THE SHAMANIC DRUM, THE SACRED CIRCLE, & THE CANNABIS ALLY

The Shamanic Drum, The Sacred Circle, & The Cannabis Ally – by Ron Dewhurst.

Editor’s Note on “The Shamanic Drum, The Sacred Circle, & The Cannabis Ally” by Ron Dewhurst: I’ve been encouraging people to build strength in the vision for the skillful use of cannabis as a spiritual ally by contributing essays and testimonials like this one. It’s exciting to see more and more examples of this and heartening to envision a time in the not too distant future when there are many groups and individuals around the world working successfully with our ancient friend and ally. – Stephen

A Sacred Relationship

For many years during prohibition I have been leading shamanic drumming circles with the plant ally cannabis. It has been closed circles due to the oppressive forces, but, finally as the plant ally becomes accepted we can now open up these circles and this wisdom to everyone. In ancient times of our ancestors the ceremonial fire sacrifice of this ally was celebrated as the most revered and sacred relationship that humans could have with this beneficial spirit. It was with respect and clear intent of use they approached this relationship for the greatest benefit of all. Cannabis Scholars like Chris Bennett and Christian Ratsch have also concluded that it is the creation of this harmonious spiritual alignment with the cannabis ally that creates the greatest healing effects.

Drumming and the Ceremonial Circle

Shamanic drumming is a musical and rhythmic tradition that spans thousands of years and instruments were first created for this use. It is used for healing, transporting the soul to the inner world, calling helping spirits and taking the participants on a sacred journey. One of the key elements of the ceremony is the creation of the ceremonial circle which represents the hoop of life and is critical to connect to the spirit and oneness of everything. Within this circle, the participants create a container, a sacred space that will hold the spiritual energy. The drumming and rattling multiplies the energy on a multi-dimensional level simultaneously and then builds a spiritual power than cannot be achieved by the individual alone. To compliment the sacred circle the cannabis ally is invited into the shamanic drumming circle by the keeper and there this powerful plant spirit can be summoned by the experienced facilitator to open the circle to even deeper and more energetic levels of consciousness.

Exploring New Dimensions

This symbiotic spiritual relationship impacts the sacred space and the energy that is contained within it to new archetypal levels of energetic and spiritual power with the Ally’s help. The keeper can guide this energy with sound as a carrier to a specific intent or outcome that has been decided by the circle. It is one of the core beliefs of shamanism that the music calls the helping spirits and transports the sacred circle participants on their journey. Many present beliefs about using cannabis emerge from the social conditioning and public perception of people who abuse and disrespect the ally in order to avoid personal and social issues by reality disassociation. For our ceremonies we intentionally attract individuals who are spiritually and mentally ready and have a sense of where they want to go so they can explore new dimensions of spiritual experience by employing various sacred tools and practices that we embrace with clear intent. The same experiences that have formed the core of shamanic, human and plant relationships which have existed for thousands of years for healing and symbiotic evolution. We, as sacred circle keepers, see this evolution, unfoldment and growth of small shamanic circles with the guidance of the plant allies as the catalyst of change needed to cure the spiritual illness that besets our planet and our commons.”

Experience and Perseverance

Awakening with Cannabis: Experience & Perseverance

I have no wish to judge anyone for their preferred ways of using cannabis. It’s just that I’ve occasionally seen through the veils and found myself in an exquisite inner landscape that only reveals itself when I’m giving the plant my undivided attention. Breathing becomes deeper and more expansive. Muscles relax, the thinking mind settles and calms and I begin to feel that encompassing presence.

Synchronizing Mind and Body

If you haven’t yet entered similar landscapes when the “small self” is allowed to stand aside for awhile, it’s important to understand that experience is likely necessary, just as it is with so many other skills. Since I recently bought a car with manual transmission, it occurred to me during a cannabinized reverie that that learning process is the same in principle as learning to effectively work with the sacred herb. At first you’re not in sync with the process and aren’t sure what information to pay attention to. You’re heavy-footed and the car lurches forward when you change gears. 

But every time you get behind the wheel you become more familiar with the procedures. You come to recognize the sound of the engine as it approaches the highest revs it should before you need to shift gears. You start to get a feel for when and how quickly to press the clutch in and how to time that with the releasing and re-pressing of the gas pedal. After a while you begin to feel like you’re seamless with the whole process. As Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa used to say, mind and body become synchronized in the present moment.

Two Key Discoveries

Similarly with cannabis, learning to recognize and nurture the ability to allow the obscurations to dissipate is going to take repeated experiences and perseverance for the great majority of us. The thinking mind always wants to fill the space, for good or for ill. If it’s for “good,” like creative or problem-solving work, then great. However, there is a wholly other potential of mind. To find and enter it requires two key discoveries. The first is the recognition that mind’s busyness creates the obscurations and obstacles to entering the exquisite landscape. The second is that to our great surprise, as we gradually learn to tame the wild mind, we begin to see that the space of non-thought presence isn’t worthy of our fear and resistance. It’s actually a far vaster and richer way to be in the world than continually living in our heads and under the tyranny of our limiting narratives.

I know the mechanics of this phenomenon from the inside out. I don’t know how many times opportunity to fly has called and I’ve missed the flight because I got caught in “head traffic.” It may be effortless for a few blessed souls but for most of us mortals perseverance through repeated experience is the order of the day.

The Simplicity of a Swinging Door

So we sit down and pay close attention to the breath—in a relaxed way, not too serious—and notice when thoughts come up, not fighting with them but gently and non-judgmentally letting them go, again and again and again and again. In the ancient traditions it’s very simple. You just sit. As Zen master Shunryu Suzuki said, the breathing process is like a door swinging out then back in, very ordinary, very mundane on some level. But with experience it’s possible that a previously hidden delight begins to make an appearance. Another nugget of Buddhist wisdom says “emptiness becomes luminosity.”

