Shamanic World Mirroring: The Artist's Inner Journey
Story is hidden within the very fabric of our being. It lays the foundation of our civilization, encompassing every human initiative and interaction, cultivating perhaps the most profound discipline of all human endeavors. And Story wears many masks -- from oral tradition of folklore to the visual depictions on the silver screen.
For the past 195,000 years, the brains of our species have not changed, reaching "full anatomical modernity," save for a prominent leap 35,000-40,000 years ago, in which human culture spawned from the deep recesses of the Upper Paleolithic mind, paving the way for the human imagination we see today, evolving through natural and unnatural changes, creating a vast network of ever-expanding thought (Hancock 27: 2007).
As human beings, we are all storytellers. From the corner dry cleaner to the lawyer, from the bushman of the Kalahari to the molecular biologist, we all have an individual imprint upon our collective tale as a species. The human story, my story, our story, does not begin or end with solely our collective point of view. Under the surface, on a deeper molecular level, our body's configuration is continually undergoing transformation and rewrites itself as cells die and are replaced, and alterations of set and setting begin to adapt the core language that binds us to all life, DNA.
Our knowledge of DNA has grown in leaps and bounds over the past several decades, showing in a scientific context the interconnectedness of all life. Only slight variations in the code are needed to drastically alter a species, and this systematic game of genetic scrabble has been in effect for four billion years, distinguishing itself as the most consistent system of life, in which 97% of "junk DNA" is unknown. When this "junk DNA" is applied to linguistic tests such as the Harvard University study dealing with Zipf's Law, results show that this 97% of unknown material compares to data based languages (297:2007). But what does this mean to us as a "civilized" species?
Cross-cultural and cross-disciplinarian work by anthropologist Jeremy Narby in his book The Cosmic Serpent shows that shamans in altered states of consciousness "see" universal entopic phenomena that mirror the scientific imagery of DNA when stimulated by a DMT-based brew known as ayahuasca. According to Narby, DNA emits ultra-low frequency photons, so when the body is stimulated with an increase in the endogenous chemical DMT, the subject can "see" DNA (104: 1998).
My anthropological research of the past several years has been a study of the collective archetypes within the unconscious realms of our species. As I stated earlier, as a species, our brain composition has not changed for almost 200,000 years, therefore, despite cultural filters and differences of time and place, our thought processes have remained the same. Studies in ASC (Altered States of Consciousness) show that, collectively, humans experience the same or very similar entopic phenomena whether the ASC has been induced by deep meditation techniques, the use of external hallucinogenic plant substances, or even in reported cases of near-death experience. It appears that by accessing these altered states of consciousness, we can access the same planes of awareness our ancestors used, thereby giving us greater insight into where our society is headed, illuminating us to what shaped our consciousness so long ago. Within our own mythological context, science --namely quantum physics -- has brought to our attention the distinct possibility of multiple planes of existence; this is becoming a common rhetoric within the scientific community.
I have been using these altered states of consciousness --accessed through shamanic practices such as breath alteration and meditation -- to enter a trance state while drawing.
In these states, I allow my mind to work separately from my hand, and allow the images to be created from the ether, where archetypal imagery has been passed through our psyche, emerging throughout the ages. Generally, my drawing sessions are guided by music, as I believe the vibrations have distinct effects on the pineal gland.
Research done by Dr. Rick Strassman has pointed out that the pineal gland could be the originator of the endogenous chemical DMT, which subsequently aids entry into altered states of consciousness, guiding the body and imagery produced. "N, N-dimethyltryptamine, or DMT . . . exists in all of our bodies and occurs throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. It is a part of the normal makeup of humans and other mammals; marine animals; grasses and peas; toads and frogs; mushrooms and molds; and barks, flowers, and roots" (Strassman 42:2001). My goal has been to access the realms that make us who we are as human beings, the greater web of consciousness, of which we are a part.
