Mar 16, 2012

Monsters & Medicine

See that guy staggering around his room, like Marlon Brando at the end of The Godfather, grasping for his breath and not finding it anywhere? That’s me. My heart’s being squeezed like a pimple as the Snake wraps around it and won’t let go. I keep crying uncle, but the Snake keeps on squeezing.

Death in the abstract is very different to when you feel its cold breath on your face and smell its sour stench in your nostrils. Can you hear me crying like a baby? At that moment I was that close to shitting myself. Was that how I wanted to be found, with shit in my pants and a hard drive full of porno? Nuh-uh.

Whoever said life’s just preparation for death was talking out the wrong side of his face. There’s no preparation for death besides dying. Now it looked like I was dying, and all my mental dress rehearsing was like kiddies playing doctor. Like “deserve,” it didn’t have anything to do with it. Does anyone really ever plan to die?

I’d come down South to Guatemala to build a house.

Building a house sounds simple enough, but nothing is simple or straightforward in a land where everything is backwards. When the Maya say one thing, they mean the opposite—that’s how they communicate. And however much they may profit from outsiders, it’s a closed community down here.  For me to try and build a life on the inside of that community was a lose-lose proposition. I knew this. But it was a fast and loose way to immerse myself and find out where I really stood with them. The answer was that I was on swampy ground, and sinking fast.

The money I’d had sent over to pay the architect got lost in the transfer. That turned out to be a good thing because I found out that the builders we’d hired—to save a little cash—worked for a known killer in the community. It was an awkward fact and it was causing me all kinds of problems with my Mayan connections, who weren’t too happy about having a killer and his cohorts hanging around their neighborhood. The whole thing ground to a halt while the money got tracked down and while I scrambled about, trying to put the Mayans at ease and find a way for everybody to save face and come out smiling.

That first week, there was supposed to be a collective ceremony, to which I’d been invited. Seventy-five medicine men were supposed to be showing up for it, but when word got around that the killer I’d unwittingly hired to work on my house was hosting it, none of them showed up. So there was that. The world of Mayan medicine is just another, especially dark kind of soap opera—full of all the back-stabbings, deceit, and petty grudges you would expect to encounter in any other community. But since Mayans never say what’s really on their mind, it makes it that much harder to navigate and negotiate your way through the whole melodrama without losing face—or losing your head. (Local justice is common around here, and usually involves a machete.)

The week following the ceremony, I heard about a Mayan who killed a Mayan woman in her sixties, for reasons no one seemed to know. After that he killed a dog and ate its brain. The killer would probably be left alone, and become another local Bogeyman, useful for warning the kids to behave. “See him? That’s the man who ate a dog’s brain. Watch out or you’ll end up like him.” Every kind of behavior is accepted among the Mayans, provided there’s a way to put it to use.

Besides building my house, I had come down to work on my blog and do some painting. That was it. No more the healer, shaman, or medicine man. Everyone and his dog was talking “synchromysticism” these days, patching together shamanic id-entities from a hotchpotch of psychedelic experiences and pilfered occultism, peddling their wares on the Internet—to the point that you stood out more if you didn’t claim some sort of mystical pedigree.

I was trying to motivate the writer in me —who was as stubborn as an old mule—by dangling carrots in front of him. I had various subjects that I wanted to write about, if only I could organize my thoughts. There was the whole 2012 thing. Then there was Jose Arguelles and his Dreamspell calendar, which I knew was completely out of sync with the original Mayan calendar but which New Agers were happily following, mixing up their nahuales and doing fertility ceremonies on atonement days, and so on. Then there was the subject of polarity, how every virtue became a vice if you overdid it, and vice versa, how every vice might be seen as a virtue in moderation (a bit like homeopathic medicine). I was also having a recurring dialogue with myself about spiritual beings versus spiritual persons: a spiritual being being anyone the spirit moved through, while a spiritual person was someone who worked on their persona in order to feel like a spiritual being, and so others would recognize them as one. But none of these carrots was enough for the writer in me to get off his ass, so in the end I was content just to paint.

When Van Gogh wound up in an asylum, he painted the view from his window but he left out the bars. If this was a Bardo realm we were lost in, as I often thought of it, then our imagination was what trapped us there. But it was also the key that could get us out. How to know the difference, that was the question.

Before the Fall we could see it all. Man’s eyes were open wide and he saw the forces of the divine in everything. That meant he had no say at all, no choice about going along with those forces, any more than you or I would deliberately walk into traffic without expecting to get flattened. You just don’t do that.

