In this edition of Reality Sandwich Reviews:
[Film] • Life of Pi (Rhythm & Hues)
Review by Adam Elenbaas
After seeing Ang Lee's "The Life of Pi" for the second time in cinematic 3D this past weekend, I decided that the film is two things: the best non-apologetically 3D AND magical realism film to date, and perhaps the best non-apologetically spiritual allegory ever to grace the big screen.
The Undeniable Human Dilemma: The premise of the film's adventure, where a young boy named Pi becomes shipwrecked on the open sea inside of a boat with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker, is like the human condition. We don't know why the big, sturdy tanker crashes, but it did. We also can't possibly explain how only a young boy and a few animals made it on board the survival boat, but they did. Analogously, humanity's self-consciousness, and the tooth and nail of survival on our planet is an isolating and shipwreck liked dilemma.
We are lost at sea and our story begins in the middle of a struggle to survive. We are both radically different from nature, from the animals on board the boat, and yet we are companions with nature on a journey that appears equally treacherous for everyone involved. Insofar as this "dilemma" is the plot marrow of the film it is clearly the plot line of our deeper spiritual quest.
Conflicting Natures: The film's plotline develops as the animals slowly kill each other off, and Richard Parker, the Bengal Tiger, and the young boy Pi are the last remaining survivors on the boat. From this point onward the film explores the fundamentally irreconcilable dilemma of trying to "square" the "circle." The square represents both the burden and ingenuity of self-consciousness, represented by Pi and his seemingly irrational attempts to keep both himself and the Tiger alive at once, never plotting or scheming to kill or eliminate the Tiger, as if in some larger cosmic sense we can't do without Richard Parker on the boat.
The circular consciousness is that of the primordial Tiger mind of Richard Parker or the vastness of the ocean. He is cunning and fierce like the ocean is indifferent and mighty. Pi insists to his father before the ship wreck that animals have souls, that everything has soul. Both the Tiger and the Ocean nearly kill Pi several times despite Pi's consistent attempts to cultivate a relationship with the animal and the sea. The film proceeds as the subtleties of the dance between man and nature spell out many more interesting lessons. Hope does not always bring redemption. Redemption does not always bring reconciliation, and surrendering goes beyond living or dying. Still, through every beautiful plot turn, the two forms of consciousness (the circle and the square) remain distinct and relatively irreconcilable opposites.
Just like the mysterious, never the same and always repeating, irrational number PI is precisely a number that implies the inability to square the circle, Ang Lee's magical 3D adventure movie challenges us to envision that "god is like that" too. Our relationship to God, like our relationship to nature, or perhaps our relationship to our own ego, our selfhood in contrast to our primordial roots, is a tension of opposites that cannot be said "goodbye to" or "solved" in any tidy or final sense. This movie is a must see for spiritual seekers, philosophers, psychonauts, and magical artists alike.
Adam Elenbaas is the author of Fishers of Men: The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest. Adam is the director and founder of Nightlight Astrology, a donation based astrology school located in Washington DC and NYC. Elenbaas is one of the founding writers and contributing editors for RealitySandwich.com.
[Book] • Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, by Dennis McKenna (Polaris Publications of St. Cloud)
Review by Diana Slattery
“My beautiful brother, my mentor and tormentor, was gone.”
This sentence sums up a central conflict in the relationship between Terence and Dennis McKenna, as Dennis relates the story in The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss. An older brother taking teasing of a younger to the edge of torment and beyond is not an unusual situation in the hothouse of a nuclear family circa the 1950’s. Their parents were in for their own helping of torment: the full catastrophe of having two very bright sons, in hot pursuit of psychedelic experimentation in high school that spilled out of the home and earned them Bad Example status in the small town of Paonia. Dennis’ datura misadventure is a classic. Terence as mentor brought Dennis along on the wild ride of Berkeley following the free speech movement, his own tongue loosened by ganja, hash, and the mushrooms of language. In Dennis’ words, “In some ways, DMT is what this book is all about. Terence and I were destined to become preoccupied with this substance; it’s what led us years later to the Amazon in search of the Secret.” Dennis’ first DMT trip in high school brought him face to face with the existence the Other, communicating from a completely alien and unbearably beautiful environment.
