This is a personal story of enlightenment, found in a tattered notebook in the library of a burned down mansion, a long tale that seems to twist in on itself like a snake devouring its own tail. It is a map and a manifesto, but who would follow it, for it seems to be drawn inside out with the heavens in the middle of the earth. It is a stone, slammed into the face of reality and left to sink, with the ripples whispering its name across the chaotic seas of time. It is both truth and illusion, duking it out to see who will get the last laugh.
The cactus had been smuggled up from Peru, and the labels on the bags read San Pedro: Saint Peter, keeper of the gates of heaven. It had sat in the laboratory of the mansion for months, waiting for the Juggler and I to return from the West, when we would celebrate the Monk’s last days as a solitary man. After the ecstatic New Year, when he had proposed to the Playwright, we had decided the perfect place for such a ritual was out in the woods of the Fisherman’s cabin. I was still charged with the fearlessness I had found out West and the sadness at the Friend’s recent death when we packed our bags and headed out for the woods to brew the potion.
The month before, the Artist, the Yogini, and I had experimented with making the potion, settling on the acidic agent of lemon juice to activate the cactus’s subtle properties; that while a volatile concoction almost undrinkable in its wretchedness was still powerful in its effects. They wanted to spend this first experiment in their usual entheogenic ritual of practicing asanas, playing music, and painting; but soon the three of us found ourselves huddled around the heart-shaped fire pit in their backyard, loosening our ego-boundaries and plotting world salvation. Though that trip was only slightly more visual and revelatory than all the acid trips we had taken that summer, I suspected this had a lot to do with the urban and controlled setting in which they were done. San Pedro is traditionally used in a more natural context, and so I hoped the experience we would have with it out in the woods would better suit the plant’s naturalistic spirits and power, especially without prior convictions of what we might do under its influence.
There were seven of us, a fitting number for such a ritual; the Monk, the Teacher, the Game-master, the Juggler, the Alchemist, the Fisherman, and myself, all part of our close circle, and except for the Alchemist all lived in our mansion. The Alchemist was very close though, and was getting married soon as well, in fact was already expecting a son with the Dancer, so it only seemed fitting that he join us in clearing out our minds. We arrived at the cabin after dark, quickly built a fire, and set the cactus to boil. There was no running water, and the closest store was miles away, so we hoped we had enough water and lemon juice to make a proper cactus tea. Even if it wasn’t particularly strong we imagined it would still serve our intentions, so while it cooked down we sat around the table throwing cards and talking about the past and future. Births, deaths, weddings, circuses, wars, magic, and dreams; it had been a wild couple of years since I met this group, and it looked like it was only going to get wilder. So we hoped the next day would bring us a moment of peace, a still respite in which we could gather the power we needed to go back into the world in its glorious insanity and do what we had to do.
Once the liquid had begun to evaporate, the fire’s heat drawing the water away into the air and leaving an earthy mass of power cactus behind, we turned off the stove and went to sleep in the bunks to dream of the next day. While I slept in, as I am wont to do, the Teacher and the Fisherman rose with the sun and went down to the river where they caught two fish. an unwitting sacrifice to the day, and the night’s dinner, if any of us felt compelled or capable of eating later. The rest of us woke, and those with strong stomachs and high metabolisms ate a light breakfast, knowing we would need the energy to sustain us as we would not be able to eat for the rest of the trip. We put the potion back on to boil, but soon realized that if we wanted to drink it before noon as we had planned we would have to suffer through larger quantities of the vile liquid then just the pulp itself, which had been the curse of my first experiment with it. So we let it cool enough to drink and divided it into six cups, as the Game-master preferred to remain a sober and objective observer, claiming he gets enough of a contact high when the rest of us alter ourselves chemically that he does not need to take drugs himself. Of course, he’s never actually tried them before, leaving me to wonder if he truly understands what we human can go through, but it is still rather wise when stepping out of the world to leave someone behind and grounded in case an emergency situation arises.