The word “Buddha” means awake. According to the stories, the Buddha was just a person who woke up. He is reputed to have insisted that every one of us has that same nature and capability. I’ve heard a lot of people over the years say they can’t meditate, they can’t sit still, they can’t stop thinking. But the whole point and potential is that it doesn’t matter how hard it is. You just have to persevere. In fact, as a general principle, I suspect that the more compulsively busy your mind is, the more that indicates you’re afraid to look at what’s underneath the obscuring cover. 

The implication is that a compulsively busy mind is obscuring great potential. Does that make sense? It’s the idea that the when the wound is deep, when the fear is great, and when the denial and the battle for control are intense, the freeing of the mind may release that much more potential.

It’s a life-long (at least) journey, not a quick fix. As Rumi put it, it doesn’t matter how many times you break your vow, your commitment. You just keep returning. Persevering through repeated experience. As an aside, Rumi is eminently quotable on this general theme, like this one from Goodreads: “Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.” Or this one: “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”

Note on the featured image in this post: It’s a “headshot” of Bob Marley made from roaches by artist Chris Maynard. It’s called Roach Paper Art. Great stuff.

Cannabis in Your Practice – Becca Williams

Cannabis in Your Practice – Becca Williams was offered up by Becca at my invitation. There are many ways to talk about working with cannabis for spiritual benefit. My intention with the Cannabis and Spirituality project is to include some of those varying voices. Becca’s guidance is based on long experience with intentional use of cannabis in particular and with consciousness transformation work in general. Her latest project is Marijuana Straight Talk, a national [in the U.S.] TV show that will be debuting in 2016. You can also see her video work on YouTube and at MJStraightTalk.

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A Guide to Including Cannabis in Your Practice

by Becca Williams

The reason we practice something, of course, is to get better at it and to be able to do it under most any circumstances. So when it comes to a practice of bringing ourselves into an optimal state of stillness and awareness, we need to – tah dah! – practice.

This gets tricky as it’s easy to let this practice slide since we’re only accountable to ourselves to do this practice. That is, we tend to put other and others’ needs first, often postponing or negating our personal time. But sitting in stillness is actually one of the most important skills that we can learn – as it is foundational to mastering our emotions.

And the secret to that skill is really no secret. It’s just that it’s a skill not a lot of people pay attention to.

And that is breathing.

 

No! Please Don’t Make Me Breathe

Breathing was something I didn’t really want to do for most of my life. Not that I didn’t want to breath to stay alive but it was the breathing that teachers nudged me to do … focusing on the air going in and out of my lungs – and being very present with it.

For years in attending yoga classes, the breathing part was my least favorite. It was boring – breathing in and breathing out and staying focused on it. In hindsight, I see I was overwhelmed by the swirl of my passing thoughts with an ego that kept nagging that this awareness practice was a waste of time.

But growing older and wiser (note: lots of people grow old without growing wiser), I’ve come to learn that breath—that is, following the breath—is singularly the foundation that leads us to gaining self-mastery over the thoughts and fears that control our minds.

This is great news. Think about it this way – we all have breath. Everyone of us has the capacity to breath into our bodies and gain awareness of our connection with, not only ourselves, but each other and our natural world.

This is where the magic happens.

 

A Sacred Union: Marrying the Breath with the Plant

But really getting serious about your awareness practice can be a big leap. This is where cannabis comes in. The Plant has an ancient and enduring history in many cultures of facilitating higher consciousness. We’re in good company in communing with her to access our deep healing resources.

Having said that, we also need to be disciplined and mature about it. Hence, the marriage of breath and cannabis will attract only those serious about learning to commune with the plant at a deep spiritual level.

There is an entire cannabis ‘stoner’ culture built around taking in as much cannabis as possible – usually in a concentrate form – with the implicit challenge of continuing to function. This is the opposite of what I’m talking about. The stoner culture is often about sedation and numbing while I’m talking about heightened awareness and sensation.

So let me be clear, the dosing is very important and I highly recommend micro-dosing for communing with the Plant. The combination of breath and a little cannabis (a toke or two or three, depending on potency) is a most sacred and powerful union. One supports the other in carrying you to greater heights.

For those of you who have a high tolerance for cannabis, I suggest trying the micro-dosing approach also. A smaller dose is going to nurture you into a state of awareness – take the plunge into sensation instead of sedation.

 

What to Use When?

Cannabis strains are important in this matter as well. You just have to balance it with the bio-rhythms of your day and evening. For instance, if you’re going to start cleaning the house after your meditation you’ll likely want a sativa strain that will elevate your energy. An indica strain, on the other hand, will likely be more relaxing and perhaps a better fit for evening meditations and ensuing sleep.

However, having said that, because we are all so biochemically and emotionally different, the same cannabis plant strain can take us down different paths. Experimenting is part of the fun in getting to know your interior self.

 

Creating Your Container

While it’s not essential, including ritual in our practice adds a delicious sacred container that is ours alone. I invite you to create a space wherein you can retreat and claim alone time for your regular awareness practice. This might be nothing more than lighting a candle and sitting in a quiet corner or having a more elaborate meditation table with objects that hold special intimate meaning for you.

You’ll have created the perfect space in which to light and partake of your cannabis. Give gratitude for this sacred alone time where your precious breath intertwines with the magic of this spirit medicine.

Have water nearby and a journal and a pen (I also like to have my cell phone voice memo app available – if I’d rather record my thoughts). The idea is learning how to intimately get to know yourself, and adding cannabis to the mix can offer a rich opportunity for self-discovery.