Just as we are host to a series of organisms, we are also subject to that of an even larger organism, the Earth, our original mother. The necessary and inevitable invention of a technological Western society allowed us to have global reach as a species, developing global tools of communication via satellites and the internet. As a side effect, however, it removes us from the collective mindset, and has brought us to a crossroads where we now must bridge the gap between East and West, science and shamanism, patriarchy and matriarchy -- to step into a new age, a balanced society that is globally and culturally aware of the interconnectedness of all life. Science, deriving from Western thought, has been catching up with this philosophy, and we are in a pivotal time of awakening in which we now know that the choice is ours to evolve into a "higher" role and accept harmony with our natural origins, creating a society that can grow and flourish sustainably.
By accessing different states of reality to which we are not dominantly ingrained, we can communicate beyond our current means, with forces that we are only now starting to believe could exist. I'm very interested in the role of dark matter and how "more than 80 percent of the mass in the universe is unaccounted for and is effectively invisible to our most sophisticated instruments" (Strassman 2:2008). Modern science is continuing to explore and develop new means to measure and calculate the precise role of these forces, and their effects upon all life. The purpose of my drawings is to act as a window into the collective unconscious and open doors of communication with what has been evolving with us right before our very eyes. This communication, a dialogue between worlds, utilizes the resonation of consciousness readily exercised through shamanism.
Shamans are seekers of knowledge, in both ordinary and non-ordinary reality. The nature of binaries in our existence makes it so that in order to encompass the whole "round" of being, in order to develop an understanding of one reality, one has to look outside of the dominant point-of-view to enlarge one's focus on a greater reality. To begin knowing yourself, you must first look at something different from yourself, only then can you begin to know who you are. This is a fundamental lesson of Western psychology, a basic tenet of shamanism, and a foundational idea in religions that focus on the interconnectedness of all life. For a shaman to begin to traverse the inner depths of outer dimensions, one has to first have an intimate understanding of their dominant reality. By dominant reality, I refer to the cultural and socio-political realities that one is born into. Once one is aware that this dominant reality is only one of many possible realities, then one can begin to traverse between realities. And this is the role of the shamans, to bridge the gap between realities, coming and going as their consciousness grows and expands from one reality to another, evolving their understanding of life by revealing the core truths that are only made apparent by comparative differences.
By removing the self from our lives -- if only briefly enough to examine those dominances not of our own -- we are able to distinguish our individual tales, exactly what makes ours unique. That is when our actions are given a choice, and thereby a sacredness.
What begins to occur here is the disembodiment of ego, another fundamental principle of shamanism. The self becomes less and less important when you are perpetually reminded of different realities and forms of life that, below the surface, house fundamental truths. To the Western-trained mind, we are taught that we can rise as individuals, and that life itself is defined by the purely competitive notion of survival of the fittest. What this ignores is that an individual cannot be the pure form of uniqueness within society unless they are fully removed from that society, therefore they cannot participate within society, which directly contradicts our society's ultimate goal: survival. A society cannot operate and survive without any participants. Survival is not an individuality that amplifies ego, rather, survival is the ability to work within the stasis system with the realization that every action has a reaction and needs the fundamental other. The body cannot survive without the thousands of bacterial organisms which it hosts, nor can it survive without the nourishment that comes from another life form, whether plant or animal. Life, survival, is interconnectedness. Through surrendering of ego, and the ritualistic death that it embodies, one realizes this notion and surrenders to a truth that binds us, and all life, which is a sacred principle.
Once the ego has been dismantled, one's consciousness can expand further and explore the multiple dimensions of reality. The mind can free itself from disillusionment of the body and, due to the empathetic nature of human beings, place itself into other depths of field. This is a crucial point for the shaman, and the multiple human roles that act accordingly -- the artist, musician, writer, athlete, and warrior. Our nature of reality is fragile, and bound together by the hallucinogenic compound DMT. What this tells us is that the mind has evolved to utilize such devices, and this may prove to be an evolutionary advantage that we are only now truly becoming cognizant of. The scientific community has been making many advances in forming the necessary vernacular, enabling our Western mind to grip a form of reality that has been accessible to us for thousands of years, and a knowledge that shamans have been working with for equally as long. We can now begin to utilize this knowledge and contribute to a global dialogue, no matter what terms we use to describe it.