The heart of the story, and of their lives, is the experiment at La Chorrera, the central abyss. Dennis validates Terence’s account in True Hallucinations, and tells his own experience “while I was away in hyperspace, or, if you prefer, disengaged from consensus reality; this is a part of the story that only I can tell.” (No spoilers will given in this review.) Part of the story covers the mind-meld that happened between the brothers, manifesting as shared thoughts, perceptions, and realities, access to Akashic-level points of knowledge, and the physical manifestation of the silver key and the “excretum bonum,” the good shit. We have no term without a negative connotation for this state. Folie à deux, psychosis involving shared delusion between two people closely related, is the best psychiatry has to offer.
Post-La Chorrera, the brothers’ paths diverge. Terence, after a resounding rejection by science in the person of molecular biologist Gunther Stent. Though Terence asserted his position as rationalist and skeptic throughout his career, he derided science as woefully incomplete, its tools inadequate to address the psychedelic experience. Dennis chose science: botany, ethnobotany, organic chemistry, and neuroscience as a path creating new knowledge about psychedelics. He is also clear in assessing the limits of science in approaching an understanding of psychedelic experience per se. Each attained what the other did not, and may have envied. Dennis’ bibliography, an appendix to the book, is the quiet proof of his success and acceptance as a contributor to scientific knowledge about psychedelics. Terence, deputized at La Chorrera as “The Teach,” made his career as raconteur on the new age and psychedelic lecture, radio interview, and workshop circuit, notably as an Esalen scholar-in-residence. As such, he reached a level of public fame and recognition within the psychedelic community, and beyond, that Dennis, or scientists in general, rarely accomplish. They both made it work to pursue their psychedelic passions despite the fact that, as Terence quipped, “It’s not easy to make a career out of taking psychedelics.” To put it mildly.
The brothers never return, really, to the mind-meld of La Chorrera, though each tried to draw the other back at one point. When Dennis returns to the Amazon to do funded research, Terence comes along, and tries to detour the itinerary to return to La Chorrera to repeat “the experiment.” Dennis will have nothing of it. And at the end of Terence’s life, it is Dennis who tries to entice Terence back to the mind state of La Chorrera when Terence is at the edge of his own abyss and Dennis is at his wits end.
My beefs with the book are two. The first section which deals with family history before their birth was slow going. And mostly, questions are raised that are never satisfactorily answered. Why, indeed, did the Pied Piper of the psychedelic experience back off from tripping during the last ten years or so of his life?
This book was in many places painful to read, and must have been excruciating to write. Dennis’ due diligence in the search for personal truth through the shifting sands of memories, old journals, pilgrimages to Paonia, and interviews brings up every major regret, misadventure, and shaky decision made, such as how Terence’s hash smuggling adventure went down, or the recognition that Terence was his mother’s favorite child, or the events following Terence’s death with Dennis as executor of the will. In other words, this book is about the opening of the screaming abyss right here in Real Life as well as in the Outer Reaches, and the lifelong adventure of trying to integrate multiple worlds.
Diana Slattery currently working on a Ph.D. with the Planetary Collegium at the University of Plymouth, UK. The working title of her thesis is Communicating the Unspeakable: Linguistic Phenomena in the Psychedelic Sphere. She is the author of The Maze Game.
[Film] • Chasing Ice (Exposure)
Review by Darrin Drda
In the modern West at least, seeing is believing. Therein lies the power of “Chasing Ice,” a multi-award-winning documentary that follows nature photographer James Balog on a heroic quest to document glacial melting in the Arctic. While trekking with bad knees and a small crew to some of the most unforgiving locations in Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska to install dozens of time-lapse cameras, Balog himself turned from skeptic to true believer upon seeing the rapidly shifting icescape with his own eyes. Even more revealing were the images that the project (dubbed Exteme Ice Survey) yielded over several years, which clearly show the targeted glaciers retreating faster than anyone could have imagined.
