Some Thoughts About Archetypes In The Midst Of A Pandemic
If some incredibly enthused person – friend, family or otherwise – should approach me with eyes-wide excitement about this New Thing!! that I simply Must Try!!, my immediate inner response is usually …. “aaand I’m out”.
Maybe it’s my aversion to anything that feels like an order; I’m way too Leo for that nonsense. More likely it’s a wee bit of wisdom gained from growing up in a culture where practically anyone has the freedom to offer (or sell) The Truth – about life, money, relationships, finding happiness – you name it, we got it. Having engaged myself with a few of these trends (New Age, anyone?) and watched many more fall into fad, or worse, I’m now quite happy to watch from the sidelines for a bit before participating. To quote the brilliant film, The Big Short, “We live in an era of fraud in America. Not just in banking, but in government, education, religion, food, even baseball.” Truer words….
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold, individuals and agencies of all sorts offered the public their version of the truth about the virus and how to respond. Predictably, in these days of attention-seeking, click-baiting extremes, we had some options to choose from: “it’s a serious illness!”, “it’s no worse than the flu!”, “stay home!”, “it’s all a hoax!”. For a short time, there was enough noise in the signal that some became disoriented and susceptible to external pressures to be fearful and to act fearfully. Soon, headlines about panicked buying, price gouging, hoarding and the like began springing up everywhere, as news and social media quickly passed around the most eye-catching examples.
Personally, I found these initial stories a bit worrying as there are plenty of examples from our recent history to suggest this could have been the beginning of a fall into violence. Every country and community seemed to be grappling with rushes of people seizing goods in response to their fear of the unknown. Would empty store shelves spark more panic and rioting? Would we recover our collective balance after the first rush of fear? And what if the COVID disruptions continued for months, as some were starting to predict?
Soon, compelling stories from people experiencing the first waves of the pandemic made their way around the world – videos of overwhelmed caregivers, pictures of makeshift medical equipment,wrapped bodies and grieving families. It seemed these were the catalyst that quickly clarified the signal and allowed us to collectively attune to a shared reality. Stories about toilet paper faded to trivial as we absorbed near real-time data on the spread of COVID-19 and countless stories of how the human family was fairing. Despite living in this age of global communication, I don’t recall a time when one event consumed so much human attention and action for such an extended period of time – and it’s not over yet.
As weeks turned into months, we were quickly in uncharted territory as businesses closed, people lost jobs and rents came due in the dawning of day-to-day practicalities. Isolation measures created gaps in the availability of goods and services, inviting each of us to recognize how dependent we are on others to keep our lives comfortable. And here’s where things got interesting. Sure, some of us struggled to adapt and got a bit stressed out and angry about the whole thing. And on some level, I think most of us can relate, even if humorously. So nothing new there.
What is new are all the novel and inspiring ways we quickly invented in order to connect and care for one another in the face of this historic event. On the spot, business owners pivoted to new products to keep employees working – or donated space, supplies and time to their communities. Neighbors reached out to find and support those in need of help, be it food, money, pet-sitting or just some company for a few hours. Teachers and others quickly adapted to remote teaching tools; hilarity ensued. Families, schoolmates, co-workers, strangers – all looking for and finding ways to help.
It’s very encouraging to see how quickly we’ve been able to challenge our daily habits, as if we were already itching for things to be different. In spite of living in cultures that divide us, we’re clearly able to set aside flimsy labels when an immediate need to help each other emerges. And on a planet experiencing the kind of environmental and social changes we’re living through now, was there ever a more immediate need for this unity? As an aside, the numerous videos, songs and funnies celebrating our solidarity are also a great source of quarantine entertainment. And so we should celebrate; we are groovy and one must celebrate such grooviness.
As I survey these stories of connection and caring, the pattern suggests to me the emergence of an archetype in our collective response. And by archetype, I’m using the Jungian definition: a primitive mental image present in the collective unconscious. Thought of as inherited potentials, archetypes describe universal patterns of human nature we all recognize: yearning for freedom, desire to serve others, longing for intimacy, etc. These archetypes arise within the individual – or collective – in response to life’s journey; which archetypes arise can be seen as a reflection of our fundamental nature – the artist, the healer, the teacher, and so on.
In response to the pandemic, I’ve been streaming the psychedelic wisdom of Terence McKenna, who is well-versed in all things Jung. In a lecture, Terence explains archetypes with the story of Soteris, the Greek goddess of safety and preservation from harm, who risks the lives of many to save the one who is lost. This archetype has worn many faces over time; in the Bible, it’s the shepherd who leaves the flock of ninety-nine to rescue the lost sheep. It is this – this deep seated instinct to find those in danger and get them to safety, even at the risk of own safety or life – this is the voice calling out through us now.
