Reawakening our Connection to the Gaian Mind

October 17, 1993

Presented at the fifth annual Seeds of Change conference, titled The Bioneers.




We’re especially interested, you know, in what Rosita’s talking about with the Bath Foundation as well and I talked about some of this on Friday night in relation to intellectual property rights and compensation for the conservatories of diversity over the many generations that it has managed to stay with us. I hope that some of the panel this afternoon, actually—Plant Medicine—will be able to address that. And I know Daryl Posey has just walked in the room recently. I asked him to step in on that panel. Daryl is a world-class anthropologist and ethnobotanist who has a great deal of knowledge about that area. Also, there will be two people here today from Shaman Pharmaceuticals, Steve King and Lisa Conte—on separate panels, actually—but these are issues very dear to our heart. There was one proposal that was put before the world seed industry to have a tax, a one percent tax on seeds, the funding from which could be put into a foundation that would then work out a strategy for compensating tribal peoples, indigenous peoples and others who are in fact conserving diversity around the world and protecting ecosystems. The world seed industry regarded that with all the enthusiasm of open-heart surgery. So Seeds of Change is presently trying to figure out a proactive strategy to go on the record with a realistic and viable position in this realm to hopefully do the right thing. So we’re looking for input and counsel on this at all times and I hope there’ll be more discussion on this later.

So we’re going to make a transition from the rainforest to the brainforest. Our next speaker is certainly very controversial, and it’s always good to shake up the way we look at the world, I think. And we learn a lot every time we do that. Terence McKenna has taken, I think, the realm of plants into another aspect, which is really the vegetable mind (something that he likes to call it), and how we can use plants as teachers. And of course this is very common, in fact totally widespread among traditional tribal peoples and native peoples. There are certain plants that are used in shamanic rituals and as messengers, as teachers. I think Terence has a number of fascinating theories, including that actually the plants may be running this whole show. So Terence has written a number of fascinating books that I’m a big fan of. The Archaic Revival, Food of the Gods, and most recently True Hallucinations, which I actually was very interested to try to make a film of, but I’m so hugely extended right now I’ve had to put it on the back burner. But I hope that somebody does do that for his work. It certainly deserves it. A very, very brilliant plant explorer and ethnobotanist: Terence McKenna.




Surely not controversial. I’d hate to have a conference haunted by controversy. Well, it’s wonderful to be here. Kenny has been plotting and scheming with me to get me to a Seeds of Change conference, and I think we missed the last two with schedule conflicts. And finally there was one in my back yard, so here I am.


I thought what I’d talk about today—it’s always tricky to talk about the environment, because it is our mother, it is the matrix that sustains us. And yet all discussions gravitate towards the crisis that haunts it, generated by us, and now (hopefully) managed by us in a way that biological diversity and human diversity can somehow make a peace with each other, so that the glories of these domains of nature—and they are both domains of nature—are not compromised, one for the other. And it always… there’s no dearth of current news on the front where this battle is being fought.


The day before yesterday—I’m sure some of you saw it in the newspaper—the recent measurements on the ozone hole over the Antarctic show that it is depleted beyond the theoretical limit. In other words, where it is depleted, it is depleted more thoroughly than theory predicted in its most extreme modeling of that process. This is only one of a number of areas where the planet is being challenged in different ways. I was in England this summer and the newspapers were full of stories about fissionable material and plutonium triggers for tactical nuclear weapons being peddled in the red light district of Frankfurt. This is another area where the health of the Earth, the health of our children, is held in bondage by the least noble among us, to put it mildly.


So, in a sense, we’re in a dark age. Ozone values are not expected to turn up before the turn of the century, no matter what policies are put in place down here. Starvation, displacement of populations, collapse of central authority—all of these things, terrible in themselves, extract a terrible toll on the environment. And that is rarely factored into these things. The world is growing ever more complex every day, every minute, every hour. The number of inventions, the number of connections among people, the number of people, all these things are increasing, compounding our creative potential, compounding our problems in a mad race between what seemed to be incredibly positive forces and incredibly negative forces.


