Thoughts to make you dream again.
Listen To This Story
Recently, I asked myself a question:
“Am I hopeful that we will reinvent our civilization to handle the existential threats facing us?”
This is difficult to answer! I feel extremely hopeful, spry, super inspired by something these days… but somehow it isn’t connected to our likelihood of surviving the coming catastrophes, individually or as a species. I am not sure that is still a useful way to think about our circumstance, in any case.
I find hope often irritates me. When I think of hope, I recall the 2008 Obama campaign based on “hope and change.” Once in office, he quickly betrayed the hopes of his progressive base. He pandered to Wall Street, accelerated fracking, and perpetuated various horrific military adventures. Without a firm deadline, hope often seems a selling technique, a postponement device. A way to kick the can down the road.
Hope reminds me of “should,” another word I find suspect. Whenever someone tells me they should do something, I cringe a bit. Should is the word we use for anything we don’t want to do while feeling some vague guilty compulsion to do it anyway. If you feel you should do something, you probably shouldn’t, and most likely you won’t.
Hope forfeits the present for the future. We gaze toward something better up ahead, via our deeply distorted concept of linear time, for which we should sacrifice — not do what we really want — now.
Equally problematic, for me, is the word “charity.” When some wealthy person chooses to donate some of their loot to charity, I can’t help but wonder about the rest of their fortune. This, presumably, was amassed with uncharitable, in other words, selfish or greedy intentions. Why didn’t they act with good intentions and purposes all along, from the get-go? If they did — if everybody did — there wouldn’t be any need for charity, no reason to give some money away to assuage a bad conscience.
One idea I find clarifying was originally attributed to Hegel (not sure if he actually wrote or even implied this, but if he did, it could be his pithiest one-liner):
“There is no such thing as unrealized potential.”
This simple idea saves me a great deal of time, energy, and stress. It pushes me to be more present, more complete, with whatever task is at hand. If there is no unrealized potential, then what can I, you, or we actually manifest, now?
Before I knew of this neo-Hegelian idea of no unrealized potential, I often extended myself for people who “could’ve, should’ve,” might have made it as poets, artists, rock stars, et cetera. With many eccentric characters, I would look beyond their mediocre present to envision their possible future greatness. I naively took people’s inflated evaluations of themselves at face value, romanticizing them, buying into their narratives of victimization or persistent bad luck. Similarly, I was too lenient with myself.
I am glossing over some complexity, I realize. What I am saying could easily come off as heartless and detached. In life, there are many paradoxes we must hold gently, gingerly.
Indo-Tibetan Buddhists recommend practicing bodhichitta — love and compassion — for all sentient, suffering beings, as best you can. I agree with this. At the same time, what happens is what happens: What somebody reveals of their character flaws (or genius) in the present is who they are at that time. Nietzsche wrote: “Every power draws its ultimate consequences at every moment.”
Not everyone can be a great or even a good poet, rock star, or tech entrepreneur. And that is okay. In fact, it would be exhausting if everybody was. Also, if there wasn’t a median, there would be no way to measure significant or fantastic achievement. Michael Jordan wouldn’t have been as amazing without a Patrick Ewing to dunk upon. Kasparov would have been less heroic if he didn’t have Karpov as his perfect foil. Shakespeare probably needed Marlowe to up his writing game. Great geniuses need lesser geniuses to truly shine.
I am digressing from my point. What I meant to say is: When we observe our Earthly plight with as close to Olympian detachment as we can muster, it seems completely obvious humanity has reached its inevitable cul de sac. Our history and evolutionary arc (apes, Alpha males, opposable thumbs) impelled us to this precipice. It is all, somehow, perfect, beyond pessimism or optimism, hope or despair, or any other duality. There was no “unrealized potential” that would, should, or could have saved us from this.
I no longer hope in the sense of expecting a future condition, a universal upgrade, better than what we have now. Recently, I have been attempting something different. I take seriously the Tantric idea, “Samsara is Nirvana.” I seek to integrate this in a very particular way, which I will try to share.
“Samsara” is “the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound,” the persistent illusion of this dreamlike reality. Nirvana means “a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth.” Synonyms include Void, bliss, perfection, emptiness.
The super potent psychedelic compound 5-meo-DMT, when smoked, triggers a direct experience of Nirvana or the Void: ecstatic non-duality. In this state, there is pure experience but no experiencer, no separate subjective self to witness or know that it is. You simply are infinite bliss, boundaryless and atemporal, as long as your trip lasts. While this is the goal of Buddhist practice, I personally don’t feel a great rush to go back there.
5-meo-DMT directly, phenomenologically confirms Buddhist doctrine. I also look at it from the perspective of the ten dimensions of space time defined by string theory. The underlying, tenth dimension consists of the infinitesimal “superstrings” that oscillate, shimmering, through all ten dimensions at once. These pulsing superstrings are the loom out of which any space-time dimension, any separate subjectivity, must be woven.
Nirvana is always here with us: We are continuously within that voidlike perfection, beyond space and time. We just don’t know it. This is what sages keep telling us. For instance, in Nisargadatta Maharaj’s I Am That, he says, “Nothing ever goes wrong.” I agree with him.
We are self-aware, individuated expressions of a unified field of nondual bliss. Consciousness projects the dream of this universe for its own amusement, so it can experience itself as separate. It only makes sense that we left ourselves a shortcut — a means of access that takes us directly back to that source. I find it a lovely, poetic, humorous touch (thanks, hyper-dimensional us!) that the most potent source of this revelatory chemical compound in our 3D reality secretes from the popped zits of a croaking desert toad.
My theory is that 5-meo-DMT is the alchemical prima materia or Philosopher’s Stone. The Stone was said to be hidden in plain sight, available everywhere, utterly common, if you could only find it… DMT is hidden in many plants, even grasses; in toad secretions and in our own brains and spinal columns.
When we realize that Samsara is Nirvana; when we know that we, ourselves, are indivisible expressions of the inherent, underlying perfection, the boundless bliss beyond any space-time limit, then there is no reason to worry about the future, to hope for anything better, or to believe we must “save the world” by striving after something with our ego-based and limited mental constructs.
“Get hold of the main thing: That the world and the self are one and perfect. Only your attitude is faulty and needs readjustment. Suffering is a call for inquiry, all pain needs investigation. The mind creates the abyss, and the heart crosses it.”
I agree with him! And yet…
Paradoxes of Desire
And yet, of course, I am lying to you. Paradoxically I do yearn for a happier, more healed world. I still find this worth creating, constructing, in a purely material sense even fighting and sacrificing for. But more and more, I feel this activity — creating and constructing, fighting and sacrificing — can only be productive once we have reached an internal condition of peace, self-knowledge, surrender, no longer taking anything (I mean anything) personally. It takes a long journey to reach such a place, which I would also call “ego freedom.”
Years ago, I co-hosted two retreats in Colombia with the Kogi and Aruak people. They live in the mountains, wear white homespun garments and conical hats, and preserve their ancient ways by keeping their distance from colonialists and missionaries. They walked 25 hours down from their mountain towns to stay with us for nine days, teaching us about their culture. During that time, I was trying to understand the core concept they felt compelled to convey to us. Finally I expressed what I thought it was. They were overjoyed that someone had understood them.
They wanted to tell us this:
What we experience as the physical world directly reflects our level of consciousness or spiritual development.
A version of this piece was originally published in “Daniel Pinchbeck’s Newsletter.”