Psychonautic author Daniel Pinchbeck — who wrote, among other books, Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism — holds an annual convocation in New York which he calls the Ayahuasca Monologues, attended by artists, authors, filmmakers, and New York glitterati generally. In response to the announcement of the second of these conferences, held in April 2008, on Pinchbeck’s web magazine Reality Sandwich, a woman I know only as Xanadu Xero posted a comment provocatively entitled Ayahuasca is the new absinthe! Visions are the new black!, which I here reproduce in its entirety:
I’m old, like a gazillion in dog years, and I’ve heard The Newly Expanded’s ‘MO BETTA CONSCIOUS THAN THOU’ Ayahuasca babblings for, like, two decades now. The Church of Diame (sp?) devotees, the South American “I lived with the Shamans” crowd, the “I went on a raft and met _______ who recognized I was a Special Whitey so he shared his ancient secrets and ______ with me” gaggle etc. What strikes me like a 2×4 of collapsed star-like dense matter is that NONE of these people, NONE (with the exception of mah man, good ol’ Daniel P., who co-brewed this site, who I don’t know) have done JACK SHIT with their astounding expansions, JACK SHIT but verbally jack off at cool soirees, say “Namaste” a lot and try to get laid. WHAT GOOD IS CONSCIOUSNESS, EXPANSION, ENLIGHTENMENT, FAME, “GNOSIS” et al if it doesn’t further humanity as a whole? It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. You see jaguars? BIG FUCKING WHOOP. If you really have an edge here — APPLY IT. Selflessly and relentlessly. OR… you are just a 2.0 version of all that you claim to despise.
Xanadu Xero describes herself here and here as a “middle-aged, bottle blond, faux negro Beverly Hills JAP, activist manque, menopausal mutant, college drop-out, alloyed Yippie, vice enthusiast and Yale mom.” She continued to post a number of equally emphatic and idiosyncratically capitalized comments on Reality Sandwich, some of which were removed; and eventually she herself was expelled and banned, a fate she decries. Pinchbeck “THREW ME OFF his circle jerk blog site,” she writes in her own blog. “Comment after comment CENSORED.”
Still, apart from her colorful expressions and subsequent tussles with authority, Xanadu Xero has raised a point worth serious consideration. She later wrote that the goal of spiritual experience must be to “do something quantifiably constructive for World Consciousness” — that spiritual experiences without social action are merely onanistic. “Howzabout we bag the crap and go to work on building Human harmony on this Earth?”
Some of the comments posted on Reality Sandwich after hers were dismissive — Pinchbeck himself wrote, “I weary of comments full of this type of kneejerk negativity” — but many engaged her point seriously, and the comment thread is well worth reading. For example, Morgan Maher wrote:
I agree that there is a very serious need for serious real-time action these days. But Ayahuasca is not always concerned with “real-time”. It is as patient as they come. It improves health. It strenghtens the body. It knows how to purge illness. It does this with the assistance of both patient and curandero. It does these things in ways one would generally never expect…. But it is not a quick fix. If, slowly but surely, people improve their lives and relations with the help of Ayahuasca — then it is working wonders. Wonders that will and do find their way into the world’s at large.
So: what is after all the point of an ayahuasca experience? Anthropologist Michael Winkelman interviewed fifteen ayahuasca tourists in Manaus, and found them to be seeking spiritual relations, personal spiritual development, personal self-awareness, emotional healing, and access to deeper levels of the self.
Is that all? Is that enough?