Ayahuasca Addiction and the Ego
Eight years ago, as Venus was eclipsing the Sun and retrograding in the sign of Gemini, I was beginning my psychedelic path. I had an experience with mushrooms at a party I was hosting. The experience opened me to the depth of my psyche and the breadth of the cosmos. It ironically sobered me from substance addiction and expanded my imagination and my sense of what was possible, both within myself and reality in general. Within the next few months, as Venus (unbeknownst to me) continued its retrograde transit, I took a backpacking trip into the Porcupine Mountains of northern Michigan with a childhood friend, a Gemini (my natal sun is also in the 3rd house of Gemini). After tripping out together in an epic wilderness setting we began exploring psychedelics together somewhat regularly for the next year until we traveled together to the Amazon to drink Ayahuasca in the spring of 2005.
Drinking ayahuasca was the most ecstatic experience I had ever had. My mind, body, and heart were opened far beyond what I knew or believed was possible, even considering the psychedelic explorations I had done prior to entering the Amazon jungle. However, they were not my first ecstatic experiences. Prior to my forays into psychedelics I had been a drug addict, and prior to that an evangelical/Pentecostal Christian, and prior to that I had grown up with a liberal preacher father who had been influenced in his early 20's by the psychedelic experience. His lifelong interest in Native American ritual, sweat lodges, poetry, mythology, and the psychedelic music era had been an undercurrent in my upbringing that I was hardly aware of until my first ayahuasca experiences in my mid twenties.
In short, my entire life has been very deeply steeped in "transformational," "ecstatic," and "mystical" states of consciousness. If this range of “peak” experiences has taught me anything, they have certainly shown me both the light and dark sides of the religious/mystical mindset. As Venus has just recently completed its 8 year retrograde cycle this past June, returning to retrograde in the sign of Gemini where it was 8 years ago when I began my psychedelic journeys, and also making its second eclipse of the sun (these sets of Venus/Sun eclipses only happen every 100+ years), I've come to the realization that many of the truths derived from altered states of consciousness, especially ones that wish to kill or eliminate the ego, often reflect a pathological or karmically entangled state unique to people who gravitate toward ecstatic experiences in general.
The Ego and the Moon, the Soul and the Sun
In the field of evolutionary astrology, as in many religious/spiritual traditions, much is made of our successive incarnations occurring because of a primitive "separation desire" that is related, like the concept of sin, the fall of man, or the state of maya (illusion), to duality. From this point of view, we are each one of us experiencing a temporary state (a delusional or illusory state) of being separate from the true source of reality, or God. The goal of our evolutionary development from one incarnation to the next is to exhaust this desire to be separate (through doing every possible thing imaginable that the ego/lower self could desire to do that is based in separateness). Once the separation desire is exhausted on the soul level, then we will merge back into the godhead, or the "oneness" from whence we originated.
This particular view of the flesh, the body, the ego, and the "lower" self, is nothing new. It's as old as Plato's "real world" beyond the phenomenal illusion. It's as old as the Buddha or Jesus teaching people of the temporal nature of the body and material pleasures. In Christendom it's as old as St. Augustine's platonically influenced departure from the City of Man into the City of God. This is the quintessential, mythological quest to free oneself from a material prison into a higher realm of consciousness, and finally into complete absorption with God. It is an old religious story, and there is much to be said for it.
It is true, after all, that the dark side of being a sensory creature, living with a body, is the way in which our bodily desires can entangle us with all kinds of suffering. Our fear of our own mortality can send us down rabbit holes of power hunger, violence, greed, lust, and fear. To restrain and cultivate moderation of the terrestrial, earth-based self is something each one of must learn to do. The first problem comes when we assume that this "lower" self is qualitatively different or "less than" our higher self. The second problem comes when we assume that our "higher" self is any less capable of pushing us out of balance than our "lower" self.