And in this kind of situation, of course, each moral person is challenged by the old Tolstoyan question: what is to be done? We each have very limited resources, limited strength, limited funds. Where shall we put our shoulder to the wheel to do the most good? This is a very complicated question. If we save the rainforests but ignore the threat from planetesimal impacts, we may turn out to have entirely wasted our resources and betrayed our trust to the rest of life on the planet. So it’s not simply about doing good, it’s about being effective. And I wanted this morning to just list—it’s a laundry list—areas that require attention, and then to discuss sort of the overarching metaphor that might make it easier to deal with what otherwise is an incredibly daunting challenge that we face, simply to save the land you’re standing on, the air you’re breathing, the water you’re drinking.


In a sense, this issue was postponed for forty or fifty years while the male dominators played the capitalism-communism shuffle and the rest of us were the marks, conned by that particular bit of historical chicanery. Now the veil has been rent. Marxism’s status as a paper tiger has been exposed, and what we hear of now are trade agreements. Free trade—don’t let anybody kid you: free trade is a license to peddle crap everywhere. That’s what free trade is about. Trade (in physical items manufactured out of the body of the Earth) should be made as difficult and expensive as possible. The piling up of material goods (what I call consumer object fetishism) is the force that is destroying this planet—not only where it is actively practiced (here, for example), but throughout the world where people yearn to practice it, because the images being beamed down to them from MTV tell them that without a three-car garage, without a sunken bathtub, without a sailboat you are nothin’. And the fact of the matter is: there isn’t enough glass, metal, and plastic in the near surface of this planet to deliver a middle-class lifestyle to all the people who have now been sold on that particular style. So I really believe that we were misled, blinded, bamboozled by this great historical struggle between communism and capitalism. Because both distorted the environment, toxified vast amounts of land, and squandered the treasure of their peoples in unconscionable ways.


Well, now, where do we go from there? I think we have to draw back away from our various botanical gardens, seed preservation programs, programs that feed the hungry—the little things that we each commit ourselves to—and try and get an overarching understanding of the process in which we’re embedded. And I believe that when you do that, the two great polarities that emerge in the human world are materialism versus eco-consciousness. When I first began formulating what I would say here, I didn’t say materialism, I said capitalism. But I really believe that capitalism can be saved—or at least partially reconstructed to serve human needs. Materialism cannot. It cannot. Because there is not enough matter around for us to fabricate it into our toys without drowning ourselves in the toxic byproducts of that historical effort. Materialism versus eco-consciousness. It’s not a very fair match: they have all the money, all the guns, all the propaganda. What we have on our side is that, if they win, everybody dies. How long will the battle go on before this perception makes its way into the headquarters of the other side? I myself don’t know.


I’d like to go over a list of areas that require attention. Some of this will be no news to you, some of it perhaps. Toxic disposal: we don’t have a theory of toxic disposal. What we have is a theory of toxic hiding, shell games, postponement, tabling. We need a real method of toxic disposal. Until it comes, we continue to sequester radioactive and toxic materials throughout the world in the body of the Earth. Many of these toxic materials have half-lives of hundreds of thousands of years. Again, yesterday’s newspaper: Greenpeace reported encountering a Soviet frigate in the Sea of Japan dumping nuclear cores and nuclear coolant into the Sea of Japan, where the Japanese population draws thirty percent of its sea catch. We need toxic disposal. Plants have a role to play here. Many of you know that the solanaceaous plants (like the jimsonweed and the datura) sequester heavy metals. But this information has not been made the centerpiece of a crash program to clean up the land simply because people do not care enough—or rather, human institutions (read: corporations) do not care enough.


Environmental restoration: another area where tiny pilot projects are held up in such a fashion to give people permission to think: “Well, that’s under control, at least. We don’t have to worry about that.” Most of the restoration programs that you hear about are in fact cosmetic efforts designed to divert your attention from some greater horror being perpetuated somewhere else. You have to be very sophisticated because the enemy you’re playing with is incredibly sophisticated.


