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

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.”

Daniel Pinchbeck

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?

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16 Responses to “Xanadu Xero’s Challenge”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I took a look at her blog. I’m not familiar with all the people in involved, but:

    If, by doing something “constructive for cosmic consciousness,” she means being a good person, and these guys aren’t, she has a point.

    If she means political stuff – saying bad things about Sarah Palin on your blog, as she does – maybe not so much. You don’t need any sort of spiritual practice to do that.

  2. Steve Beyer says:

    I certainly am not vouching for Xanadu Xero either personally or politically. And I agree that some of the more splenetic posts on her blog seem to be in tension with her own professed goal of building human harmony. Still, she writes vigorously and raises an interesting and important question, which, I think, counts for a lot. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Daniel Pinchbeck says:

    Hi Steve,

    Xanadero was a troll, constantly attacking people for no reason. I also enjoy her writing, but when you allow the trolls to run wild, they chase away alot of other commentators and writers who don’t want to be attacked for no reason. I feel that kind of unhelpful hostility is very out of date, and out of touch.

    As for your question, I think that ayahuasca sensitizes people to their own inner nature and to the outer nature that surrounds them. In discovering aspects of their own soul, they can also recover the ‘anima mundi,’ the soul of the world. In many cases, I have seen ayahuasca inspire people to become ecological activisits, advocates of sustainability, spiritual practicioners, etc. All substances are tools that can be abused or misused, but in general I see ayahuasca having a benevolent effect on people over time.

  4. Xanadu Xero says:

    Splenetic!!?(she pouts…)

    Hi, it’s Xanadu Xero. A few things:

    A.) I am not in any way denouncing the possible personal or global benefits of Ayahuasca, or any other consciousness altering anything.

    I am protesting it’s misuse as a substitute for social and personal responsibility by the lazy and narcissistic, with whom our Western World is clogged.

    Daniel Pinchbeck also uses Ayahuasca (conjoined to his suspense drama, “2012″)to part the lazy/narcissistic from their money, Big Pimp his pretentious, elitist Slactivism, hang with celebrities and, pardon my French, fuck chicks who otherwise wouldn’t look at him twice.

    It’s obvious that the human race is on a fast skid to doom unless we all do something REALLY QUICK. There is a place and a time to luxuriate in years of Personal Journeys, but unfortunately for us, that time ain’t now.

    As I wrote elsewhere, Pinchbeck, formed with David Icke’s template, is simply one of many:

    “This protest is not about me. It’s about FLACCID MESSIAHS influencing the young, grasping for power and money pretending they’re not, CENSORSHIP, mirroring the “Paradigm” they claim to be replacing.

    This is very bad. All roads lead to Rome. We’ll always go to Rome unless we invent a new route that goes somewhere else. If we don’t, there’s scant hope for the next generation.

    Pinchbeck is in a position of some influence however much to whoever, but he’s jerking off instead of useing said ‘influence’ it to get Work Done in quantifiable ways. Fucking Brad Pitt of all people, the anti-Pinchbeck, is walking his talk in New Orleans. What is Da Pinch doing? Massaging the laziness in people, the narcissism, calling it ‘Sacred’.

    People should EMULATE the ascended not WORSHIP them. People of influence big or small must use it to help save our species which HELLO Is constructing it’s own hell like fucking idiots. Or we, as a species, deserve what we get.

    And censorship – how can I not be appalled that you take it so casually. The censorship of IDEAS is a very, very bad thing, especially by someone who wants to command The Next Age.

    B.) If I “say bad things about Sarah Palin” or anything else you disagree with, Anonymous, that is a stupid reason not to judge each idea from my head, or anyone else’s, on it’s own merit. That
    ‘tude is a fractal of why we’re gonna go Ka-BOOM! Ditch it.

    A subset of that stump of a mindset is needing me to prove my Advanced Spirituality – as YOU define it – before what I say can *possibly* be worthwhile for your exaulted consideration. Hey, are you Pinchbeck? That’s HIS technique.

    C.) My response to lugubrious party boy capitalist DP’s “weariness” can be found at:

    if he hasn’t, by now, censored that too.

    Thank you, Steve, for allowing this dialogue.