But before going any further, let's take a brief digression into a review of the higher-self and lower-self archetypes as they have been presented, generally, throughout much of the history of esoteric or karmic astrology. In many traditional astrological schools of thought, the Sun is considered to be the archetype of the soul. The Sun is therefore representative of the "higher" self. From our perspective throughout the seasons, although the amount of light in a twenty four hour day waxes and wanes if we live in the northern or southern hemisphere, the face of the sun itself remains constant. The archetype of the "sun as the soul" or the sun as the higher self is therefore related to that which is eternal and unchanging. The soul, like the sun, lives on singularly and steadily despite the vacillations of the seasons or the daily rotation of the earth upon its axis.
In contrast, the Moon has long been corresponded to the opposite archetype of "the ego." The Ego is therefore the contrasting, "lower" self. From our perspective, each month, the light on the face of the moon waxes and wanes. The moon is mutable, cyclical, and time bound. The ego, similarly, is changeable. The ego is governed by time and space and the impermanence of change (which implies the ego's relationship to death).
Many of our spiritual philosophies and world religions teach us to liberate from the ego, the moon, and the lower self, in order to be more steady, singular, and eternal, like the higher, solar self. But is it possible that the solar self is actually no better than the lunar self? Let's take a look at several interesting pieces of astrological symbolism surrounding the moon.
Revaluing the Lunar
From our perspective, although the distance between the earth and the moon compared to the distance between the earth and the sun is vast, the Sun and the Moon still appear exactly the same size from our perspective on earth. This is perhaps no coincidence. Additionally the moon is capable of eclipsing the sun's light from our perspective. It happens twice a year during our two annual eclipse seasons. The next thing to consider is that without the moon's orbit around the earth, and its gravitational relationship to our planet, our 24-hour day would not exist. Instead, the earth would spin on its axis in a breezy 8 hours, and we would not receive the contrast of dark with light or night with day.
Many proponents of a masculine, solar based vision of progress toward "oneness," "singularity," and "enlightenment" or transcendence of materiality and the ego like to point out that the moon's light (representative of the ego's waxing and waning) is only a reflection of the Sun's steady light. Because the moon has no light-giving properties it is thought of as "under the guidance" of the masculine emperor: the sun. But this is short sighted. Without the alternation of dark and light in a 24-hour day, created by the mere presence of the moon's orbit, the sun's heat would be too constant and too intense to birth and sustain life on our planet. For at least our place in the cosmos, in order for life to take root, develop, and flourish, an alternation of dark and light is necessary. The moon is therefore not only a reflective object in the sky that just happens to be the same size as the Sun. Rather, the moon, and the ego in astrological terms, is a kind of integral disseminator, cultivator, nourisher, space holder, and guide for the process of undifferentiated light and energy (the soul/the sun) taking shape and evolving. By degrading the cyclical, time bound and ephemeral movements of the moon in comparison to the Sun's steady light we fail to recognize the necessary nature of darkness and night to light and day.
So how does this astrological lingo translate into human terms? Put simply, our true self is not simply the solar principle. Our true SELF is an integral union between our lower self and our higher self.
When we talk about the "ego" we therefore need to be respectful.
Considering the Fate of Solar Hubris
In this current Aquarian age (a masculine, fixed air sign) it is important to consider the mythological fate of Solar pride. There are several mythological figures that remind us what can happen when we favor the solar, fiery, upward aspiring energy over the downward, earthy energy.
Daedelus & Icarus
In the story of Daedelus and Icarus, the inventor Daedelus creates a pair of wax wings, and his son Icarus uses them to fly as high as he can toward the sun. Flying too high Icarus' wax wings melt and he comes crashing back down to the earth, down into the ocean.
In the story of the Titan Prometheus, we have another story of solar pride. In his heroic angst, Prometheus steals the fire of the Gods to give to the people, but on his way off Mount Olympus he is caught by the Gods and chained to the earth, to the side of a cliff. He is consoled by the spirits of nature as he is made to suffer day in and day out until an immortal being, Chiron, eventually takes his place.
In the biblical story of God's brightest, light-bringing angel, Lucifer meets a fate similar to Icarus and Prometheus. Wanting to be equal with God in the heights, Lucifer is cast down to earth where he becomes the embittered devil.