Thanks to Balog, we no longer have to imagine. His time-lapse sequences comprise the centerpiece of the film, and of the presentations he now gives to slack-jawed audiences throughout the world. Temperature graphs have their place, but there’s something visceral about seeing unfathomably huge and ancient mountains of ice disappear in a matter of seconds. In one the film’s most stunning clips, a glacial chunk the size of Manhattan rumbles, ruptures, lurches, and crumbles into the ocean, in real time. Along with these gut-wrenching images, the film provides a rare glimpse into the breathtaking beauty of the Arctic, of its unique sculptural forms, its blue-hued shifting shadows, and shimmering displays of borealis light.
Speaking of light displays, Christmas is just around the corner. If you have loved ones who continue to deny global warming in the face of increasingly frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, floods, wildfires, tornados, and hurricanes, then you have an opportunity—if not a moral responsibility—to buy them a one-way ticket to reality, courtesy of Jim Balog and company. Tell the relatives that “Chasing Ice” is a must-see holiday movie. Bonus points if can convince the whole family to walk, bike, or take the bus to the theater.
Darrin Drda is an artist and author of The Four Global Truths: Awakening to the Peril and Promise of Our Times, published by the Evolver Editions imprint of North Atlantic Books. He is a Regular Contributor to Reality Sandwich.
Hillary S. Webb, PhD, is the former Managing Editor of Anthropology of Consciousness, the peer-reviewed journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness. She received MA in Consciousness Studies from Goddard College in 2006 and a PhD in Psychology from Saybrook University in 2009. She is the author of numerous articles and three books exploring shamanic philosophy and practice.
Jonathan graduated with honors in philosophy and English from Ursinus College and has an MA in English from NYU. He is a photographer, author, teacher, paranormal researcher and philosopher who has written extensively on human evolution, contemporary mythology and many other subjects. A large collection of his writings and his popular online oracle can be found at zaporacle.com.
[Book] • God: A Story of Revelation, by Deepak Chopra (HarperOne)
Review by Stella Osorojos
The structure of Deepak Chopra’s most recent book, God: A Story of Revelation, published in September by HarperOne, is novelistic, with each chapter told as half narrative, half exposition, and focused on one of ten spiritual figures ranging from the Christian St. Paul to Puritan Anne Hutchinson, to the first Hasid, the Baal Shem Tov. It’s a potentially rich methodology, one that seems to promise a right brain/left brain fusion of texture and exposition—and who better than Chopra to undertake this experiment in unification?
Unfortunately, his narratives bear only a haphazard connection to the points he makes in his expository “Revealing the Vision” sections. In the chapter about Socrates, for instance, Chopra first imagines the relationship between the famous teacher and his purported pupil, the hot-headed Athenian general, Alcibiades. He portrays Alcibiades as lusty and reckless, but intrigued, nonetheless, by Socrates’s wisdom—and something here feels true about the nature of the student/teacher relationships. But in the exposition section, Chopra turns his attention away from the connection he’s taken pains to illuminate and instead focuses on the historical importance of Socrates message to Alcibiades, which is to “Know Thyself,” and which marks a shift away from the dogmatic, authoritarian visions of god that prevailed at the time. An interesting point, but not one that requires a narrative indulgence concerning a hedonistic student who was apparently heedless of Socrate’s teachings.
The loose relationship between the narrative and expository sections reaches real disjointedness in chapter six, which is entitled “Julian of Norwich,” but spends almost all its pages on the 14th-century mystic’s contemporary, Margery Kempe. Eventually, Chopra gets around to imagining the meeting during which Kempe sought Julian of Norwich’s affirmation of her visions, and, later, justifies his focus on Kempe by saying that, in depicting the two, he raises “the central issue that hovers around mystics: Are their revelations real?” Would that he stuck around to answer this question; instead, Chopra abandons it to discuss what he sees as Julian’s true contribution, which was her “direct account of an ordinary person suddenly seeing with the eyes of the soul.”
The lack of cohesion between narrative and expository elements isn’t Chopra’s only problem. There’s a sloppiness evident here in tense switches and dropped threads, but there is also a touch of the Chopra magic still in evidence. Waxing sermonic is Chopra’s real gift and, when he finally gets to the point he seems to really want to make in each “Revealing the Vision” section—lucid points about how each figure advanced the notion of god toward a unity consciousness—he uncovers something new and worthy. If only he’d found a similar unity through his narrative conceit.
Stella Osorojos is a freelance writer and Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Her stories have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Spirituality & Health, InStyle, and more.