  5. Steve Beyer says:

    Wow. There's a lot to respond to here. Let me go in more or less random order.

    • I do not see how Xanadu has been censored. She has her own blog, on which she can say anything she wants. She has just not been allowed to say what she wants on Reality Sandwich, which belongs to Pinchbeck. He has every right to decide what gets to be said in his own house.

    • I cannot disagree with the characterization of some of what Xanadu says as a personal attack on Pinchbeck. I do not see how this advances the argument, which is what, to me, is most interesting. I am just not interested in evaluations of whether others have failed to live up to someone else's standards.

    • I am at a loss to understand this: A subset of that stump of a mindset is needing me to prove my Advanced Spirituality – as YOU define it – before what I say can *possibly* be worthwhile for your exaulted consideration. Hey, are you Pinchbeck? That’s HIS technique. If this is directed at me, I am confused. I simply cannot recall when I have attempted to define Advanced Spirituality. Certainly that has never been my intention. I would be grateful if Xanadu would point me to something I have said.

    • As I wrote here, well-known DMT researcher Rick Strassman thought that spiritual transformation was the endpoint of the hallucinogenic experience, and that this transformation would be expressed in his subjects' personal lives — for example, by taking up a spiritual or psychotherapeutic practice, changing jobs, or increasing community service. He was personally surprised and disoriented by the frequently reported contact with other-dimensional beings. As I asked at the time: Is long-term personal change what DMT is even about? Perhaps DMT — like ayahuasca itself — is not a psychotherapist but a teacher, leading where it intends — not to some sort of enlightenment, not to self-improvement, not to community volunteer work; but into the dark and luminous realm of the spirits.

    • I think a discussion of that question — why drink ayahuasca? why have spiritual experiences of any kind? — is worth having. I appreciate Xanadu's colorful language and passion, and I value the fact that she has raised this question.

  6. Xanadu Xero says:

    * “He has every right to decide what gets to be said in his own house.”

    Of course, technically! But it’s TERRIBLE to censor ideas – IDEAS – when you bill yourself as a Leader at the forefront of forging an improved, paradigm-smashing world, no? You didn’t censor me, you answered me and expressed your point of view. We don’t have to agree. We can learn from one another.

    I still wonder why my “personal attack” is perceived as a great sin and censorship/ misleading our doomed youth is okay. Harmful actions do not generate themselves.

    * No, the questioned comment was directed at Anonymous, who implied that my views about The Barracuda invalidated my perspective on other issues.

    * I think drinking ayahuasca (not that you asked) can be of world-changing personal and social value, but not when used as a status trophy like blinged-out Reeboks!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Xanadu, I honestly couldn’t tell if, by “furthering humanity as a whole,” you were talking about being a better person, without which seeing jaguars is kind of pointless, or some sort of New Agey thing where white people mix other people’s religions with 1960s politics.

    I’m still not sure, but you are definitely extremely sensitive to think that my innocuous comment means your views are invalid because you don’t like Sarah Palin.

  8. Steve Beyer says:

    I have received some comments that I am not posting. I want to thank everyone for their contribution to this discussion so far. At this point, however, I want to limit comments to those that directly address the question of the relationship between spiritual experience and social action. I welcome every contribution on that subject.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’m rather late to the party, but have just discovered this blog (and what an enjoyable blog it is! Very much appreciate the insights and stories).

    What I personally have read of Pinchbeck is unimpressive – his writing is derivative and lacks digestibility and common sense, his powerful resentment towards women is quite possibly dangerous, his discernment is lacking. And you know what? That’s OK. None of us is perfect, and individual journeys through life are wonderful. Daniel simply seems to be on his journey. That’s not the troublesome thing.

    What is troublesome is that he markets himself as a leader in troubled times, and is now viewed as the figurehead of not only a social movement, but the spokesperson for all things psychedelic, including ayahuasca. But the world he purportedly wants to create – a burning-man-esque work-free culture where everyone lazes about and does yoga and has sex all day – is not my ayahuasca culture, not my spiritual culture, not my anything culture, and I get annoyed that newcomers to ayahuasca get the impression because of Pinchbeck’s very public profile that that’s where ayahuasca gets you: sexy yoga life with scary visions and cool magic power.