We need planet-friendly technologies. An obvious one is hydrogen. Hydrogen, when burned in an automobile or a boiler, combines with oxygen to produce water. It is a technology that is non-polluting. And by developing liquid natural gas storage and transportation technologies, we have proven that we can handle hydrogen. Hydrogen is highly explosive, but if you blow up a hydrogen-loading or -unloading depot, all you have is a very violent, localized explosion. You don’t have planetary contamination of the water and the air. Hydrogen is the direction in which we should be moving. And the people who have studied it have put in place all kinds of technological schemes for bringing it to us. But the problem is that those who are already peddling natural gas and petroleum byproducts are not interested in this scheme. Their loyalty, then, in not to the species or to the planet, but the bottom line. In any civilized society, putting the bottom line ahead of civilization and planet would be a hanging offense—but not here.


Another area: population control. This is one that everyone agrees with, but the facts of the matter have not, I think, been fully explored. A child born to a woman in San Francisco or Malibu will consume between 800 and 1,000 times the natural resources of a child born to a woman in Bangladesh. Where do we preach birth control? That’s right: Bangladesh. The women who—notice that if every woman had one child, the population of this planet would fall by fifty percent in one generation. Now, without war, without famine, without displacement of populations, the population of the planet would fall by half in the lifetime of most people sitting here. I don’t think people realize this. We tend to assume the population problem is unstoppable. The women most likely to hear the message that “one woman, one child” leads to a saner world are the highly educated women of the high-tech industrial democracies; the kind of women sitting in this room. Since their children are using 800 to 1,000 times more resources than the children of the third world, if 10 to 15 percent of the women in the high-tech industrial democracies were to follow this policy, the release of pressure on world resources would be visible within 10 to 15 years. Now, I realize these suggestions are highly controversial—and I have a number of them, so we could hold a whole conference on that concept.


The other thing, another item: we need to deconstruct product fetishism. We need to, through the media, establish the idea that a zen-like spareness is the highest expression of social consciousness when it comes to interior decorating, the building of country houses, and so forth and so on. Deconstruct product fetishism so that the Kikuyu or the Yanomamo become the paragons of behavior in terms of relating to material existence. We do not need to sell our souls to junk and then inherit a ruined planet. It makes no sense at all. This is a problem, because the techniques of capitalism are to use advertising to spread discontent. They are selling you something you don’t already have. Discontent is the obvious way to move you to make that purchase. So you’re constantly being bombarded with images of your own inadequacy unless you have the correct running shoes, German automobile, or house in the country.


Next item: demilitarization. There is much talk about getting rid of nuclear weapons, because the leadership of these bankrupt fascist oligarchies could themselves be incinerated by nuclear weapons. But where is the lantern-jawed lad from Alabama on the subject of getting rid of all armies on this planet? Now is the moment, because there are not large, crystallized power blocks set against each other. How about a fifteen-percent reduction in all military budgets across the board? No one can claim that their security is lessened because their enemies, too, would reduce military spending. Apparently there’s a big game going on dealing all this lethal junk all over the world, and that’s why there’s no mention of demilitarizing even such regimes as the Haitian or the Somalian regime. It is apparently a natural right of dominator jerks to have as much weaponry as they can buy with the money they steal and squeeze out of their captive populations.


Another area: democratic values and human rights. Democratic values and human rights. You cannot build an eco-consciousness out of a population of slaves ruled by oligarchs. And that is the situation for one third of the human species so long as the octogenarian trash that rules China is in place. Where is our government on that issue?


And that leads me to government accountability: are we making our governments accountable in the matter or preserving the environment, cleaning up toxic waste, disposing of the manufacturing processes of these oh-so-necessary weapon stockpiles that these characters feel they have to have?


Well, that’s a pretty nuts and bolts laundry list. Not the sort of thing you’re used to hearing from me. I think hearing a list like that, the sense is maybe: great list, but it’s a little overwhelming in the demands that it makes. How are we to fulfill these many agendas at once? And this is where we come to my bailiwick. It is less than 100 years since the great stabilizing and illuminating force in the lives of archaic people has come to the attention of western civilization. The great stabilizing and illuminating force in the lives of archaic people is their vegetable connection to the Gaian mind; their ability to—experientially, not abstract reasoning like I’ve been doing here—to experientially feel the planet, our mother: its needs, its tensions, where it is in pain. They do this through the ingestion of psychoactive plants. They did this through the ingestion of psychoactive plants for 50,000 to 100,000 years before the excrementally-brained, monotheist, agriculturialist faction arose.