In each of these mythological stories, the desire to be equal with God, to strive after a kind of solar, singular, transcendence of the body and the lower terrestrial realms is always met with an earthly punishment. When we strive for equality or singularity we are cast back down to earth because it is the fertile ground where equality and singularity are not only already extant, but are always constantly evolving. The Kingdom of Heaven, from this point of view, is right here in front of us. If we attempt to fly too high above our earth-bound reality, then we suffer the fate of the divine rebels and become an embittered devil.
Many religious thought currents on our planet, whether in the guise of America's Chrisitan evangelical churches, mid-eastern Muslim fundamentalists, modern politicians and economists, or the global new age movement, are hugely solar and singular or reductionist in their view of evolution (that is to say they are single minded in their views of why we are here, where we've been, and where we are heading or what we must do as individuals or as a species).
An imbalanced solar impulse likes to reduce things to oneness or to final, absolute answers about what is valuable versus what is not valuable. An imbalanced solar impulse tries to transcend or escape the process of the eternal unfolding right before us, in the material reality. An imbalanced solar impulse likes to break old forms but doesn't know how or why to build new ones. These tendencies also happen to be the shadow side of the innovative and rebellious Aquarian age we have recently entered. Progress, rebellion, iconoclastic and singular thinking, and the deconstruction of the old Saturnian forms may occur regularly without a healthy understanding of what we are trying to pro-create through our acts of rebellion or progress.
Solar Addictions and Altered States
The truth is that most of us, as children, are hugely solar by nature. We come into this world deeply in touch with our eternal (star dust) self. As we age the reality of our lunar, limited self sets in and the balancing act of our Sun and Moon signs begins. Currently, there is perhaps no better ally on our planet for this integration than rites of passage. During a rite of passage a participant will be guided ceremoniously through a microcosmic reenactment of their own death, only to be rebirthed. Through the process of the ego recognizing its own limits, surrendering to its own time and cycle bound nature, and then being reborn with a new awareness of its participation in life eternal (the solar self), an integrated, capital "s" SELF may emerge.
The integral SELF is therefore a yoking of the ego (our time bound self) with the soul (our eternal self). The point is that there is no good reason to assume that just because forms are temporary that they are not holy. The higher-self within us often hates to be confined or defined into forms, and the material self within us often hates to be taken outside of its familiar home or trappings into the boundless freedom of the higher self.
Freedom, true freedom, is perhaps ultimately found in acceptance and balance. Many people, when they hear this, jump to the conclusion that this strips us of our impetus to change the world or change ourselves for the better. This is a solar rebuttal, but it is not a universal remedy or answer to a universal "problem." Sometimes change happens through ambition and rebellion and crusading. And sometimes change happens through surrendering and suffering. Incarnation is a live balancing act!
The problem, (bringing all of this back around now to the subject of ayahuasca and/or altered states in general), is that the altered states of consciousness open up higher worlds that contain great power and freedom from the lower worlds. Many people who drink ayahuasca regularly, or anyone who alters their state on a regular basis, can therefore become addicted to the downloading of higher information or the freedom experienced during altered states. Here are several signs that are perhaps indicative of an altered state addiction.
Three Signs that You Might Be Addicted to Altered States
1. If you are able to drink ayahausca or alter your state regularly and yet you persist in unhealthy patterns outside of the altered states you enjoy.
Many people who drink ayahuasca or alter their states regularly are, for example, addicted to marijuana and lack a healthy motivation to work toward anything practically contributive to humanity. In fact over the past several years I have witnessed serious marijuana addiction within the leadership ranks of many well established medicine communities. It's one thing to enjoy a sacred puff once in a while, but it's another thing when it becomes a regular way of life. Any lifestyle that needs to stay "high" regularly may not be integrated with the earthly, lunar dimension of the body. After all, how can we integrate if we never come down before going back up?