    That troubles me a great deal. A great, great deal.

    The ayahuasqueros I have worked with always use that question with us: “Why drink ayahuasca?” I never have come up with a satisfactory answer with any integrity over time, so I won’t pretend to have one here.

    What I am pretty sure about with spirituality and social justice is this: Once you have the awareness of injustice, harm, suffering…and how your actions contribute, you no longer have the excuse of “I didn’t know”. Ayahuasca most certainly lifts that veil of ignorance. Once you do know, you are obligated to act, to participate – small or grand, doesn’t really matter.

    I have to say I kind of agree with Xanadu (minus the screed and screech, girl you’ll do yourself more justice by speaking clearly!). I don’t see much practical or pragmatic coming out of the Pinchbeck world. I see lots of wacky art and loft parties and hipsters talking about sex and alternative energy. I hear lots of talk and generally the less sense you make the more it’s thought you must be wise. But these are not the folks I see making much actual social change in the world. Selling art and throwing a party where you tell your already aware urban friends about biodiesel does NOT count as social change, people.

    There’s a very practical, ordinary side to spirituality and social change. It’s not about crazy, far-out visions and who’s right about the end of the world as we know it. It’s not glamorous and fun.

    Willing the change is about taking the conscious practical, pragmatic steps to care for the sick, the elderly, the people you don’t like. It’s about stepping into the schools to give urban blighted kids a leg up in a challenging world. It’s about making the hard choices to really do right by the environment, not just recycle your paper. It’s building community not just with the people you like and agree with and want to party with, but with e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e…even your Republican parents and your neighbor who drink Budweiser and drives a truck for Exxon. In the very wise words of Marge Piercy, “The work of the world is as common as mud”. I don’t see much mud in Pinchbeck’s arena, and that’s not good for someone viewed as a leader of social change.

  10. Tessa Eagle Swan says:

    The point of the experience is to be healed, its a medicine and not instant enlightenment fix. It should be taken with Intent and that seems to be lacking and its just taken, also unless its fully integrated, whats the point? People seem to do it more as fashion than as serious medicine and the protocol is not respected. The plants are Ancient Sacred teachers, and it seems not to be remembered, sadly, the greedy money orientated unscrupulous people and fake shamans are very much in evidence and their exploitation of the plant and the people who drink.
    Im glad i know the right way and will always respect and honour the Ancient teachers. What others do, mostly i want no part of, its shameful. The way forward is with Integrity and people speaking up against the mis-use of a powerful healing medicine and Spiritual teacher

  11. Vee Har O says:

    I LOVE Xanadu, she is a hoot! and I dig her creative expression, she still can make her point inside of it.

    I must say I agree with Anonymous above. I have the same ‘problem’ with Pinchbeck. I appreciate many of the ideas he puts out there, but those ideas were already put out there by Mckenna, Leary, Wilson. He stays in the shallow waters in this movement and does not get deep or ask the deeper questions to his own brand. I do get a tinge of sensationalism on his part. Reality Sandwich often turns into a ‘Huff Post’ of the ‘alternative lifestyle’ community with it’s own set of irrationalities that it refuses to reflect upon. And like Anonymous said, that’s okay :) It’s part of a process that is occurring right now and a reflection of something higher which I deeply appreciate. i still go there and post a comment or two.

    And Steve, I am new to your blog and writing. THANK YOU! You are a breath of fresh air and I am in gratitude for your work and insight.

  12. ScuzzaMan says:

    I LOVE Xanadu Xero.

    More ;-)

    In my experience, such as it is, any spiritual experience that is not connected directly and causally to social action is bogus. Worse than mere onanism.

    Actually, that’s an interesting word choice, because Onan wasn’t killed for masturbation, but because he used the customs of his tribe that were designed for the care of others to serve his own pleasure. So, Xanadu was right the first time, any spiritual experience not directly leading to social action but merely to self-aggrandisement IS onanism.