The greatest gift of the vegetable mind to the human order is the psychedelic experience—because it allows the dissolution of boundaries, and it is going to be necessary to dissolve those boundaries in order to coordinate the metamorphosis of the human world. We have to have a vision. I don’t mean a plan, I don’t mean an agenda. I mean: a vision. And the vision comes from above. It comes from… call it the unconscious, call it the Gaian mind, call it the Great Spirit. It doesn’t come out of committee meetings and the data gathered by statistical analysis. We lack, at the highest level—not you and not me, but at the controlling level—we lack a vision. The best leaders among us are no more than crisis managers attempting to manage us past an apocalypse that they are coming to believe is inevitable. That isn’t good enough. That’s not what my daddy raised me for, and it’s not what your daddy raised you for. We represent the cutting edge of novelty in the biological world. Our self-reflective consciousness is our great glory. It also opens for us a dimension of moral responsibility unknown to the rest of the denizens of nature. Part of our Promethean and godlike aspiration to the control of nature is the concomitant obligation to care for nature and to feel nature.


So really, my message here is a message of psychedelic empowerment, of feeling. The ideas will come, the ratiocination will come. But what we have to do is feel our dilemma. If we could feel our dilemma and make other people feel our dilemma, we would move rapidly toward real solutions. We are anesthetized. We are a world dying under anesthesia for lack of authentic experience, authentic connection, with the living world out of which we came.


Recently, just this past week, I read a wonderful book (which I recommend) called Going to the Heart by Kenny Greene, or Goode, I think. An anthropologist who lived with the Yanomami. The important thing about this book is: he lived with them for twelve years, but he married a young girl of the tribe. And it tells the story of their life in the Amazon and their life in Rutherford, New Jersey. I mean, this woman had never seen an outboard motor. It was a wonderful book. I was skeptical when I began reading it. I just thought, “Why do I have to read about some guy who trophies a woman in the Amazon?” I feel very badly for my judgement on it, because the message of that book is ultimately a message of love, a message of reaching across incredible barriers of culture and time and space to the essential humanness that unites all of us. And if we can do this, by whatever techniques are available, if we can create a sense of community, globally, then attending that sense of community will be a sense of caring and responsibility.


It cannot happen unless we change our minds. We have the technologies, the money, the logistical ability to do almost anything in the human world. But we don’t know how to change our minds. We are angels with a Siamese twin who is a monkey growing out of our chest. And this was all very fine when there were endless environments to despoil and vast herds of game. That curious amalgam of the animal and the angelic that is our humanness could exist in that kind of an environment. But no more. And for the past thousand years the moral bankruptcy of western civilization has become more and more apparent. The chickens are coming home to roost. We must build community, and we must do it in a short time. If we had 500 years to debate this and make our case, I don’t think I would be advocating psychedelic intervention. But we’re sick. We’re terminal. We’ve lost our compass. We don’t know who we are. We don’t know where we want to go. Our own lives are an experience of inadequacy and tension. We have lost our compass.


But it’s there—and not because the psychedelics are a magical panacea, the psychedelics lift the veil on the intention of the Gaian mind. And we are but atoms in that Gaian mind. If we do not follow its purpose, we have no purpose. Who do we think we are? Western science is 600 years old. Human beings have been on this planet two million years. Life—1.4 billion years. There is an enormous wisdom in biology, and we must become able to tap into that, articulate it, and then activate it. We are the crowning achievement of the evolutionary process. Let’s not betray it. Let’s make it the ascent to angelic being that is, I am sure, the intention of the Gaian mind and all the rest of the life with which we share this planet.

Thank you very much!

Reawakening our Connection to the Gaian Mind

Terence McKenna

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