The most effective way in which these methods have been transmitted is through the use of sound, especially through music. The vibratory effects on consciousness act as an immediate retainer for thought, in which an endless catalogue of data can be stored in the brain. In Michael Harner's classic text, The Way of the Shaman, he states:
"The shaman generally restricts use of his drum and rattle to evoking and maintaining the SSC (Shamanic State of Consciousness), and thus his unconscious mind comes automatically to associate their use with serious shamanic work. The beginning of the steady, monotonous sound of the rattle and the drum, which has been repeatedly associated with the SSC on previous occasions, becomes a signal to his brain to return to the SSC. For an experienced shaman, accordingly, just as few minutes of the familiar rattling, and/or drumming is usually sufficient to achieve the light trance in which most shamanic work is done" (Harner 64-65:1980).
Studies have shown that particular frequencies, in themselves, are extremely effective in producing trance-like states. Said frequencies have been used within indigenous ceremonial music, "drum beat frequencies in the theta wave EEG frequency range (four to seven cycles per second) predominated during initiation procedures using the Salish deer-skin drum. This is the frequency range . . . that 'is expected to be most effective in the production of trance states'" (66). Furthermore, the use of higher frequencies, such as the introduction of the rattle to supplement the drum beats, increases the "total sonic effect."
Throughout human history, our achievements and setbacks, as well as our most humane and horrific acts, have been expressed through song, transmitting cross-culturally and generationally the lessons of humanity by directly effecting the synapses in our brain, thereby effecting our daily life. We are now a true global community and have had a sonic revolution this past century where music, musicians, instruments, and computer programming have enabled complete accessibility, touching upon every human interaction. We can use the plethora of sonic musings to propel our own acts of creation, symbolically manifesting what has been harnessed in sound, and using music as a key to accessing altered states of consciousness.
As the human population expands, society and culture go through parallel periods of evolution, and being by-products of humans, these periods of evolution have the tendency to act as living entities, subject to the cyclical laws of progression. Life is continual progress, a vehicle in constant motion always in the present. The Western-mechanical mindset -- locked into a view of progress separate from nature, and thus separate from the notion of the interconnectedness of life- -- became a fast-moving addiction that quickly spread wherever it touched, reigning as an absolute that had to be adopted at face value, rather than a system that should be expanded upon, due to ideological brainwashing, which has acted as a poison to our natural human tendencies.
As we sit in the midst of an evolutionary period brought on by a tremendous amount of tension and conflict, we have the unique position to see the benefits of its evolution, while fully bearing witness to its hazardous side effects. We are all fully aware of these negative side effects in the form of the environmental, economic, and military-industrial crises, and we cannot discuss one without the other, because it is a tight-knit, intricate system whose various aspects feed off one another, as in a living entity.
One cultural microcosm of this is the field of the arts. The technological advancements brought upon by the 20th century industrial movement and the increase of a global market similarly increased the competitive circles of the music, film, and art industries. Now, these systems thrive not only in one location, but everywhere. Further, there is no longer only a select population that has the means to create masterful works; the knowledge and tools of creation are now accessible to the broad populous. This creates a vast database of material.
At the same time, creating so much choice and availability forces people to evolve and create new forms from the old. Out of the sea of similarity in which the artist swims, one begins to see that the ease of accessibility does not raise the quality of creation from the depths; something more is needed, beyond the mechanical, to raise it to new heights. This forces the evolution of creation -- especially when dealing with cultural forces -- which is the dialogue of the human race. The great strife in the world brings a bellowing for change, and that wail begins to vibrate the bones of any foundation, causing them to break and expand, becoming stronger. "The function of art is to know . . . the laws of nature, the patterns of nature, the way nature moves, and to know these, the artist cannot force any laws of nature. So the artist takes on the wonderful, sensitive task of coordinating his own concept of nature . . . with the given forms of nature. This is the wuwei (nonaction), the balance between doing and not doing that yields the perfect artwork" (Campbell 86: 2003).
