Another Day, Another Guru

I was listening to some cross legged Russian windbag this morning pontificating on why micro-dosing psychedelics was bad news. It was not, he said, a short cut to god or anything else.

I should have realized the fellow was going to irritate me when he waited a full minute before answering the question posed by the serious young woman interviewing him. For dramatic effect and presumably to emphasize his great holiness, wisdom and gravitas he remained silent in the lotus position while we mere mortals waited for his pearls of wisdom.

What  a tosser. He proceeded to um and ah about various eastern concepts using the usual mumbo jumbo phrases about “mantric, tantric, chakra” filled bollux before ticking us off roundly about short cuts to heaven.

I remember some years ago my wife and a sister having the hots for some old dear called Shine who wrote books on auric eggs or something. Anyway our Betty had supernatural powers or better and could see people’s auras. Or was it chakras? Or bottoms? I can’t recall.

And so it goes, as Billy Joel so charmingly put to music. Another day another guru.

Let me first tell you in no uncertain terms I am no Guru. I can not direct you to a stairway to heaven, nor have I traveled such route myself.

But what I might just be able to do is to save you a bit of time and money by warning you against windbag, guru nutters. And also save you a bit of heartache and disappointment.

I have been what I would call a “searcher” all my life.  I have looked in every nook and cranny and under every blade of grass for the Stone. The Philosopher’s Stone. The answer to Life the Universe and Everything.

And I have read some shatteringly bad books and listened to some truly stupid people. It is not that I consider myself all wise: merely that I know humbug when I come across it.

Why are we mere mortals fooled by Gurus?  Why do we listen to gurus? Seek them out, sit at their feet, worship them and suck up their bullshit?

It is because we live in a fearful and in some respects terrifying and “bad” world full of danger and that most awful of animals – our fellow man.

We crave gurus as we crave god: to answer our problems, to provide meaning to our life, to help us in our struggles. To answer our prayers, to save us from the hand of our enemies. To grant us eternal life and in the interim happiness and plenty on earth.

Please don’t get me wrong: I would like all those things. But I do not need the advice of windbag self appointed gurus to achieve them.

I have sought and in a sense I have found.

There have been tracts, texts and indeed people I have found helpful along the way but mostly I have had to beat my own path to the doors of perception. I have followed Dorothy and found the Wizard of Oz; the winds of Kansas did me a favor and showed me there is no external savior and that all our emperors have no clothes.

Lest that sounds bleak, it is not. I have found some help along the path. Cardinal Hume’s wonderful books for instance. The Abbot of Worth and his TV appearances. The simpler explanations of Eastern philosophy.  The Rules of St Benedict. The Tao.

But in essence you will have to do all the work yourself.  No one is going to save you, transform your life, rapture you. No seller of books or vitamins, no merchant of dreams will save your soul or give you the “12 Steps to Happiness and Fulfillment”.

If anyone promises so to do, run. And lock your wallet. Tighten your purse strings.

The answer lies within. You and you alone hold the key to your own happiness and peace. And if you are temperamentally a miserable sod as I am you may need a little chemical help along the way.

Which brings me right back to where I started and the Russian windbag grumbling about entheogens.

What I can tell you is that entheogens have helped me. Have I seen the face of god? Probably not but he feels somewhere quite close by, even if he is not quite what I thought he was.

What I can also tell you is I am moderately hopeful that judicial and cautious use of psilocybin may be on its way to curing a life long tendency to consider the glass half empty.

Perhaps the Russian windbag is right in his own case. An entheogen may not be for him. But make your own mind up. Tune out, turn off the windbags.

 

8 Comments

  1. I’m glad to hear you’ve got that black dog on a leash a bit, and support you totally in whatever method suits you. I’ve just had time to catch up on your last three posts. I’m really enjoying your blog.

    I think the long pause gurus take when asked particular questions is because there’s a dodgy connection to the alternative dimension from which they channel their spirit animal or dead teacher. I used to listen to Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now and entertainer of the millions of seekers who came to hear him talk, and he was a master at it.