This pandemic is helping us understand what is essential in our lives. Though we’re still awash in our old habits, we’re also getting glimpses of what a different reality might look like, for better or ill. The pandemic is gifting us with the chance to stop our manic daily momentum long enough to better recognize our interdependence before we make our next moves. In taking this pause, we are seeing past our divisions and finding cause to continue questioning how much of the status quo truly serves the human family. The time is ripe for a new story about how we humans share this living planet; perhaps COVID is inviting us to get on with it!
On some level, I think we all sense that for many of us, life will never fully return to ‘the way it was’. In Part 2, I’ll share some thoughts about what we face next.
In the meantime, sharing these snippets of good news. Enjoy! (That’s an order.)
Wrapping up this round of posts on the arts with a few more, beginning with these short video clips in which six teachers share their perspectives on the role of art and the artist in society. Teachings of this type have deeply informed my mindful journey back into the world of form and have helped me to glimpse the larger human story embedded in all works of art and creation.
"I have great hope now for art produced by the interaction of human beings and computers."
"The artist is the social conscience of a society."
"Society has to be able to observe itself … and what allows a society to do that are the producers of art and culture"
"But there is a vaster, much vaster intelligence in every human being that is non-conceptual, not words and concepts. You can't analyze it but everybody has that within, potentially, and I believe that is the source of creativity.."
"A real piece of art is a window into the transcendent."
"The purpose of art is to take the senses on a journey back to the source of perception, which is pure awareness."
What happens to our sense of ‘me’ after death? Does our consciousness reincarnate in another form to live another life? How should we prepare for our death – and what does that even mean? Insights of the type shared by these six teachers in this video gallery helped me discover a new perspective from which to grapple with such questions about the transformation that is death.
In this 8-min excerpt from one of his many lectures, Alan invites us to embrace the other half of the natural rhythm that is death.
"You can only die well if you understand this system of waves… that you are just as much the dark space beyond death as you are the light interval called life. These are just two sides of you because 'you' is the total wave. See, you can't have half a wave. Nobody ever saw waves which just had crests and no troughs. So you can't have half a human being who is born but doesn't die; half a thing. That would only be half a thing."
Though the video quality is less than ideal, Shakti Maggi's concepts on death and 'reincarnation' (my term, not hers) come through with the loving clarity that is her hallmark in this short 4-min. video.
"The body, it is simply a movement of energy arising from the stillness of your being …[during death, this movement] will be simply receding back into stillness."
In this 5-min. video, Adyashanti describes how the process of aging can lead to the wisdom and freedom of letting go.
"But certainly, enlightenment is absolutely intrinsically linked with death. There is no deep lasting liberation without death, without dying before you die, without the psychological self giving way. They're intimately linked; you don't get one without the other. They're absolutely linked together."
Rupert explains why we experience different states of awareness and offers a description of 'reincarnation' (my term, not his).
"Remember, the body is an appearance in the mind. So when the body dies, just a particular localization of consciousness disperses… Consciousness doesn’t dissolve."
A 6-min lecture snippet in which Terence comments on the origins of the body and exploring the after-death space with psychedelics.
"So I think what biology is, is the intrusion into 3-dimensional space and time of hyper-dimensional objects. And the other clue to that, that seems an argument for it, is that we do have this thing called 'the mind' but we can't find it anywhere. It doesn't seem to be anywhere… [at death] I think probably these objects retract back into hyperspace - higher space ... we clothe ourselves in matter but we are not matter and so to actually complete a human cycle of existence, you have to go into death. It's where you came from..."
In this short excerpt from an audience Q&A session, Eckhart talks about the transformation consciousness will face after the body's end.
"Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal ultimately exists….. Beyond the appearance on the level of form, which is the only level where death exists, it is a transition from one form into another form or from one form into formlessness. That is what death is, no more than that. Nothing real dies…. It's a transmutation of form."
I am usually disinclined to investigate the personal lives of teachers - at least not beyond the numerous personal stories many offer to their audiences. But upon hearing numerous direct and indirect references to either this book or the events it describes, curiosity - and Terence's exceptional wordsmithery - got the better of me and I made the time to take in this story of the psychedelic adventures of the McKenna brothers at La Chorrera in the Amazon Basin.