I heard it was the Serpent who set man free by blinding him. Then once we were blind to the divine, we had the illusion of choice, and the luxury of free will. To make sure we weren't completely lost, however, the Serpent gave us the gift of imagination, the power to imagine the divine forces that we could no longer see and to develop a relationship with them that way—through our imagination.

The point of all that stuff (which came from the writer in me, who I sometimes pretend not to be) is that there’s a difference between using the imagination to get a picture of what’s actually there, and using it to create a fantasy realm to escape into. It’s a fairly big difference—as big as life and death, you might say.

The biggest illusion of all is a popular one these days. It’s the idea that we create our own reality. It seems like we can do that, but my bet is that it’s not reality, not really. And it could be that there is no worse a fate than ending up in a reality we create for ourselves. The bed you make is the bed you lie in, and the bed you die in.

What we can do, maybe, is discover reality in our own special way. The imagination can help us to do that. It’s a bit like Van Gogh imagining the bars away so he could see the view better.

Whether or not the end of the world comes this year, or next, seems to matter less and less to me. Life continues to hijack all my stories, all my plans, and all my ideas, and bet all you own that it will hijack yours too. My advice is: don’t be telling your wife how in, twenty years when the kids are grown, you will really be able to live it up together. By that time, assuming you are even still here, either you won’t want to or you won’t be able to do, whatever it is you are putting off doing right now.

And when it comes to medicine—we better make it sweet, because whatever medicine we give to others, be sure that it’s going to come back to us. And when we get a taste of our own medicine, if we make a sour face—or even worse, if we spit it back up—we’re going to lose our license to practice. Otherwise, our medicine will just keep getting worse, exponentially, until all we have to offer is poison, of the non-homeopathic kind. The healer in us becomes a killer then, and we don’t even know it until a taste of our own medicine kills us.

It’s 2012 and we are all becoming medicine people now. So expect a taste of your own medicine, sometime soon.

While things were going from bad to worse in “the real world” (or my own Bardo realm), the writer in me was thinking about putting his money where his mouth was and going for that strawberry. That was the strawberry growing on the cliff side, before my eyes, while I was hanging by the vine, with hungry tigers below, and as the rats chewed away at the vine, one thread at a time. If I let go of the vine to pluck that strawberry, I’d fall to my death, but I’d have one last pleasure as I went. I’d at least taste something besides fear in those final moments.

As the days went by, I was getting angrier without knowing why. I was pretty sure the anger came from fear, being one half of the instinctual fight-or-flight response. Fear of God was the beginning of wisdom, they said. God was another name for Death, and what scares us about death is that we get to face the truth of ourselves on the other side; and facing our truth means facing our lies. So when we were given a chance to face God/death/the truth—did we choose fight or flight?  Or was there a third option? To move towards the thing we feared, letting go of the anger and then letting go of the fear, and seeing what was left.

The wild strawberry I ended up grabbing on my way down was that I decided to reenact one of the Mayan creation myths. What difference did it make, in the end, besides whether or not I could savor the experience of being alive, whatever it was? It made no difference at all, so I decided to enact the creation myth of the Jaguar and the Deer. That meant I needed someone to play the Jaguar.

I went to see a guy in town I’d heard about, but he wasn’t much of a Jaguar. He was a spiritual person, all dressed up in silver with a fancy Jaguar pelt and a little white goatee; but he didn’t have much of a stink-eye and I didn’t see any claws or fangs on him. With a jaguar like that, I figured the show would never get on the road. The deer in me would give him a run for his bling.

I needed someone who could kill me. I needed a killer, not to build a house but to clear the ground and lay the foundations for creation.

The Creation story was about contradictions, opposing forces. It was about how the friction between those forces created the spark which life came from. When the Jaguar came up from the Underworld and saw the harmless, grazing Deer, he felt something stirring within him. Hunger and desire. And when the Deer saw the Jaguar and sensed its desire, it felt fear pumping through its blood for the first time, and because of that, it knew the preciousness of life. That was how the Sun came to rise and set, the heart came to beat, and day and night and the cycles of time came into play. Maybe the gods were bored? Or maybe they wanted to see life from both sides and not only from the side of death, where everything was already decided. Our heartbeat keeps us alive, but it’s like a clock, counting backwards to our death.

I found my Jaguar in a guy named Vinnie and we did our ceremony, a daytime one and then a nighttime one, filming it all. He killed me and then resurrected me and then we went to the Underworld together, to fight the Lords of Death. All in a day’s work. It was something to do. (Keep an eye on this blog for serial installments of the movie over the coming weeks.)

When wild animals learn how to live, they learn by playing. I had put work before play and business before pleasure—so no wonder it was all going to shit. Someone once asked—do you think anyone ever said on their death bed, “I should have spent more time at the office”?

What do you think?