    Being here now provides a neat segue into something I wanted to share. I’ve given up the doctrines, too, and commend you for it, and I share your deep appreciation of nature and beautiful music, but I have also given up talking about “the ineffable” or “divinity”.

    You may see something I don’t (and you’re clearly more widely read), but I wonder if this is the last stop of the seeker on the road to a scientific-naturalistic view, an atheist view. Having disproved or fatally doubted the creeds we were brought up with, and then the ones we found for ourselves, there’s a tendency to still want the consolations of religion, and a temptation to conclude that all the different doctrines and poetic intimations of spiritual experience, and the fact of (what feels like) “spiritual” experience itself, still point towards an indefinite god-ness, so that our beloved search for something “greater than ourselves” can continue. There’s the added temptation from embracing this as something we own, our private mission, only guided by ancient or modern wisdom but rejecting any extant formula as absolute. I was there and then found that too was indefensible. I am left with the practice of being here now, enjoying life as it is, learning how to make it better for everyone, and the challenges of doing that, which don’t go away.

    Mixed up in all the irrational nonsense from religions, there are of course bits of practical wisdom, many of which simply make for a pleasant life for us and our neighbours, or presumably help our tribes survive. Some of them describe the rules all manner of non-verbal social animals use instinctively, like “generous tit-for-tat” and other “games” mathematicians have identified as most successful for a group to employ (as you’ll know from Sapolski or elsewhere).

    Surely “divine accident” is an oxymoron? Not that I have a clue whether the universe is accidental or just had to be the way it is for some reason (or divine, obviously), but if it’s either of those things, it’s not divine, and if it’s divine, presumably it’s neither of those things.

    Hence, I’m not sure what “salvation” means, beyond “health”. And I seriously doubt anyone’s ability to achieve it by their own efforts. I seriously doubt we have free will.

    1. Very astute comments. I think if I may I will answer them in a further post since much of what you say touches upon my own doubts. It nay well be that entheogens merely show you what you want to see rather that what is really out there.

    2. Just reading one of your posts which touches on depression. Probably not for you (or maybe you have already tried it and it has nit worked) but for me at least psilocybin has thus far proved miraculous.

      1. I’ve not tried it. My drug of choice for many years was cannabis, which I thought of as a sacrament. It’s really difficult to judge the overall effects on me. It probably had some benefits, helped me get through certain things, forced me to stop and daydream or meditate, but it also probably led me to imagine I was making much more profound discoveries than I really was, and it gave me terrible anxiety from the drug itself and due to it being illegal and supporting criminal gangs,etc. I certainly have suffered from depression and anxiety from childhood, and I’m fairly sure that for me counselling was the key to making progress, which I then trained to do myself (and I worked as a drugs counsellor for a time). I don’t suppose it’s the answer for everyone, but I also think sometimes people try it with the wrong approach or the wrong therapist and it doesn’t work, when another approach might. But who knows – I might have come through that via a different route. I never settled into a career until then (around 30 years old), and it might have been finding something to contribute that gave me confidence, which could have been something else.

        Interesting point about psilocybin possibly showing you what you want to see. As well as the real effects of any drug or psychotropic technique, which could include that self-delusory process in some real chemical way, there’s the placebo effect, which I suspect has more to do with it. A particularly superstitious, uncritical thinker might get the idea that some random ritual makes the difference, like getting out of bed on the right side, and the expectation of a good or bad day can show them what they expect to see. Happily, I think we can play with that consciously once we know about it, so we can set the scene well, make good preparations, before we do whatever it is – take a drug or whatever – and maybe this helps us to keep a healthy distance (and increase it) between the thing and its effects. So, for instance, I would often sit and meditate to enhance my cannabis experience, but I’d also be practising meditating, which could then be good for me without the drug, and I might even meditate one day and think “this is better than when I was stoned” or “…just as good as…”. As far as I can judge, it really is.

  2. A quote from Pelagius:

    “Whenever I am called upon to speak upon moral training and the course of holy living, I am accustomed first to display the power and quality of human nature and show what it is able to accomplish, and then from this to incite the mind of the hearer to (some) forms of virtue, lest it profit nothing to summon to those things which it would have thought to be impossible for it.”