Secondly, I've witnessed within myself and many shamans or regular shamanic participants the ability, over time and practice, to transcend the purgative aspects of the medicine despite an unhealthy diet, regular alcohol consumption, and other devious behaviors. When I first started drinking the medicine my actions directly correlated to the amount of purging I might face. With time this bodily balancing fades for regular medicine drinkers, suggesting that perhaps the body is becoming immune to "the medicinal" aspects of "the medicine." The body can learn how to go up and up while transcending the reality of the sicknesses present below in the ego and the body (something the medicine is supposed to be all about!).
2. If you live in medicine or altered states communities or participate constantly, but you are not able to relate well outside of them.
I've witnessed an enormously naive quality in myself over the past few years that recently came to a head, and I've honestly noticed the same quality in many of the medicine/altered states communities in general. There is an "us" versus the "unenlightened" or "unconscious" world "out there" mentality. This Scorpio/Aquarius group/cult fusion mentality, at its worst, can be akin to a kind of new age Mafia. The crimes are organized psychic acts against humanity and against the status quo. We sometimes make the egregious assumption that the state of things outside and above the terrestrial world are essentially "better than" exactly what is happening here on earth. We may believe that trusting the fates or the current state of the material world is akin to laziness, yet we don’t stop to seriously consider the idea that we're merely addicted to solar, upward visioning.
3. If you come from a wounded past, you can't complete things, your visions often dematerialize, and you are struggling to survive doing something you love.
This one is hard as it is something I have struggled with myself quite deeply at times.
After counseling many clients in the past two years through astrology, I've come to learn that the new-age, solar imbalance often manifests as the person who has wonderful ideas, artistic creativity, and ambitious things to say but also lacks the integral, practical know-how to construct lasting results. Results take hard work. They require getting our hands dirty, and they often require sacrifices of the flesh and bone variety. I have found, both within myself and within the new age communities, a consistently lackadaisical work ethic. If we carry ourselves from one vision or one "trip" to the next, and we never come down to till the soil and gain the perspective of the earth, the ego, and duality, then nothing we do will take root. While I admit that there is value to the free-wheeling, Sagittarian spirit of upward aspiring, philosophizing, constant drumming, trance-dancing and altered states reveling, there is also a remarkably predictable karma around this "festive-al" optimism and youthfulness. As one grows older, and Saturn sets in, there is a kind of burnt-around-the-edges bitterness that accumulates like barnacles. Dogma develops into ironically material hypocrisies, and the disenchantment, or even worse, the dismemberment, act of the moon occurs as the reality of the ego sets in. Not all of the time, but often enough, there is something highly pathological about people seeking endless freedom and ego-killing highs.
Revaluing the Solar
I've come down hard on the solar in this article at the risk of sounding self-righteous myself. My purpose is not to condemn altered states, ayahuasca, or the new age. I still participate semi-regularly in medicine ceremonies and I believe that solar/altered states practices can be hugely valuable for one's development. The purpose of this article has been to merely point out what I feel is an inherent dogmatic/solar irony and unconsciousness within the new age movement.
We need to get away from the idea that evolution is only moving us up and out of duality. We need to get away from the idea that what is mortal is evil. We need to get away from the idea that what is lower is not necessary, and we need to cultivate a more integrated imagining of ourselves in the universe.
To me, the best solar philosophies and/or the best altered states, not only liberate us from the ego but simultaneously revive our need for the ego's healthy participation in the cosmos.
A Venus Cycle Concluded
After 8 years and over two hundred and fifty psychedelic journeys, as Venus in its 8 year cycle painted another 5 petaled lotus flower in the sky, eclipsing the sun twice during its cycle, and doing so for the first time in over 100 years, I learned these very same important lessons in my own life.
I'm currently learning to let go of my dependency on heavily solar states of consciousness or motivation. I share all of this with excitement, but I am aware that this "imbalance" I perceive generally in the "new age" may not be as pronounced as I see or experience it. I might be projecting enormously. At the same time I know that this message will reach some who may need to hear it.
I offer gratitude to the planet Venus in completion of its recent historic cycle this special 2012 year. To the Mayans the Venus cycle was thought to represent the union between the upper and lower worlds!