We gave thanks and blessings and then downed the foul potion as fast as possible and with as much water as we could spare to cut the taste. The Artist had recommended mixing in sarache and vegetable juices to make a palatable V8 like concoction, but the Monk was adamant that we drink it straight, as the taste is just as much a part of the whole experience. After it had settled I went outside to do hatha yoga, which the Artist and the Yogini, had discovered was a good way to begin any entheogenic experience as the opening properties of the asanas give the chemicals more room to work into your system.
It is worth mentioning at this point that I had been doing yoga regularly at this point for about half a year, and that when the Artist had first taught me the postures it saved my life. I had spent the last several years expanding my consciousness and breaking through old worldviews with such rapidity that I had been left ungrounded and out of touch with reality, to the extent that I was often deathly afraid that I would go insane. Despite living among a close community of intelligent and compassionate people (many of whom are existential psychologists), I couldn’t quite let go of the old world and enter the next. And I spent most of that winter feeling alone and confused, and unable to fathom the Dancer’s cryptic advice that I should remember to breathe. But then I did yoga and it all started to come together. All the fears and insecurities in us are like walls (or cells) holding in the air so it stagnates and becomes the pain and tension that perpetuates the holding in. But that air is the same air that surrounds us, and yoga breaks down the walls, freeing the trapped air and allowing us to become one with the sky, and with the world. The ultimate act of surrender and letting go, and perfect before a trip to welcome the alien energies into the body.
The Juggler joined me in my asanas and while we were standing on our heads he gave me the key that would thematize my whole trip and literally revolutionize my life. While out West, he had fortuitously met the Red Mage, who besides being a gnostic, artist, and fellow dreamer, was a fire dancer specializing in the art of poi. The Juggler thought the swinging spheres would make a wonderful circus act, so he began to learn, following her advice of swinging the chains along circular planes from a central axis. The Juggler wanted to perfect this while under San Pedro’s liberating influence, but we were to soon find that the idea of spinning circles around a still center was not just applicable to fire dancing but was a pivotal interpretation for all existence.
After this we wandered down the path to the river, where the rest of the party was collecting flat stones and skipping them off the surface of the water. The Fisherman had the best arm and practice for this, spinning the stones on a horizontal plane over the water with such force that they would skip about ten times or so before hitting the opposite shore. After a few sore attempts I sat back and watched the interla
pping ripples of the stones, and mused for the first time that this was metaphorical of events in time, causing rippled effects around them that were in turn effected by other ripples. So much could happen from the multiple impressions of one stone skipping through space/time, how much did our own movements effect the world around us?
Curious to find out, the Juggler, the Alchemist, and I stripped down to our shorts and waded out into the river, balancing on the mossy stones beneath while the current tried to sweep us off our feet in its passing. Each footstep dislodged dirt and small fish that were carried away in the wake of our movement. When we stood still the water’s tension pulled it up and away around us, and as we watched, the air began to do the same, breaking apart and revealing our sphere-like energy fields. Then the sun broke through the clouds and the water, and the depths became clear. We were gods, towering above the intricate worlds of the river at our feet. Looking down we could see the reflection of the trees on the river, then the rippling surface, the shimmering play of sunlight on the bottom, then the bottom itself; rocks and plants and fish and junk, every intimate detail of that microcosmic world reflecting the fullness of life everywhere around us. Bending down and moving with the water we began picking up the treasures of the riverbed, rocks and shells and water-worn bits of old machines, each movement rearranging the balance of the world beneath us. This went on for what seemed like eternity until a woman appeared on the opposite bank asking if we had seen two men pass in a boat. We hadn’t, but the interruption broke me from the spell of the river and its mesmerizing world in which we were the only humans. So I slowly made my way to the shore to see what other wonders the world had to offer me.