What is created is a self-sufficient system in which our game of life -- society -- has become a living entity, subject to the laws of nature just like us, its creator. So in order to work with our creation we must surrender to our natural roots and bring balance to our minds, go back to our conception of this society, fusing the world we came from with the one that we've created.
"[Art] is not simply the art of the canvas or the brush or the sculpture. It is the art of life . . . all the actions of life are opportunities to experience this divine presence that is our life. The function of the artist is to render that experience in a particularly acute way for the senses" (88:2003). This is the point-of-view of the artist from the religions of India, China, and Japan, which treat the artist as a vessel for life, and in doing so, encounter the sacred principle of life and nature. There is not a separation, but a completeness that calls for a surrendering of ego to forces beyond our dominant sight -- a dialogue between worlds, a form of shamanism. This gives the artist a unique position of addressing the sacred, stealing the fire of the Gods, and communicating the message to the larger populous in such a way that is now globally universal and to unprecedented numbers. "Being aware of the crisis that humanity and the world are facing, the artist makes artwork directed at the development of personal and collective higher consciousness and healing. A merging of contemporary art sophistication and spiritual consciousness is rare but certainly possible" (Grey 91: 2001). We all now have the ability and the accessibility to participate in this act of restoring balance by surrendering to egolessness and celebrating our roots of interconnectedness.
One of the most effective techniques I have found to remove the self as much as possible, while continuing an act of creation, is drawing. Other activities such as writing or making music are equally as effective and you should choose an outlet that suits you and your environment, depending on what tools and restrictions are at hand. All one has to do is simply sit with a blank page and begin to doodle to one's favorite tunes. Do not become discouraged if the drawings do not come out as you intend, or make a mistake; this is a practice of ego disillusionment, and statements such as those only reaffirm your ego.
Treat every mistake as a new emergence of life, they will take you to places that you have never imagined, and result in communication with the forces that bind all life. The more you practice, the more refined your hand will become while you simultaneously practice ego disillusionment. Your mistakes will teach you new avenues and methods to expand your form while at the same time it becomes easier for you to slip into the role of pure creation.
In order to ensure ego disillusionment, it is good to practice meditation to quiet the mind and continue breathing techniques while drawing. The western-societal entity has spun increasingly out of control; meditation will aid in bringing the mind to balance with the natural rhythms of life. Since acts of creation are an act of nature, and we are a product of nature, meditation becomes a pivotal tool to practice. By meditating first, the brain is producing more of the endogenous chemical DMT, and when the vibrations of sound are added to the mix, a trance state can be reached that enables the user to remain in a harmonic balance between ordinary and non-ordinary realities. This is a highly cathartic process in which the mind is quieted as the sonic vibrations sweep it away. At the same time, ego disillusionment is a form of intense therapy where one can face seemingly harsh truths. But while one continues to create, the energy that seems negative when facing such issues is transformed into positive awareness, bringing the mind and heart into a balance that will aid one in these trying times, offering illumination.
If we put these elements into practice, combining the mythos of the ages with our technological advancements, we truly can create a further-evolved society. By removing the self while taking part in acts of creation, we can participate in acts of the sacred. These acts bind and interconnect all life, easing our destructive tendencies while we strive to bring back balance in our Earthly community.
Grey, Alex. The Mission of Art. Boston: Shambhala, 2001.
Hancock, Graham. Supernatural Meetings With the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. Boston: Disinformation Company, 2007.
Strassman, Rick. DMT: The Spirit Molecule A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences. New York: Park Street, 2000.
Narby, Jeremy. The Cosmic Serpent. New York: Tarcher, 1999.
Strassman, Rick, Slawek Wojtowicz, Luis Eduardo Luna, and Ede Frecska. Inner Paths to Outer Space Journeys to Alien Worlds through Psychedelics and Other Spiritual Technologies. New York: Park Street, 2008.Tweet