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret to Optimal Cannabis Dosage

The secret to optimal cannabis dosage for spiritual work is (cue the drumroll) . . .  there is no secret. Okay, that’s not quite true or I wouldn’t have bothered writing this post. There are some factors worth thinking about and some useable, flexible guidelines.

For starters, the rather obvious truth is that everyone is different. Then there are the variety of uses. If you’re reading this you probably know that the focus of the Cannabis and Spirituality project is the effective use of cannabis as a spiritual ally. With that general intention in mind, the closest thing to a secret when it comes to dosage is this. For seekers of wisdom, for uncovering reality, the appropriate dosage is the amount you can stay present with (more or less) and not lose yourself in the obscuring, obsessive chatter of the monkey mind and/or fear and intense discomfort.

A Shifting Allegiance

The herb enables one to see one’s true self. – Leonard E. Barrett Sr. (1)

Whether it’s with silent bare-attention type meditation or more form-based practices like visualization, chant, or yoga, for the purpose of generating the divine within, the most effective general guideline is to relax into a “thoughts free” state as much as possible. You can’t get ambitious and aggressive with yourself about that though. It’s a process of softening, letting things be what they are, gradually (for most of us) learning to slow down the speed of the mind body and relax the struggle that Buddhist teachings say is the hallmark of the illusionary ego. Wisdom teachings like these tell us that over time we can shift our allegiance from the limiting narratives of that self-protective ego to the unconditioned awakened state.

Less is More, More is More

Cannabis is a “non-specific amplifier”. She can take you farther down whatever road your intention and attention are pointing you toward. As she enhances sensory perception, helps relieve pain, stimulates creative ideation and so on, so can she enter us deeply into the now if we give her our full, non-thought attention.

What does this have to do with dosage you may ask? Well, again, it’s different for each person and at different times in different conditions. Here are some thoughts for food.

A light dosage can gently relax the mind and body and make it a little easier to meditate and do other spiritual practices. Some wisdom elders of spiritual use of cannabis say that sometimes less is more. But some of those same guides have said that at other times more is more. In other words, if you can stay present and relax into the amplified energy, a strong dosage can take you into deep, heart and mind opening presence.

Some people can smoke a boatload of the sacred herb and still remain present. For many of us lesser mortals however, working up to larger doses is the likely way to go. My suggestion is to take your time and make it a long term project. You are the scientist and you are the subject. If possible, find a strain you like and stick with it so you have some reliable point of comparison. With the high potency bud around now, and especially if you’re less experienced or particularly sensitive, it may be best to start with one toke and see how that goes for meditative work. If that’s easy, you might then gradually work your way up to larger doses and keep expanding that frontier.

Drinking the Nectar of Wisdom

Look past your thoughts so you may drink the pure nectar of this moment. – Rumi (2)

For the most powerful and effective experience, the guides say that stillness is essential. The noise of the thinking mind obscures the divine within. By stillness I mean inner stillness. People can find stillness in movement too. But the purest kind of stillness is, I think, to be found when the body is also still. The more you have to call on the thinking mind to do something, the more likely you’ll create some noise interference. That’s a general guideline and as always, each of us is the researcher and we have to find out for ourselves.

 

Notes:

1. Leonard E. Barrett Sr., The Rastafarians, Beacon Press, Boston, 1997

2. Jelaluddin Rumi, quoted at http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/875661.Rumi

* Fractal art image by Martin W. Ball

Ganja Yoga with Dee Dussault

Dee Dussault is a pioneer of Ganja Yoga. She has been practicing yoga for twenty years and teaching it for six years. She is a leading innovator in the West with the ganja yoga classes she conducts and the first yoga teacher in North America to “come out” and discuss the beneficial marriage of cannabis and yoga practice in the public arena. Dee’s work is gaining international attention. Among other major media, she has been interviewed and featured in England’s The Daily Mail, The New York Times, and on ABC News.

We’re in a very exciting time with the development of knowledge and practices with the ancient sacred cannabis plant. When I first began working on this project about two years ago (early 2013), there was precious little public information about cannabis and spirituality in the so-called modern world. Although there’s a remarkable history of just this kind of use of the plant, few in the West were openly working with it in ceremonies and in conjunction with meditation, yoga and similar practices and philosophies. 

However, that’s changing rapidly. More and more Facebook groups, Twitterers, and organizations are ‘coming out’ and more and more people are beginning to realize the remarkable potential of cannabis when used wisely with the intention to heal and awaken spiritually. It’s not hard to envision great forward leaps in the understanding of how deep and how far cannabis can take people when set and setting are optimal. As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s a learning curve involved. Intentional experimentation is called for.

Using cannabis in conjunction with yoga is one of those rapidly expanding forms of practice. Dee Dussault is an exemplary representative of this “New Pot Enlightenment” as Steven Hager has labeled it. Like Steven, she is also a contributor to the upcoming book “Cannabis and Spirituality: A Guide to the Revival of an Ancient Wisdom Ally”. The following excerpts are taken from the essay Dee is contributing to the book.

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Ganja and Yoga: A Historical Relationship

It’s important to recognize that many of our initial reasons for being wary of cannabis’ role in our relationship with spirit have been impacted by a limited understanding of the history of yoga. We have a mythology about yoga as historically pure, we believe it to be one traditional system of practice that was whole and perfect and complete until it migrated to the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and became bastardized.