I climbed up onto the dock, and discovered that my body still wanted to like the water that had just surrounded me, as if the air itself was trying to pick me up and carry me away. So I let it lift my leg off the ground and spin me around, again and again, in a slow dance with the wind. As I gave myself to it I found my arms were joining in, describing circles in the air as they moved from their joints, and soon my whole body was extended out to the limits of my reach, capable of being anywhere as long as the movements spun around my center of balance. This still center was like the stones dropped in the water, and my movements were the ripples, circling out into the world around me.
Overjoyed at this sense of physical freedom and control, I sauntered up the path to share my discovery with the others. They laughed at the luxurious way in which I was moving, and I was surprised to find them all sitting around the fire. Why were they not up and dancing as well? Apparently such dancing is a common expression of the San Pedro experience, but as the only one of the group inclined in the normal world to explore my physicality so thoroughly, was the only one thus afflicted now. This didn’t bother me as everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves in their own ways, even the Monk, who had scraped the remainder of the cactus pulp out of the pots and ended up throwing up most of it in the woods. I continued to explore the domain of movement, working on moving in planes, and found that by slightly shifting my balance of my axis the alignment of my entire body would follow, moving me into another set of planes. I began to wonder that once the central point of something is discovered, the whole world can be turned around that point.
The Juggler and the Alchemist came flying back up the path at this point, their hands laden with treasures, and began laughing once they saw that all the time in water had dissolved the lines on their hands. I looked at my own and finding the same imagined that the river had washed fate away from us. I wanted to show the Juggler what I had discovered, so we headed back down to the river where he taught me a tai chi exercise to strengthen recognition of the center of movement, which he called an axis, from dancer’s terminology. By lowering the center of gravity and relaxing completely we began to sway back and forth like the river-grass beneath us, letting the motion rock the axis from one side of the body to the other, over the sides of the feet. We stood there swaying in a very zen/ karate kid type scene and then he asked if I had seen the little gray mushrooms that looked like roses. I hadn’t, so we ran up into the woods and he pointed. Looking down his arm I saw the mushroom and then looking around I saw that the woods were full of them. Once my attention had been focused on the one point, the whole world was reconfigured in relation to it. That mushroom became the axis for my mushroom consciousness as my center of gravity had become the axis of my movement consciousness.
This blew my mind open, for our group had long been talking of the essential ambiguity of existence, that reality can be interpreted in a multiplicity of ways depending on how you chose to look at it. Through the year I had been trying to formulate this into a theory that everything can thus be meaningful in its own context. That every apprehensible action, object, or idea was a medium, literally a surface between the unknowable centers of things that can be written to or affected in a way that others can read or find an understandable interpretation of. But these surfaces were also walls, layers of illusion keeping us from perceiving the deepest nature of things and ourselves. As long as we see the outside of things we are caught in labyrinthine tunnels of multiple interpretations and the chaos of all reality remains too ambiguous to understand. It is like watching the interlapping ripples of stones dropped in water without stepping back to see how each set of ripples circles around and is caused by the stone. They make pretty patterns but don’t mean much without a centered point of view. But now I was beginning to see past that, to see that all things act as an axis or guity, a single interpretable point around which the rest of the world spins in context. By focusing attention on a single aspect, which like taoist conception of te, everything becomes meaningful from that perspective. This is a thing’s domain, the magic circle that is the limits of its influence, but like the te is still an illusion and outside the central understanding of all things.
We wandered back up the path, time and space becoming laughably arbitrary concepts in the face of this unfiltered experience. At one point we were kicking around a hackey-sack, which I’d always found difficult before, but now the ball was the center of the universe and it was almost impossible not to put your foot in its path. Even when it flew over my head I jumped six feet straight up to roundhouse kick it back into the circle. This left my feet over my head, so instead of panicking as I would do normally I landed on my hands and flipped around to kick the ball when it next came my way.
