopeful about that.
Really? You mean every Amazonian tribe could potentially have a delegate in the UN?
Yes. Or that they, themselves, could have a council and vote who would be their best representatives as a bio-regional [???].
Well, you know, there’s some phrase in Latin—I can’t remember what it is—but it means that “he who does not expand his borders will have his land taken by somebody else.” And this was the theory that drove colonization in South America. All of these countries—like Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela—actually encroach on a vast aboriginal core of that continent, which should be self-governing and, were it self-governing, would be a tremendous, huge force.
Yeah. It’s amazing that I really think that for the last 20 years there’s been this whole East-West bridging. But we’re starting in the last five years to this North-South kind of bridging, and I really feel that the Latin American countries, of which there are twelve, plus the indigenous force countries, that the Northern force would be Europe, Russia, Canada, but the whole Southern force is like Africa, Asia, and the Latin American countries. It’s that whole force, and those two forces really coming together.
So even though you’re a spiritual teacher, you talk global politics like a state department second string.
I do, I do! Well, I was thinking about the grandparents of the planet being the old Asian cultures, and all the Pacific Rim. And then, the exciting thing that’s happening in Europe for the first time in history, that eleven countries are coming together to form a European coalition—that it puts the child of the planet, which is like America or the United States, which is so based on the hero-myth or a heroine-myth, and fierce independence that, the call for the next fifty years is for Americans to learn about community, which indigenous societies and the grandparents of the planet—the old Asian cultures, and now the parents of the planet, are really modeling teamwork and collaboration and community—is that America is going to need to really learn about collaboration and community and cooperation. And in order to do that there’s going to need to be the going back to what would be the archaic revival, or beginning to shift so that there can be a new world order where that fourth world is addressed.
Well, don’t you think sort of what’s happening is that people have a very strong local sense of place—loyalty—and then they are forming a planetary loyalty. But in a way, all the levels in between are dissolving. So people don’t think of themselves as Americans, they think of themselves as Northern Californians and Earthlings. Sort of like that. But in a way, federal Europe—which is no longer a sure thing, you know, because of these recent developments—it goes against that. I sort of think maybe McLuhan was right, and that there is going to be a kind of electronic feudalization where many more small states will emerge. And the raison d’être for the nation-state appears to be slowly disappearing. And the States—I think the crisis that came to Marxism is coming now for the Republicrat oligarchy in America.
Yeah. Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re right. I think there’s a terrific shift of power that’s going on that, out of maybe the hierarchical types of power to people-power. And I see two major forces contributing to that. Which is, one: the computer, or the electronic, because it’s people-based, individual-based, bringing the power back to the individual. And also free enterprise rather than capitalism or communism. There’s that middle road coming it. So I think that, when we take a look, cross-culturally, at the three kinds of power, or the power of presence, or the power of communication, or the power of position and the willingness to take a stand, is that it’s going to be very important to see how those shifts of power really are going back to empowerment of the people.
So what are you looking toward in the future, personally and globally?
I’ve been doing a lot with taking a look at what’s found that’s similar in all art, globally. Because I feel that what humanity consistently creates in art is really reinforcing deep spiritual processes. And so what I’ve found is that there are five shapes that are found consistently in all art globally. One is the circle, the other is the cross—like the plus sign; equidistant cross—and the triangle, and the square, and the spiral. And you can see them all here in Prague everywhere you look. I mean, in all the decor are those shapes repeated over and over and over again. So I began to look cross-culturally to see if cultures attributed the same meaning to those shapes and found that 92% of all the cultures attribute the same meaning to the circle, which is the process of individuation, or to the cross—relatedness and interconnection and interface. And the square: stability and foundation-setting. And—
So does this imply a genetic syntax of form or something like that?
I think that it’s part of the archaic revival in that there would be a deeply cellular imprinting of some kind. Yeah. I really do.
Well, that’s what I mean by genetic.
The triangle being the visionary or searching-seeking-questing process, or the planning-dreaming process, and the spiral being the need for variety, or the need for change, or growth and evolution. So it’s been really wonderful. It’s part of a new book that’s coming out called Signs of Life, and showing how those images come up in all of the continents and are also found in literature and poetry, and put all that together in one place.
So do you spend much time thinking about the future?
What’s your take on…?
I think that it’s exciting for me to think that we’re being called in the next 50 years to our own creative fire. That we all have salvation myths and we all have doomsday myths, but there’s a whole body of myths in mythology that have been totally overlooked, that I think we’re being called to, which are creation myths. And what are the creation myths but stories about how to build new worlds internally and externally. And I think that, for 2000 years, we’ve done the polarity dance, and we’re moving into a both-and world rather than an either-or world. And I’m excited about the future that we can really move into, the wisdom of the plant kingdom, and if we can move into the deep wisdom of nature as a mirror of our own nature and remember our creative fire, I think it will be a wonderful time in history. I’m so glad I was born at the time I was born, to be a part of this evolutionary renaissance.
How do you see it happening? I mean, do you see a breakthrough with technology or an abandonment of technology? Do you see pharmacological engineering? Do you see new religions? Do you see—in other words, it’s easy to hope but very had to get the details in focus.
Yeah. I think that—what I see is that there’ll be both the bridging of the natural and the technological…
So a more cellular technology, a more organic infrastructure.
Yeah, for sure. And I think that computers are here to teach us about those organic structures. I think that we’re learning different kinds of systems to really see what are the inherent systems within nature, and within our own nature.
So to the degree that we can mirror nature, we can re-spiritualize, re-humanize technology and interpersonal relations.
Yeah. Which would be wonderful.
I have come right down the line on that. And to me, psychedelics are just simply the best catalyst. But anything which works should be pushed to the limit.
Yeah, to that. Absolutely. Absolutely. And—I don’t know, I was just thinking that somehow we’ve got to think about possibilities of thinking about in the [???] era, which is very close here to Prague. They would often say you can count the seeds in an apple, but you can’t count the apples in a seed. And I think we’re moving in that era of where we really…
…you know, think of the possibilities in the seeds that we have been planting. Or the fact that computers are teaching us about instant feedback, or instant response and acknowledgment. And that the power of acknowledgment and feedback to allow organisms to grow. And that’s why children in many ways know that instinctively, that they’re mesmerized by that they can get a yes or no or go back or fatal error, or whatever it might be.
Well, it’s a kind of explicit hardwiring of our own unconscious. No more do we create cultural artifacts that are simply our furniture, but now are our thoughts, our values; are embodied in this stuff. Yeah, it’s very exciting.
It really is.
I envision a future world where people are nomadic, aboriginal, physically perfect, living basically naked. But if you were inside one of these people’s minds you would see that, when they close their eyes, there are menus hanging in space. That the culture has been shrunk down something rather like a contact lens which is in the forefront of their eyelid. And they look into culture by closing their eyes. And when they open their eyes, and nature in her radiance is all around.
Well, it’s great talking to you!