Many practitioners are surprised to discover that yoga practice in ancient India was more akin to ganja yoga than anything you might see in a conventional yoga studio today. Sun salutations were unheard of in early yoga, yet cannabis mixtures were imbibed to activate deeper meditation. Cannabis, not Downward-Dog or Chatarana, is mentioned in The Vedas and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and because of the waves of settlers and invaders to the Indus Valley region, yoga has always been a cross-stitched—and often times contradictory—quilt of various beliefs, practices, and ideologies of the day. Yoga, if it ever was a solid entity, has been evolving since its inception. With this in mind, I invite readers to consider the positive relationship cannabis may play for a yoga practitioner, regardless of one’s personal relationship with or ideas about the plant.

Accelerated Practice

I teach ganja yoga because I’ve found tremendous success by enhancing my own practice. After nineteen years of yoga practice, I can say that my practice accelerated after incorporating cannabis. It can act as a sensory enhancer, emotional revealer, pain modulator, mood elevator, boundary dissolver and time stretcher. Ganja yoga experiences are in many ways like my most rewarding sober yoga experiences, only under the influence of cannabis, the effects of my practice became amplified.

Even if you’re not going to be breathing, stretching, or doing conventional yoga or meditation practices, know that for thousands of years, many gurus and babas have been smoking, like you here. You might evoke them, or send a mental prayer of gratitude for them and for the plant. You might decide to take five or ten deep breaths before puffing, to clean the lungs before inviting the sacred medicine into your body. Anything can be a ritual or ceremony, as long as your mind is present and the intention is there to create non-ordinary, spiritual space. I just know that for me, my high is much more rewarding if I clear off the coffee table and light some incense first. It really can be as simple as that.

 

Cannabis: Holy Sacrament Past and Future, with Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett is an internationally recognized scholar on the history of the holy sacrament cannabis and one of the expert contributors to the forthcoming book, Cannabis and Spirituality: Reclaiming an Ancient Wisdom Ally for the Generations to Come. As well as the many published essays, articles, and book chapters he has written, Chris is also the author of some of the most thorough scholarship on the history of the spiritual/ritual use of cannabis, through such books as Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion (1995) and Cannabis and the Soma Solution (2010).

The intention behind the inclusion of a chapter by Chris in Cannabis and Spirituality is to honor and validate a long and rich history of cannabis as a spiritual ally, with an eye to a present and future renaissance. His chapter in the book is called “Venerable Traditions: A Brief History of the Ritual and Religious Use of Cannabis.” In that chapter Chris neatly summarizes some of the solid evidence of the history of cannabis use in traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, and Judaism. The following is an excerpt from the conclusion.

A Radical Revisioning

These references to cannabis in the ancient world and in a number of still existing world religions at the genesis of their conceptions offer a radical revisioning of religious history. In one respect, they present as much of a threat to the fundamentalist view of religion as Darwin’s theory of evolution does to the myths of creation as recorded in Genesis, in that what they reveal is the plant-based shamanic origins of the religious traditions themselves.

This follows and accords with the anthropological standard for the development of religion the world over, as well as an element that fundamentalists have struggled to squash since the dark ages when cults that practiced these forms of worship were obliterated or driven underground, such as with the persecution of witches for their topical ointments and shamanic preparations and of course in Africa and the New World, where whole traditions were suppressed and persecuted and considered the most vile sort of devilish practices by the missionaries who came across them.

Religious Renovation

When the people have achieved access to the divine via natural plants, the whole profession of a priesthood can be jeopardized and religious traditions of the past usurped by new revelations. An argument that modern prohibition is the result of “Christians vs. the Devil’s weed” is not without merit in this respect, and there is a justifiable inherent fear of these substances in the fundamentalist mind set.

In another respect, cannabis’ re-appearance at this time offers us the opportunity for a great renovation of religious thought and the connectivity of the world’s religions. Nowhere is the human-entheogen relationship more widespread and older than with Cannabis-Soma-Haoma. Indeed, its fibers wove our first plant cloth, its seeds were a valuable early food source, its leaves and flowers our first medicine and sacrament.

Medicine and Sacrament

Moreover, the implications of the modern return of cannabis are loaded with possibilities. Cannabis medicines are being studied for Alzheimer’s, cancer, glaucoma, pain, and numerous other diseases, with very promising results. Industrial hemp for fuel, paper, paints, cloth, plastics, and other commodities is just what is needed for a planet feeling the effects of close to a century of toxic petroleum products, healing our planet just as it heals our bodies.

Truly, the global circle of people who share cannabis transcends race, nation, and religion, and many are beginning to recognize it for the Holy sacrament that it once was and can be again. Clearly the association between cannabis and sacred states of mind has crossed barriers of cultures and times, and people have continually and independently been drawn to it for these purposes. In this natural substance perhaps we can find the true sacrament of the natural perennial religion that is at the root of so many traditions.

 

Cannabis and Spirituality: Freedom not Control.

Freedom not Control

He who drinks bhang drinks Shiva. The soul in whom the spirit of bhang finds a home glides into the ocean of Being freed from the weary round of matter-blinded self.- J.M. Campbell

There are various ways to delineate different character types and different drives in human experience. Perhaps the most fundamental—and arguably the most relevant for the species and the future of humanity and the planet altogether—is the dichotomy between the impulse toward freedom and the impulse toward control. Freedom implies courage, surrender, relaxation; trusting and embracing life in all its beauty, its wildness, and its insecurity. Control sees this freedom as the threatening enemy. The control impulse is the unexamined fear response in the face of the truth of insecurity, the truth of the non-existence of the separate self.

These two opposing motivations have functioned powerfully since time immemorial in both the external, material world of human affairs and in the inner, psychic world of human beings. The manifestation of control motivations in the world is the outer expression of the blind inner compulsion. As Mahatma Ghandhi put it, “The only devils in this world are those running around in our own hearts, and that is where all our battles should be fought.” In human civilization however, there is always the potential and often the reality of conflict between the two opposing drives.