Which reminds me. Marlon Brando as Don Vito—he begins the film with a cat in his lap and ends it staggering about the tomato plants, chasing his breath and only catching his death. He’s playing a game for his grandkid at the time, he puts a piece of orange peel over his teeth and pretends to be a monster. But the kid gets scared and Brando takes the peel out his mouth and says, “It’s OK, it’s only me.” For the whole movie, don Vito is a killer pretending to be a family man, a businessman, pretending to be anything except what he is: a monster who has men murdered for profit. So at the end of the movie, he’s pretending to be what he really is, and the child sees him for what he is. The child—because children haven’t yet been blinded to what’s real—knows that it isn’t a pretense at all: that his granddad is really a monster. So Brando takes the peel away and puts his mask back on—only kidding! It’s at that point that he dies. The truth was too much for him.

Since Don Vito wasn't able to face the truth of himself and he was too weak to fight it, he ran away from it instead. Fight or flight. But of course the truth caught him anyway, and squeezed his heart like a boil until it exploded. No one escapes the Bogeyman.

So Don Vito was dead. Had I exposed the monster I was pretending not to be, with a little help from the writer in me? Look, that’s me staggering back to my feet after a five-hour near-death experience, thanking the stars that I'm still able to see, grateful for the blindness that comes with being alive. There’s no shit in my pants and now there’s no porn on my hard drive either.

When you go to meet your maker, travel light. But it was just another rehearsal after all.

Now I’m Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now after his heart attack.

Shit. I’m still only in Saigon.

I’m waiting for my orders, getting ready to go up that river, getting ready to kill Kurtz, to kill the monster in me, all over again.

Maybe after that I can build my damn house?

Jan 10, 2012


Life is a merry-go-round. Like the one at the end of Strangers on a Train, it’s out of control and spinning faster and faster. Every atom, every neutron, every proton, every electron, increases its spin and raises its vibration as a necessary response to the increasing DENSITY of our times.

Never mind the New Age scuttlebutt: all the evidence suggests that collective human consciousness is sinking deeper and deeper into Matter, like fireflies sinking into the Swamp, or Souls journeying into the Underworld. The denser the Matter, the slower the spin of the electrons, the thicker the quagmire, and the deeper the shadow we are diving into.
Mayans say that the 21st December, 2012, is the turning point. The end of this cycle of human historical time — not the end of the world but the world as we know it — and the start of a new, cosmic cycle of time in which Spirit, and not Matter, holds sway over consciousness. A turning point when atoms change their spin from yin to yang, negative to positive? Probably no one actually knows for sure, because that’s the nature of cosmic shifts – whatever it is, if it is, will be TOTALLY UNEXPECTED. A bit like death. No amount of book-learning or spiritual belief is going to prepare us for the final shift from flesh and blood to whatever lies beyond. Only direct experience counts in the Nether Realms.

Back to the merry-go-round. As we sink deeper into the darkness of materialism and ego-bondage, it becomes necessary to raise our own awareness and energy – our “vibration” — simply in order to keep our heads above the putrid waters of the Styx. Just feeling okay requires ever more discipline, spontaneity, abandon, acceptance, surrender, humor, lightness, and grace, to balance and counteract the increasing pull of darkness and despair in the world. Or so it feels, at any rate.

As the darkness increases, logically, our own capacity to summon light must also increase if we are not to be swallowed up by it. Time is speeding up, or is it slowing down? Consciousness is ascending and descending at the same time, like a tree with both branches and roots. We are being stretched beyond our human capacity, to bridge the abyss between animal and god, earthly and divine. We don’t have to like it; we don’t have to understand it. But we do have to suffer it, because humanity is the only species we've got (or so it seems), and earth (and our body) is the only home we have — for now.

As chaos increases and the merry-go-round spins faster and faster, out of control, it gets harder and harder to hang on. Centrifugal force is gravity squared — in the end, your mass is turned against you, so simply digging your heels in won’t work. There’s only one thing that will work, and that’s moving towards the center. In the center, gravity’s pull becomes zero.

If you find your center, you will find the center of the Universe. Each of us is that center, or else we are nothing at all. Because that center is the only thing that will hold.

Darkness is where light lives. Matter is the womb of Spirit. Darkness coagulates and condenses so that the light can break through the matter-shell, like an egg hardening as the baby bird is formed. The egg of your ego-centered world is about to crack around you. Pray that it cracks, because otherwise you will suffocate inside a mistaken identity and die without ever having gleaned the truth, so the dream-nightmare of your life will continue into death—creating a fate worse than death.