“In the days following that first mushroom experience, the lives of my brother and I underwent a tremendous and bizarre transformation. Not until Jacques Vallee had written 'The Invisible College' (1975), noting that an absurd element is invariably a part of the situation in which contact with an alien occurs, did I find the courage to examine the events at La Chorrera and try to fit them into some general pattern. I have told various parts of our story over the years, never revealing the entire incredible structure to any one listener, knowing full well what it seems to imply about our mental condition during the time of the experiences.” ―Terence McKenna
In 2017, Dennis McKenna published his account of the La Chorrera adventures in The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss. True Hallucinations is Terence's account of these same events - and what a wonderfully told account it is. But here I should come clean and confess - I didn't read the book but listened to Terence read his book via this nice YouTube share from PhilsMind. It's a funky rendition - natural and psychedelic sound effects and folk rock songs are sprinkled throughout - which adds a touch of the fittingly surreal to the story. But best of all, it's the author reading his words as he meant them when he wrote them - always an enjoyable way to 'read' a book. (FYI - Terence appears to be reading a slightly different version of the book than is currently on the market.)
I've been on a McKenna brothers kick lately, first listening to Terence inspire curiosity about the psychedelic space and then to Dennis, a well-known ethnopharmacologist, thoroughly detail the psychotropic chemistry.
“Psychedelics are not suppressed because they are dangerous to users; they’re suppressed because they provoke unconventional thought, which threatens any number of elites and institutions that would rather do our thinking for us.” ― Dennis McKenna, 'The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss'
The title might suggest the book is primarily about the brothers' pivotal experience at La Chorrera since 'the Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss" was the name the McKenna's gave to the small group they joined for this trek through the Amazon. But Dennis actually treats us to a much richer tale that begins with a few good stories about the McKenna ancestors before starting with the brothers' early childhood years in Colorado (speaking of which, I love this cover photo). We don't get to the days in La Chorrera until about halfway through the book and it's worth the wait as Dennis' retelling of the event is captivating. Having heard both Terence's (True Hallucinations) and Dennis' account of that psilocybin-fueled adventure, I can only say I soooo wish I could have been a fly on the wall, so to speak, to have witnessed the wildness. It's easy to see why this experience had such a profound impact on both men.
The book goes on to describe a number of other notable happenings in the lives of the brothers - the timewave theories, ayahuasca trips and the like - before concluding with Dennis' account of his brother's death in early 2000.
Terence McKenna was an ethnobotanist, mystic, author, psychonaut and lecturer. He was born and raised in Colorado but managed to extricate himself to Los Altos, California while still in his teens and so was on hand during the Haight-Ashbury heyday. And yet he never seemed to join it directly and in 1969, Terence headed first to Nepal and then to the Amazon in 1971, where he encountered the psilocybin experiences that would shape him into the psychedelic bard he became.
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it's a feather bed.” --Terence McKenna
What's been helpful: I suspect anyone drawn into the world of psychedelic experiences is eventually going to come across Terence and Dennis McKenna. After hearing Terence's name mentioned in passing by several others, I finally got around to looking into the matter - and instantly became a fan. If you also appreciate hearing the English language expertly managed, then Terence is one of those people you'd listen to describe the cover of the phone book for an hour. And then to marry his language skills and the world of the psychedelic!? Well, that's just a match made in Magic Mushroom Heaven, is what that is. Terence often drew upon an extensive knowledge of art and human history as a backdrop, making his stories especially interesting and informative. In fact, that's often what I've enjoyed most about his lectures, the historical insights that come from his being so well read on the subject.
Terence gained and revealed a number of insights from his many psychedelic experiences, a few of which resonate deeply with my newfound take on reality. One is his 'novelty theory' - in general, the idea that the increasing complexity emerging throughout the universe signals the evolution of the collective consciousness, a process which will culminate in the birth of our next stage of consciousness. He connected a number of theories about time to this idea, all of which did not click for me after having experienced 'no time' as part of awakening. But this idea of novelty continuing to increase towards something - this is an idea that comes up in a number of guises from various teachers, and this idea definitely resonates. By which I mean it sounds like a truth I don't understand but do recognize.
His other insight that I found 'familiar' was about the existence of what Terence called 'the Great Eschaton' or the 'Transcendental Object At The End Of Time'. Terence spoke often over the years of the one large event/change/shift in the future that is sending 'shockwaves' of a sort back through time, prompting awakenings and intuitions that are quickly heralding changes to the millions of minds looking for a different way. As it happens, this concept actually aligns with new data coming from lab experiments which demonstrate an ability in humans to sense events, especially painful or negative ones, in the immediate future, which prompts the body to start reacting to the stimulus even before exposed. This is, of course, something we've all experienced as a sense of intuition or 'gut feeling'.
The Transcendental Object At The End Of Time - besides his books, the main reservoir holding Terence's teachings appears to be hundreds of YouTube videos from various lectures, retreats and the like. I'll be posting several of these links over time but to start, here's a compilation video (three and one half fabulous hours!) that offers a nice variety of video snippets from throughout Terence's career. An excellent segment on DMT starts @ 1:12:50 (no one describes these events like Terence) and another on the psychedelic experience here @ 1:45:25