Gnostic Mysticism versus Orthodox Control

He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.- Jesus of Nazareth (from the [Gnostic] Gospel of Thomas)

One of my favorite historical examples of this dichotomy is the conflict between the Gnostics and the Orthodox in early Christianity. I didn’t pick this one randomly out of the hat. It’s at the heart of our current spiritual predicament and typifies the archetypal conflict. In a simplified description, the Gnostics were basically the mystical tradition of early Christianity. They believed that it meant nothing to call yourself a Christian unless you were initiated, that is, unless you had directly experienced at least some level of the truth of our divine nature. Apparently they weren’t big on institutional infrastructure. As a side note for this discussion, there are hints and allegations that the Gnostics were also medicine plant people. It certainly stands to reason. Check out, for example, the work of Chris Bennett, a well-recognized scholar on the history of cannabis in religion and ritual. (Chris will also have a chapter in the forthcoming book Cannabis and Spirituality).

During this period, the control impulse was manifesting and growing in those who feared the awakened state in themselves and insisted on controlling and obstructing its realization in others. By the year 200 of the Christian Era (C.E.), Christianity had developed into an institution with a hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons who claimed to be the true and only guardians of the Word. Until now the controllers have always won in larger societies—that is, had their clutching hands on the levers of temporal power—since quite clearly the drive to control leads them to try harder to control than those free of that fearful compulsion.

The result at the time was that the mystic teachings were suppressed as heresy and all but completely obliterated from the historical record save for an ‘accident’ of history which resulted in the rediscovery of many of the Gnostic Gospels in the Egyptian desert in 1945. (This isn’t some kind of new age woo-woo speculation. Check out the Nag Hammadi Library manuscripts if you’re interested in following up on this. The visionary science fiction writer Philip K. Dick also had some interesting things to say about the matter in his later novels such as “V.A.L.I.S.”)

Breathing Freely, Opening Hearts

The reverberations of the Orthodox domination into the present can’t be overstated. We’ve essentially been sold the wrong story; a pale, twisted, highly unsatisfying fictional version of the story of who we are and what we are capable of. Understanding the drive and activity of the control impulse in society and in ourselves is central and essential to the vision and hope of healing the deep wounds of the species and the planet altogether. As the teachings say, the place to start is in our own hearts. Would-be lover of life heal thyself first. We need to recognize the powerful, incredibly deceptive pull to bring down the blinds, protect ourselves, and attempt to force our control on our world.

Recognizing that impetus, we need to watch compassionately over its burning and dissolution. As we learn to free and empower ourselves, we need to (and we will) recognize the impulse and the impact of those who work to control others and to hoard power and wealth, and we need to (and will) find ways not to support that manifestation. The control compulsion is making life unnecessarily difficult and painful for great numbers of people while destroying a fragile planet.

Back to Basics: Getting Naked

The panic when we resist is like holding on to the last garment being pulled off us. We are naked before pot, and what we see first is ourselves. Jeremy Wolff 

You knew I had to lead this back to cannabis of course. When used wisely with intention, cannabis can show you yourself—both your illusory separate self and your unconditioned, authentic, free self. It functions as an amplifying mirror that can show us more clearly where we are. With some disciplined effort and perhaps persistent practice, it can show us the imprisoning bonds our control strategies have created in our mind/bodies and our societies and the clear, freely breathing space around those bonds.

I recently finished reading Nine Kinds of Naked, a lovely, inspiring novel by Tony Vigorito (who should be much better known.) Mr. Vigorito (through his characters) has much to say on the conflicting pulls toward control and toward freedom. He’s so quotable I’ve put together a post of little gems of insight I’ve culled from the book. Here’s one.

The most obstinate illusion is your own sense of an individual identity, the order you impose on the impulses of your spirit. All other illusions cascade from that singular confusion.

And now brothers and sisters, let us breathe.

 

Strains Matter: From Cannabis sativa to Cannabis indica

Strains Matter?

Well . . . maybe the situation isn’t quite as dramatic as the phrase “strains matter” implies, but there are different energy characteristics along the Cannabis sativa to Cannabis indica continuum. One of the best aspects of the rapid spread of cannabis legalization underway is that the knowledge banks are receiving generous deposits these days and the effects of various strains are becoming much better understood. Along with periodic perusals of current literature on this issue, friendly interrogations of dispensary staff, and the like, I’ve been doing targeted lungs-on research on the sativa vs indica issue for several years now and although the stone tablet of incontrovertible fact has yet to be carved and handed down, on a relative level I may be able to provide a few useable bits of information for the untutored, offered not as gospel but as points to consider for your own investigations.

It isn’t by any means just, or even at all, an issue of esoteric preferences, in the manner, say, of wine aficionados who can rhyme off a list of arcane adjectives to distinguish one Cabernet Sauvignon from another. No, with cannabis, there are meaningful practical differences between strains that can affect the kind of use a particular person has in mind for the plant—in the case of this project, use for spiritual awakening. The issue of dosage and of one’s own part in the bargain aside (the “set” of “set and setting”), these differing energy styles can range along continua such as from intense and edgy to mellow and smooth, sharp to foggy, light and energizing to heavy and “couch-lock” inducing, cerebral and creative to somatic and relaxing, and several other at least partially contrasting effects.

A Few Basic Considerations

Here’s a quick and rudimentary primer on the basic differences between Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Though it’s not essential information for most of us, for starters the two are different in appearance. Sativa is much taller and thinner, with narrower leaves and a lighter green color. Indica is much shorter, with denser growth and broader leaves that are usually a darker green. In the real world, at least in the West where there’s so much activity in sophisticated growing practices, it appears there are few purely sativa or indica strains around. Most are hybrids that fall somewhere along the continuum.