  13. Joe says:

    Psychedelic? Social Action? This strikes me as all mental masturbation. These labels don’t describe anything that hasn’t been said before. All of us have potential beyond our wildest imagination and we want to cram it into some simplistic social structure? Fall in line with the Tao and and everything else will fall into place. I like Wilaru Huyata’s description of one of the worlds he visits where he says they have no need for Government as the beings there are connected to Spirit completely and they know what to do; no need for superficial overlays. The whole discussion is really laughable but only when you stop thinking and go into inner silence.

  14. Steve Beyer says:

    Once again I have deleted a small section of the above post that seemed to me to be a personal attack rather than a discussion of ideas. Please note my comment above, in which I said that I was now going to “limit comments to those that directly address the question of the relationship between spiritual experience and social action.” This has been — and I hope will continue to be — a very interesting discussion, and I would hate to see it sidetracked into personal arguments.

  15. David says:

    Not knowing “Xanadu” or Pinchbeck personally, I can say with authority that everybody speculating about the “right” way to “hold intention” with ayahuasca ceremonies is simply speculating. We all have a prefrontal cortex which predisposes us to this sort of inane mental chatter. The point of Xanadu’s original statement was that we act, not talk. It was not to describe the “right way” or how we “should” use ayahuasca.

    My friend has an interesting theory on ayahuasca’s increasing popularity in western circles…the more we destroy her habitat, the farther she must reach out to penetrate the consciousness of the people that may save her. A shaman flinging a dart at Dick Cheney is simply not going to change anything. A shaman using a medicine he trusts, with a patient that trusts him, is going to break down a lot of barriers in that patients life. Maybe that patient will go on to convince someone that there really is something to the idea of engaging in a “spiritual” practice. I have to put “spiritual” in quotes, because at the end of the day, we are simply using our prefrontal cortex to divide and conquer. That is to say: there is no difference between my spiritual practice and the day to day routine I live. If the spirits are really out here and really manipulating things, then they are. Who cares if we can see them or not.

    My point is simply this: anyone who drinks ayahuasca will have their own experience. It is really no more profound than that. Sometimes those people are healed, and maybe sometimes they use the opportunity to gloat about their own enlightenment. Who cares? Go drink your own cup of magic shaman tea and go have your own experience, and lets all stop judging everyone else for doing what they are doing. Right and wrong, should and should not, these are all inherently violent and confrontational ways of speaking. When speaking about spirituality and life in general, lets try to avoid the word “should.” At the end of the day, the only person you can really trust is yourself, so what makes you think you can trust yourself to judge other people completely accurately?

    p.s. I know for a fact that I judge people as well. That cortex I keep referring to, which tells me to not run in front of a car because I want to go have lunch with my girlfriend later, predisposes me to judgment as well. I am going to partake in my first ayahuasca ceremony in 6 days. The second ceremony is in 7. I guess a valuable intention for me would be to figure out how to get off this high horse of mine that provokes me to blog like a 5th grader about people I’ve never met.

  16. imaginary trees says:

    in response to David and Joe, who seem to be saying “Hey, man, It’s all OK, just let everyone follow their path”…

    I think you are missing an important aspect of the very valid criticism of Pinchbeck’s published work, which is that he put himself in the public eye as a visionary and leader, and when spirituality crosses paths with perceived power, skepticism of motive and method is not only valid, it’s critical. Especially when you are dealing with men, women, and sexuality, which Pinchbeck has been very open about. As Xanadu Xero has pointed out, using your perceived spirituality and wisdom to get laid has not only been the downfall of many a yogi and shaman, it’s downright abusive.

    Pinchbeck’s been remarkably silent in public lately, and I hope this is a peaceful sign of “no news is good news.”

    Speaking of social justice, I’m bothered by the fact that the RS website / Pinchbeck seems to have fully signed on with the Kogi as the next spiritual adventure, and no one has questioned that the Kogi seem to consider women second class humans, even if through the benign sexism of “we treat women like children because we honor them.” If anyone has further documentation either for or against this, please circulate. To bring back the thought round to ayahuasca, I do have to wonder about the perhaps tenuous connection between social justice and ayahuasca, if all these people on RS and organizing these trips are well-experienced the ayahuasca realm, why is it no one has questioned the justice for the Kogi women? Or is it still all about chasing esoteric knowledge that they believe will make them powerful savers of the world? I think maybe this is a problem too.

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