    Quote from a fellow by the name of Sam Storms, Ph.D.:

    “According to Pelagius, an infant is not born in sin nor does it possess any innate moral characteristics. Such are obtained only by the exercise of the will and the habits that develop from it. In other words, we are “socialized” to sin or “conditioned” to sin because of continual exposure to a family and society that are themselves sinful for the same reasons.”

    So it would follow from this that you certainly CAN achieve salvation by your own efforts, and your conclusion that,”…The answer lies within. You and you alone hold the key to your own happiness and peace,” rings true. I feel strongly that we all have the capacity for self-discovery and for finding our own way spiritually, if that is something you seek, and while many of these so-called “gurus,” or “guides,” take advantage of frustrated seekers, the sources you cite and a handful of other writers (like Thomas Merton) do offer insights that can be helpful.

    Your own descriptions of singing with the church choir show that some forms of religious experience can inspire and uplift us, while still requiring us to “do the work.”

    1. John

      I very, very much enjoy Thomas Merton. As to Pelagius, I concur wholeheartedly with his dismissal of the absurd doctrine of Original Sin. I am sorry to have to offend my more conventionally religious readers but my honest feeling is that almost the entirety of church (or indeed religious) dogma is worthless rubbish. Hence my search for the divine is concentrated not through the church but via direct experience. My direct experience is more of the mystical variety which is what I get when I sing Tomas Luis de Victoria or sit and read the Book of Common Prayer in my favourite local church at Northbourne. In a sense I am deeply “religious” but in terms which many would find unconventional and unacceptable. I am no longer willing to take any note of “fingers pointing at the moon” to use a favorite Eastern term. I will commune directly with the divine or not at all. Certainly not through the medium of a priesthood.

      I find the Gospels most valuable but only the common sense pleadings for decency and kindness. I have no truck with much of the abstruse and garbled verbiage of St Paul and his ilk. The Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes – ah, now there is true belief. And indeed though I may mock the numbering system, I would say the same of the Noble Eight-fold Path and the Four Noble Truths.

      I owe it to people like yourself who have had the goodness to read my rambling nonsense to come clean, to clarify my position. To expand a little as to my true feelings on the divine.

      I seek the numinous, I seek enlightenment. I believe in the divine but in the sense that it is within and not without. Baruch Spinoza and Carl Jung not Augustine of Hippo.

      The reason (or perhaps one of the reasons) I took such exception to the cross legged Russian impostor is because my use of psilocybin to defeat depression has had a profoundly important and valuable influence on my search for the ineffable.

      I am no druggie, I am teetotal and I do not smoke. I value the clarity of my mind and refuse to cloud my senses with destructive opiates. But I have found modest and judicial use of psychedelics profoundly helpful. Are they a shortcut to the divine, and if so, does it really matter?

      I think the answer is yes they are and no is does not matter. And for those who suffer from gloom, the effects are profoundly helpful.

      I have long practiced meditation and indeed singing Vittoria and reading or chanting the psalms is one form of meditation. Or contemplation at least.

      To listen to plainsong or polyphony under the mild influence of a modest dose of psilocybin is to enter a different realm. And to clarify rather than cloud the brain. We are our chemicals and by altering them we can alter our experience; for the better and permanently. We can regenerate and repair our neural pathways.

      So to be very clear I am a true believer in divinity. But “my” divinity is more of a pan-theistic or panpsychic one. My belief (perhaps even my experience) is that the divine is all around us and indeed within.

      As you can imagine I have read deeply over the years but the time has come for pure experience over the acceptance or indeed the consummation of the views of my fellow men. At least in terms of “Grand Theories of Everything”.

      While the Black Dog is in abeyance (and long may that last) I will sing and I will walk. I will listen to bird song and soak up the sunshine on deserted beaches. I will find god in the mountains and the streams and in quiet village churches.

      And if it takes a little chemical help to keep me on my path, well so be it. I will ignore the cross legged Russian and all his ilk. I know my path even if sometimes I get a little distracted! Or grumpy, rude and outrageous.

      Thank you so much for reading what I have written and for your most valuable comments.

      Best wishes
      A

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