People often describe the effects of sativa dominant strains as a “high” and indica dominant strains as a “stone.” Sativas are reported to be more energizing, often sharper, more cerebral and appropriate for creative thinking, and lighter in the body. Indica dominant strains are commonly described as more of a body stone, more relaxing, sometimes heavier, more likely to produce couch-lock, sometimes less clear and more foggy.

From all I’ve been able to discover in my research, there isn’t a lot of reliable science to confirm the consistency of the above differences. A Google scan with the words “Indica vs Sativa” turns up conflicting information. Some sources claim sativa dominant strains have more THC relative to CBD and indica the reverse. Other sites say the opposite.

THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is considered the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in the plant. According to Leafly,”Recently, research has shown CBD [Cannabidiol] to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties without the psychoactive effects (the “high” or “stoned” feeling) that THC provides.” For the difference in effects between sharp and energizing on the one side—usually associated with Sativa dominant strains—and soporific, couch-lock inducing on the other—typically associated with Indica dominant strains—it appears that terpenes, another group of compounds in the plant, play an important role. The terpene known as myrcene has now been linked to the drowsy effect and it appears to show up more strongly in Indica strains.

As a kind of sidebar for the intent of this post, myrcene appears to be a remarkable compound in itself. According to thehighcampus.com, “Myrcene, the most studied terpene in the cannabis plant, has many benefits in the human body; it is an anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, antiseptic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogen, and regulates permeability of cell membranes. Myrcene is a powerful analgesic, muscle relaxant, and sedative. And within the entourage effects, contributes substantially to treating diabetes, insomnia, stress, inflammation, and cancer.”

The long and short of all this for those not inclined to in-depth chemical analysis—most of us I’m guessing—is the requirement to experiment. Getting advice from experienced staff at dispensaries and the like might point you in the general direction until you find what works best for you.

The mandate for this project with the website and the forthcoming book Cannabis and Spirituality: An Explorer’s Guide to an Ancient Plant Spirit Ally (Inner Traditions/Park Street Press, winter 2016/2017) is to share information and encourage investigation on how cannabis can benefit spiritual life and be used in conjunction with spiritual practices. From all I’ve been able to determine so far, the jury is still deliberating on what strains are most amenable to practices like bare-attention meditation, yoga, sacred chant and the like. I guess that’s not much help right off the bat. As usual, it comes down to personal enquiry. Having some road signs to focus the investigation may be helpful however.

Benefits and Trade-Offs

There does appear to be widespread agreement on the qualitative differences between the strains as mentioned above. In the context of spiritual practice intentions, choosing the most efficacious strain is less straightforward. Here’s why. Depending on individual factors like metabolism, energy level, age, and ability to calm the busy mind, one strain may lubricate deep present-moment exploration more effectively. But there may also be certain trade-offs. Strains that lean toward sativa dominant may keep you sharper and clearer. But a lot of people report that those strains also tend to stimulate ideation more than with indica dominant strains. That can be great if you’re trying to solve a problem or write a song, but maybe not so effective if your intention is to surrender to the presence of the plant so that it can carry you into deep, enriching, heart-opening nowness while you remain sharp and alert. Great teachings dating from antiquity make it clear that stilling the thinking mind is essential for awakening to unconditional reality.

Indica dominant strains, on the other hand, are often reported to be more relaxing and less likely to provoke ideation. For that reason some have said they would prefer an indica strain for meditative practices. The potential downside with strongly indica-leaning strains is that there can be too much somatic heaviness, even sleep-inducing drowsiness.

A few years ago this would have been a non-issue for most westerners, especially when buying off the street as it were. Few dealers knew anything much about the sativa/indica balance of their material. Now a lot of us can go to our local dispensary or retail outlet, ask questions, and expect knowledgeable answers. Fortunately, legal conditions are changing rapidly and it seems safe to predict that within a few years the sophistication level on the particulars of various strains will have risen dramatically.

At my favorite local dispensary they have product boards that divide their plant material into three categories; sativa, indica, and hybrid. Very few are pure sativa or indica. To clarify, there is only room in any one plant for a specific total quantity of THC and CBD combined. In simple terms that means that generally the more THC, the less room there is for CBD and vice versa. For those experimenting with strains for meditative practices, a good starting point may be to work with a hybrid so that you get a balance of the energizing and clear effects along with the relaxing influence.

On Oral Ingestion

There will be a lot more detail in the book Cannabis and Spirituality on issues like this, as well as guidelines for working with effective dosages and methods of intake (routes of administration as the scientists like to say). In the meantime I’d like to offer one more bit of information you might apply to your investigations. Put briefly in this context, orally ingested cannabis—”edibles” as some call them—may be less likely to stimulate the thinking brain and therefore more suited to non-thought oriented spiritual practices. Even if the material leans toward sativa dominant, the slow onset and different route of entry through the stomach and the intestines with oral ingestion often leads to a more somatic (body) and less mental effect.

A word of caution: Effects from oral ingestion can be extremely strong and can sometimes result in very undesirable experiences. For those less experienced with cannabis, careful testing of any particular plant material is highly recommended before consuming it in edible or potable forms. The book will go into that issue as well.

One last thing: Most us are dealing with a nearly lost art in this territory and some of us are trying to build strong practices for the generations to come. If you’ve read this and do your own direct investigation with different strains, especially if it involves stilling the mind or at least working toward more or less undistracted attention on the present moment—what Buddhist teachings have called “mindfulness and awareness”—please add a comment about the results of your explorations. This essay is a work in progress that I hope will be further shaped with interactivity.