It grew dark, and as the fire razed in the center of our circle the Juggler worked on the poi until he had them tracing out flaming circles along the planes around him. I picked up sticks and spun them, extending the reach of my domain until I broke through and realized this control was possible because there was no boundary between my body and the rest of the world, it was all an extension of force from my center. In the dark I could see all the possible planes pouring from my axis, line after crossing line of light, the matrix of the world. To move all I had to do was focus my intention at an intersection of the planes, realigning myself to its perspective, and then pour along the lines towards it like liquid on the path of least resistance or fire racing up a branch. At one point I put my eyes directly against the plane in front of me and dragged them across it, creating a fractalized visual ripple of worlds as they crossed the lines.
And then disaste
r struck when it was discovered that the Alchemist’s drum had gotten either wet or burned, the medium of its head warped in some way that it could no longer vibrate properly. Up till this point we had all begun loosing our sense of self, even the sober Game-master, finishing each other’s sentences and even sharing thoughts without need of verbal communication. But now the Alchemist pulled out, refusing to interact, and we were all suddenly faced with an extreme sense of self vs. other inimical to the whole experience. Later he said it felt like we wanted some specific response from him, which was somewhat true; as caring friends we wanted him to acknowledge that he was either okay or not. But he didn’t, and the extreme waves of his terror hooked us to him until he could not withstand the pressure and responsibility of dealing with the effects of our every interaction on the rest of the world, and fled into the cabin to be alone.
Left feeling grounded and shaken, we decided now was a good time as any to eat some food, before the cactus kicked back in again. Earlier there had been a moment when the Juggler and I had stood watching the two fish that had been caught as they struggled for breath, flapping against the tree from which they had been hung to die. The Juggler was having a really hard time with the fact that they were actually alive and would soon not be, which was interesting because he occasionally ate meat. I on the other hand had not eaten flesh in about seven years, and tried to thank the fish as best I could for the need they would later provide. But watching the care and love with which the Fisherman cleaned and cooked them, I knew he too felt the full weight and connection in this violent act and understood it was all part of the circle of life and death that is our planet. I sat there playing guitar, trying to hear how the scales and melodies reflected planes spinning about the center, and knew that before the year was up the Fisherman would get me to intentionally eat some meat he would prepare. And I accepted that. Besides the fish and some fresh ears of corn, the Monk decided to reharness just a pinch of the world’s ambiguity and invented the poach-tato, which consisted of baking a potato (campfire style, wrapped in foil and tossed in the coals), and then opening it and cracking an egg inside before tossing the whole thing back into the fire to poach. With some cheese and spices it came out quite good, even if all the food had the not so subtle taste of the San Pedro brew.
Fed now, we retired to the cabin where the Alchemist was curled up on the couch. We all sat in chairs around the living room, I lotus-style in a large chair at the end, and with full bellies and limbs tired from a day of dancing I decided to close my eyes for a moment. I do not know what the others experienced at this point, but for me the following vision became the most significant part of the whole trip.
With each breathe I felt the world spinning up and through me, as if my axis was no longer just in my center of movement but in my whole spine. Even with closed eyes I was still very aware of the waves emanating from all the other beings in the room, not just the humans, but objects and spirits as well; all breathing in unison so that the waves evened out and I could feel we were all ripples spinning together from some axis much larger and deeper than and present. As I rose through the centers of physicality, movement, power, self-hood, breath, the interpretable surfaces of things fell away and I found myself floating through a bizzare internal dreamscape of mixed sings colors and feelings, all gradually stripped away as I passed and united them. Now I was floating up through an infinite red space in which vast columns or hubs stood, each one the center of infinitely tall spinning pages on which thousands of screens flickered with all the possibilities on all the different levels of applying the idea of spinning from an axis. One column for physical actions, the next for emotional interpretations, intellectual understandings, on and on, as if the chakras or sephiroth had exploded, blossoming into a virtual library whose depth and techno-organic style later was only describable as looking like a scene from “The Matrix”. It was like a control room for understanding, but I had no time to learn any particular thing as I was already floating up and on, shedding description at every turn. I have a lifetime to return for the details, but the trip wasn’t over yet.