[Book] • The Adventurous Heart: Figures and Capriccios, by Ernst Jünger (Telos Press Publishing)
Review by Gary Lachman
In 1947, Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, wrote a fan letter to the German writer Ernst Jünger. Hofmann had been reading Jünger for years, but the book that really did it for him was The Adventurous Heart (1938). “Everywhere in his prose,” Hofmann wrote about this subtle but powerful work, “the miracle of creation became evident… No other writer has thus opened my eyes.” Hofmann soon returned the favor, opening Jünger’s eyes to the effects of LSD and psilocybin, during the celebrated trips the two took together in the 1950s, ‘60s, and 70s, and which Hofmann relates in LSD: My Problem Child (1979).
Jünger himself was no stranger to drugs; in novels like Heliopolis (1949) and in a later work, Approaches (1970) – neither of which have English translations – Jünger turned his sharp inner eye to the twists of consciousness occasioned by psychoactive substances. But his first trip with Hofmann, in 1951, holds an important but little known place in the history of drug literature: it came three years in advance of Aldous Huxley’s more celebrated tryst with mescaline, recounted in The Doors of Perception (1954).
The language barrier no doubt keeps Jünger’s precedence in the dark, and one hopes that this first English translation of the book that gave Hofmann’s world “a new, translucent splendour,” will lead to more of Jünger being made available to English readers. One other link with Hofmann should be mentioned: both men lived into their 100s. Jünger died in 1998 at the age of 102; Hofmann in 2008, also at 102.
The Adventurous Heart is a collection of short essays, thoughts, stories, dreams, philosophical musings, and other unclassifiable writings on a number of experiences: nature, death, travel, sex, drugs, antique shops, museums, practically anything that caught Jünger’s ever inquisitive eye. It provides, as Jünger says, “small models of another way of seeing things.” This “other way” is what Jünger calls “stereoscopy,” the ability to see things in a dual aspect, perceiving their surface and depth simultaneously. Or recognizing them as phenomena and symbol at the same time: “its action,” Jünger says, “consists in grasping things with our inner claws.”
Although Jünger was a decorated war hero, and his first, most well-known work, Storm of Steel (1920), depicts the Dionysian chaos of battle, in his later years, Jünger sought adventure in less questionable ways. Danger was always an attractant, but here it lies not in the wastelands of WWI but in the sometimes disturbing “knowledge of hidden things.” Jünger’s “stereoscopy” revealed to him the “secret correspondences existing between things,” and his reflections, written in an elegant, often lapidary style, trigger in the attentive reader a similar effect. Hence Hofmann’s high (no pun intended) praise. “When we comprehend one secret,” Jünger tells us, “many others also draw near.”
There are indeed many secrets here, too many to do justice to in a short review. Who knew so much is contained in the color red? Or in the activities of beetles – Jünger was a keen entomologist. Or in a tiger lily, whose “narcotic stamens” awaken associations with an “Indian conjurer’s tent”? Read this book slowly, while walking, preferably in a rugged landscape, or a foreign city – Jünger didn’t use the term, but he was a master psychogeographer - dipping in every now and then. The “secret harmony of things,” I guarantee, will be revealed to you, and you will find, no doubt, that your heart is adventurous too.
Gary Lachman is the author of several books on the link between consciousness, culture, and alternative thought. His books include Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius; A Secret History of Consciousness; In Search of P.D. Ouspensky; A Dark Muse; Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Thought; and The Dedalus Book of Literary Suicides: Dead Letters.
Jill’s examinations on our food and culture regularly appear in a number of publications, primarily OrganicAuthority.com, where she writes a daily news column as well as contributes feature articles. She’s also been published on Reality Sandwich, She Knows, The Well Daily, The Huffington Post and We Are Goodkin.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter: @jillettinger 
Antonio Lopez was co-founder of the seminal LA punk zine, Ink Disease. From there he traversed zine culture, professional journalism and media literacy education. He has written for Mondo 2000, High Times, Punk Planet, Tricycle, In these Times, Brooklyn Rail, and scores of zines, newspapers and magazines. His book on media education and sustainability, Mediacology, was published in 2008. His most recent book is The Media Ecosystem: What Ecology Can Teach Us About Responsible Media Practice.
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