 

 

 

 

Cannabis Meditation: Intention and Focus

And human love will be seen at its height.   

Live in fragments no longer.

Only connect. — E.M. Forster   

There can be a wide variety of cannabis meditation practices and detailed methods for spiritual awakening. In general, there are what are often described as emptiness or formless practices at one end of a continuum. Moving along that continuum you’ll find an increasing degree of form in a practice and further still along the continuum you could open up the definition of spiritual practice altogether to include walking in the woods, creative dance, making music, writing, painting, making love, or even washing the dishes.

By that open-ended definition of meditation, the key point is the intention to begin with, and then the relaxed concentration and attention you bring to the activity at hand, often appropriately labeled nowness; full presence in this moment. In calm and directed intention/attention, the plant’s amplification function can sharply open and deepen the connection.

A Power Plant

Met nakedly so to speak, cannabis can be a very powerful medicine plant. It appears though that most people find it easier to work with the amplified energy that cannabis releases by directing it toward an external focus. One of the threads weaving through Cannabis and Spirituality (the forthcoming book) is that that same energy also has the potential to deepen pure, non-thought presence. There is spiritual healing there.

Starting with something close to formless practice, when your intention is to meet the plant directly and nakedly, the simplest guidance I’ve come across is that expressed by the old crazy-wisdom cannabis master Ganesh Baba as reported by Hakim Bey, who knew Baba personally. Quoting Bey:

Here then are Ganesh Baba’s rules for smoking hemp:

1. Whether cross-legged or sitting in a chair, when smoking one should sit up straight, backbone perfectly aligned.

2. One should dedicate one’s smoking to Lord Shiva.

The basic reason for these guidelines is to make the smoker conscious and aware—to direct the attention. To smoke absent-mindedly would constitute a waste of the sacred herb.

Orgies of the Hemp Eaters, Hakim Bey and Abel Zug, p. 20

Formless and Form

It doesn’t get much simpler than that, although Terence McKenna’s suggestion for meeting the strong entheogens, “Sit down, shut up, and pay attention” might qualify. Note that Ganesh Baba’s rules don’t say much about how to work with your mind in the beflowered state. That’s where the challenge comes in for most of us, perhaps especially for us moderns of the dominator cultures with our tendencies toward mental busyness and speed and our, in general, unfamiliarity with non-material realities. It’s difficult for most of us to slow down the speed of mind and relax into nowness. When cannabis is included in the practices its amplification function can up the stakes for letting go into presence. There lies both challenge and potential.

Moving on to include a little more form, you could combine cannabis with any of a number of variations on simple mindfulness/awareness meditation techniques, what you might also call bare-attention meditation. The purpose again is to create a container for meeting presence and the space to experience the spiritual power of cannabis without competing attention-attractants. Ganesh Baba’s ‘sit up straight’ instruction will likely be too formless for a lot of us. A simple presence meditation practice might add just enough form to help practitioners connect with the amplified presence offered up by the cannabis sacrament.

. . . a clarifying of all thought, and the flowing in of the richest influences from the world around me . . . Fitz Hugh Ludlow, 1836-1870

The point of such a technique is to add as little as possible to the simple act of paying attention and being fully present in the moment, just the absolute minimum necessary to sharpen up that connection. The variation I learned many years ago seems to fulfill that function effectively. It’s known by the Sanskrit word shamatha, meaning something like “dwelling in peace,” and is similar in technique to quite a few other variations, like some of those going by the names vipassana or vipashyana for example. Basic Zen bare-attention meditation is also similar.

Put simply in this brief context, the core technique of practices like shamatha and vipassana is to gently pay attention to your breath as it comes and goes, without attempting in any way to control it. Since breathing is natural and—as things go in this material realm—about as real and non-conceptual as it gets—gentle attention on its inflow and outflow can be an excellent anchor for bringing oneself back to presence. Many experienced journeyers would say that that is where the cannabis plant is fully able to show us what it can do.

Emptiness Becomes Luminosity

Look past your thoughts, so you may drink the pure nectar of This Moment. — Rumi

There is definitely more to these practices than I’ve just described. Some sort of meditation instruction can be useful. I will also go into more detail on shamatha and other similar practices in the book. In the meantime, with intention and some discipline to stay put for a while, most of us can benefit from applying even the bare basics of sitting straight and coming back to a gentle attention on the breath whenever we catch ourselves in our heads.

Cannabis not your Spiritual Ally?

You say cannabis is not your spiritual ally? You could be right of course and thus end of discussion. The sacred herb doesn’t sit well with some folks, and I’m not referring to psychedelaphobes, I’m referring to people well experienced with etheogenic plants and substances. I know people who are fully capable of navigating deep waters with medicines like ayahuasca and LSD, to take two specific examples I’ve encountered, but who are decidedly not on friendly terms with cannabis.

I’m very curious about this phenomenon. Cannabis has an ancient, widespread history of beneficial spiritual use that continues today in a variety of cultures and subcultures. To take just a few contemporary examples, spiritual use of cannabis is active: in India among a great many followers of Shiva, the Lord of Bhang; among Rastafarians in Jamaica and elsewhere; with many members of the ayahuasca church Santo Daimé; and of course with those of us individually and in small collectives working to rehabilitate this ancient and important relationship.

A Tentative Hypothesis

As I said off the top, it could just be that cannabis doesn’t suit some otherwise well-grounded and courageous psychonauts, not to mention others without such experience. But I haven’t felt inclined to leave the question there. Though I have no way to prove my tentative hypothesis, I have the sneaking suspicion that at least in the case of a lot of those folks, the problem has been the way they have worked with the plant. Or maybe more to the point, they way they have not worked with cannabis. Allow me to explain.