I now felt like my spine was strapped to the rim of the wheel of fortune, revolving me in a spiral ever closer to the axis as I flew out of the cottage and across the world. All the life of the woods and the river and the sky, all of it detailed below me, rippling in lines of light. As I passed it all spun at the same frequency and became one, no more fish, no more insects, no more trees, no more me. A flock of birds startled and we fell into each other, becoming the beating of wings through air, the currents of the air itself. And there was light, out past the sun and stars; the surfaces of all things were just a reflection of its brilliance, luminous ripples cast out from the spinning center of existence. The lines of all individual things were the radiance of this being as it was the emergent meaning of all their web of interactions. Consciousness as interpreted from the perspective of total unity. I spun closer and closer until I became the light, was the consciousness reflected in all things and beyond that was the true still center, indescribable nothingness. And then that final distinction between all and nothing fell away too…
Objectively this must have lasted only a few moments, but the reality of universal consciousness felt so much more enduring, as if it had always been there and always would. My whole life as an individual being felt like a brief dream, a momentary ripple cast out into the spin. But just as soon as I could see that I was back in the world, sitting in this cabin, in this chair, in this body. I went outside into the dark, sat by the dying fire and watched the stars in silence. Being a drug-induced experience this came too fast and strong and on such a deep and subtle level that it took months of chasing the waves afterwards to even begin to get a hint of understanding what had happened. At this point I was still in shock.
Eventually the Alchemist got up after everyone else went to sleep, and he started drawing some of the objects he had found in the river, while I watched in rapt fascination. He would find the bare essence of each thing and draw that, along with ripples dragged from his own imagination so that the drawings did not resemble the objects but were still distinctly them. He had still not spoken at this point, but when I asked in awe if I could help him paint the drawings, he smiled and hugged me. We worked for hours, laughing and talking till the sun was almost up and I passed out. The Alchemist did not sleep, and didn’t for weeks afterwards, and I believe quickly destroyed the drawings. He was still faced with the demons he had let loose in his head, presumably questions of how to deal with being in a world where our every action can affect everything . But he pulled through in time for his baby to be born, and is back and strong in the world, though his trials left me with some unanswered questions in the back of my head. I had found the same predicaments from my experience, but had spent the several years before doing the drudge-work of excising my demons and fears to be in good standing with the world. So when it was all laid bare before me I could embrace it with open arms and let go of my self. I had not known it was coming, but had always felt the forward ripples of it drawing me closer, as I already feel drawn to the next time the stone skips off the water and worlds converge, and am preparing myself again.
When I finally met the Red Mage that fall, she suggested that hell is having to suddenly face all our ingra
ined fears and beliefs and separating walls at once and not being able to deal with the immensity of that task. I imagine most are less open and willing than the Alchemist was to change, and wonder how they would handle the great Armageddon-like singularity of illumination that has been rippling consciousness since before we could talk. Will they too find themselves in the personal hells of a swift ego-death, or be ready to enter a heaven that may make the heaven of my San Pedro experience look like a flashlight pointed at the sun? Or is all this supposition just a wild stab in the dark?
The next morning we woke and went home, not once talking about all we had experienced. There were weddings and circuses to prepare for, all the insanity of our everyday lives in which there seemed little room for metaphysical ponderings. I carried the illumination with me until time and responsibility swept the details away. But everything was changed. There was a place in me that had fully accepted that connection to the spiritual and magical in a way that I never had before. Despite all the small ego-driven acts of being alive I knew that I could not just write off this experience as a drug-induced hallucination. I could and likely will spend the rest of my life fostering that light I found, building power and intention to be a medium for that universal consciousness, if that is what I choose to let be. Turning back to the lonely, fear-filled darkness seems rather unappealing in light of that honest reality of interconnection, even if that means taking up the responsibility for all being.
Really, what else do I have to do in my short time as a human?