Dec 21st 2012 is only 355 days away. It may not be the end of reality as we know it; it may not be the end of time or history or this current civilization (we can always hope). But suppose it turns out to be the end of your life? Suppose that all your hopes and plans end on that day? What would you do with the time you have left? Would you spend it giving thanks and saying goodbyes, and if so, how? Could you live a good, clean life that left the world a better place, knowing that there might not be a world after you passed? Could you crawl all the way to the center of the merry-go-round (drag yourself all the way into the present moment) and still act with a sense of purpose, responsibility, and meaning that transcends your personal goals of glory?

Forget about your life. The heart of the Universe is wherever you are. The thicker the psychic shit you have to wade through just to keep moving forward in these times, the more light you will need to summon from within to guide you. And the faster your spin becomes, the more of that psychic garbage you will be shaking off, the more the shit is gonna fly.


Imagine you spent twelve years of your life sweating blood to become accepted by the “Mayan brotherhood” as a medicine man. Then imagine that you got to see “gringos”—spiritual tourists—coming to your village and paying money to gain the same acceptance from that same Mayan brotherhood without ever earning it or giving a single drop of their blood. Would you be angry? Who would you be angry with? With the gringos for exploiting a sacred trust and profaning an ancient tradition? Or with the Mayans for complying with the exploitation and cooperating with their own corruption? Or would you be angry at your own gullibility and vanity, for ever having thought that your blood was worth more than gringos’ dollars? Or for believing that there was such a thing as a sacred trust or a spiritual tradition outside of your own heart — which is the heart of the Universe?

Finding out that the world’s corruption is a mirror of our own souls hurts. But sooner or later, we’re going to have to realize that, for a spirit being to try and be a spiritual person is just vanity. It is all in vain because it only takes us further from our actual nature. It is as if God wanted to be a Somebody. To who, and for what?!
Being a medicine man or shaman is a job like any other, plumber, carpenter, tinker, tailor, peanut salesman, taco chef. A shaman is all of those because he’s none of them. He is part of a long and anarchic tradition of tricksters, and this is the tricksters’ time now. That’s all. The shaman-trickster’s function is to disrupt routines; to throw a spanner in the works of the ego’s never-ending agenda and of the human-social “matrix” program, to remind people that nothing is what it seems — including the trickster. What tricksters do only looks like a trick, because we can’t see what’s really going on. The only one fooling us is ourselves. The trickster’s job is simply to raise your energy and your awareness any way he can — because that’s how he raises his own.

The trickster treats kids with candy and teaches them to leave flowers outside their houses for quetzales (Guatemalan currency). It’s a generational “trick,” a routine outside of routine, a reminder that all space is sacred, except to the profane. The trickster lights fireworks at religious parades and sticks whoopee cushions under Popes and Kings. He does the unexpected, because that’s his nature, and he just can’t help himself.  There’s a trickster in all of us; he just wants to bring it out, any way he can.

As long as we can laugh at his “tricks,” we are beginning to learn his secret. It’s not morality or spirituality that will save us when the darkness descends. It’s laughter and levity.

There’s a war going on now and hardly anyone knows it. Most people don’t even know they’re on the battlefield until they lose a limb, or a head. It’s a war between gravity and levity. Those who can keep themselves light, who keep from buckling under the pressure as the darkness and heaviness of the world increases, will find themselves airborne when the shift occurs. IF it occurs — because, to some small extent, it depends on you, those of you with the capacity to generate light internally (and there are only a few of you). It depends on the lightness and levity with which you can meet your afflictions, on the degree to which you can raise your own energy and awareness, alone or working with others, even as that of the collective continues to sink further and further into despair — into the mass morass of the morose.

There are certain things each of us needs to know before we can access what we already know. That’s my job — to help you to find and do your job. There’s no such thing as a free ride on this boat. It’s all hands on deck as the mother ship ascends. If you can’t carry your weight then you are dead weight, just ballast for the chucking. But at the end of the day, it’s the only ride there is.

I was going to tell my stories, but my writer got carried away with himself and so it will have to wait. This is just a warm-up for what’s to come, a brief teaser as to the energetic facts of life. They are facts which your mom and pop never taught you, because they never knew them. They’re not to blame for that, but they’re not off the hook either. The sins of the mothers and fathers are on your head now. So live it up if you want to live them down.
The most basic facts you need — not only to survive but to flourish and thrive (and procreate) as consciousness in an infinitely expanding Universe — have been kept from you. There’s no need to cry Conspiracy (though you can if you want), because that was how you wanted it. Until now.

Imagine that you only had 355 days to live. Would you want to know all the things that your ancestors didn’t dare to share, because they couldn’t bear to care? Well, would you?

The buck stops here. It’s too late to get off the carousel, except by flying. And there’s only two ways to fly.