The panic when we resist is like holding on to the last garment being pulled off us. We are naked before pot, and what we see first is ourselves. – Jeremy Wolff.

Cannabis can act as a mirror, it can cut through the self-comforting narratives we’ve pieced together over the years, shine a direct light on vulnerable truths, and expose a more genuine, less guarded self that’s normally obscured just below the surface of our stories of who we are and how we deal with the life around us. This kind of exposure can shake our composure. A friend called it embarrassing but it can be more extreme than that. It can be humiliating, shocking even, and confidence rattling.

Challenging Ego’s Fortress

Time for a little Buddhist primer (though any Buddhist worth his or her Himalayan rock salt wouldn’t claim proprietary knowledge of such matters.) The ego is that function in us whose sole purpose and persistent effort is to protect the system, this story of self. Anything that threatens the integrity and safety of ego’s fortress is regarded as just that, a threat. The ego instinctively kicks in to ward off threats—and has some exceedingly clever strategies for doing so, but I’ll leave that thread hanging for the time being.

The path involves moment to moment recognition of ego’s strategies, which arise into consciousness as thoughts—including “emotional” thoughts—often residing in background programs as stories already formed and fixed. Buddhist teachings counsel us to sit still and watch these thoughtforms bubble up from the shadows, gradually coming to see them as just that, vaporous constructions that have no essential substance and can be released, no matter how many times we need to repeat the process of recognition and letting go into non-thought presence.

Come, come, whoever you area. Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come yet again, come, come.” – Rumi

Continuing with this hypothesis, it can be distressing, even depressing, to face the little system-destabilizing truth bombs sometimes precipitated by cannabis. We can get caught in—as the Alcoholics Anonymous folks have called—”stinkin’ thinkin’.” Self-doubt can come up, even paranoia. My online dictionary defines paranoia as “a mental condition characterized by delusions of persecution, unwarranted jealousy, or exaggerated self-importance . . .” Note the focus on “Me” implied in that definition.

A Dose of Reality

Cannabis not only puts little lights around the mirror, it amplifies. You can lose perspective. Thoughts take on exaggerated importance, (self-importance.) An example: One person of my acquaintance, also a well-traveled psychonaut, told me the reason she didn’t like cannabis and hadn’t used it in many years was because one time she got high and had to swim across a body of water she had frequently traversed without a second thought. But this time she suddenly felt a distinct loss of confidence in her ability. Again, please note that this doubt arose in thought. Dr. Gray’s diagnosis is that it was an attack of psychological vulnerability unconsciously projected outward.

In the interest of brevity, I’ll spare you the numerous other somewhat similar examples I’ve encountered. In the forthcoming Cannabis and Spirituality book I tell a story about one of my own humbling, depressing, and ultimately highly instructive and salutary experiences with the herb, but it’s too long for this context so please stay tuned til the book comes out, hopefully some time in 2015. I’ll just say here that under the influence of some strong orally-ingested cannabis, I could not find the trusty persona with which I thought I generally made a respectable enough impression on those around me. This state of affairs left me feeling small and utterly transparent, a depressing experience indeed.

Creating an Effective ‘Container’

There are no doubt other reasons people don’t like cannabis. Here I’ll discuss the issues I’ve raised above. It may be that cannabis use doesn’t need to be written off by many of those for whom it hasn’t felt beneficial. Again, the problem may be how it’s encountered, that is, what you do with those kinds of discombobulating thoughts and how you harmonize, or not, with the energies stimulated in the embrace of cannabis.

Under the influence of shamanic power songs and special breathing techniques, embedded in a ritual context, hemp produces a more profound, more comprehensive, and more focused effect…The respect that we bring to a plant as teacher also determines the quality of that which it is able to reveal  to us. – Helmut Christof

The proposal here is that one needs to take a meditator’s approach to cannabis use. Cannabis amplifies, cannabis can clarify, cannabis can open channels in the brain and heart, cannabis is experienced in the body. I’ve shared cannabis ceremonies with a number of people who arrived with the kind of baggage I’ve been referring to, people who felt at some point in the past that the plant wasn’t helpful in their lives. The one common factor in each of these cases is that they had never really created a container and practices to channel the energy into non-thought presence. In the context of a well-constructed ritual container, with intention and a variety of meditative practices, these people typically have eye-opening experiences and make comments about how they had no idea what a beautiful and powerful plant medicine this cannabis is.

Getting Out of Your Own Way

Cannabis does its best spiritual healing and awakening work when you get out of the way, give it your full attention, and employ some sort of disciplined practice that helps you see thoughts arise, not attach to them, and release them with the outgoing breath. That’s when you may discover cannabis’ great gifts as a medicine for the spirit. Your thoughts can go any which way. Buddhist meditation teachings say not to grant praise or blame to the thoughts, just allow them to come and go without any judgement or struggle. But cannabis has a felt, non-conceptual energy that when allowed a clear path can bring with it a marvelously bracing clarity and sweet, tender-hearted beauty.

I’ll give the last word on this to Joe Rogan.

What you are afraid of with weed is what we all need. We all need a little humility, we all need to be terrified by the Matrix, we all need a view of the great beyond, and what weed gives you is a terrifying feeling of your mortality, it gives you a feeling of insecurity, a feeling of what you call paranoia, but what it is is you drop all the blinders around you and you realize how ridiculous this proposition is. We are just one part of a universe that has no end. We’re a part of it, we’re floating in it, we’re only here for a little bit, and we don’t know what we’re doing.