‘If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.
If you want to eliminate suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.
Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.’

-Lao Tzu

Most of my adult life has been spent as an environmentalist, researching and writing, running educational campaigns and trying to ‘walk the talk’ by starting an ecological project on the site of an abandoned tea estate in south Sri Lanka, trying to demonstrate ‘sustainable lifestyle solutions’.

However, after many years of trying to highlight progressive solutions to our escalating ecological crisis, it became increasingly apparent that the real, deep and systemic change required was dependent upon a radical readjustment of our economic system. For example, until our economic activities reflect their true impact on society and the environment, currently treated as ‘externalities’, we will continue to put a ‘price’ on goods, trades and services, while ignoring the real ‘cost’. I started to see that none of the potential answers to our current conundrum would actually be regarded as viable until this happened. Renewables and ecological farming would continue to be seen as ‘uneconomic’ compared to fossil fuels and the agri-business, for example.

However, this shift in economic thinking would in turn be dependent on the political will required to drive it and that again would demand a significant shift in the values and beliefs which underpin the entire paradigm upon which western materialism has been built. In short, my focus began to shift from I perceived to be wrong ‘out there’, to what may be going wrong ‘in here’. (The epilogue to one of my books, Rising Tides, a history of ecological thinking and our conceptual separation from Nature, was in fact entitled From Ego to Eco – and I guess could be seen as a prequel or parallel chapter to ‘Eco- to Entheo-’.)

psychedelic spider

But how do we envisage this quantum leap occurring, beyond some mass global consciousness shift, as envisaged by various New Age prophets? After many years of pondering over this dilemma, and despite the inevitable accusations of ‘naïve hippie idealism’, I have come to believe that psychedelic compounds could indeed be one of the catalysts that can contribute to this process. In the process, through true serendipity, I have found myself side-stepping into a new arena and working on two important film projects that I believe could help us evolve the ecological consciousness necessary for the survival of our species. One such is a forthcoming feature film called Quest, co-produced by Mangu TV and led by charismatic ex-BBC presenter Bruce Parry.

The film was first predicated upon the notion that ‘if we are to change the world, we have to start by changing ourselves’, a concept which, as I have outlined above, resonates with me deeply. As the Lao Tzu quote at the top makes so clear, and as J Krishnamurti used to say, we are all too happy to look for transformation in the world around us, ‘but few are prepared to transform themselves.’ One of the ‘technologies for transformation’ highlighted in Bruce’s Quest, along with yoga, meditation and ‘mindfulness’, is the potential for sacred plants like ayahuasca to facilitate this process.

The other film is Neurons to Nirvana, the recent Mangu TV documentary that highlights the efficacy of psychedelic medicines for not only treating a whole spectrum of modern afflictions, from PTSD to addiction and even cancer itself, but also their potential for being the trigger in unitive, mystical experiences that cause radical shifts in perception necessary for a ‘step change’ in values and beliefs about ourselves, our relationships to each other and the planet itself.

Clearly I am not alone in thinking along these lines, promulgated by psychedelic exponents from early shamanic societies through to the founding fathers of the 1960s counter-culture, Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts and others, then supported by a wide spectrum of writers, researchers, scientists, philosophers, psychologists and psychonauts ever since. Albert Hoffman himself recalled that ‘my mystical experience as a child … was absolutely like an LSD experience’ and referred to attaining ‘one-ness with Nature’.

I think that most of us have had this experience at some stage of our lives and, as with Hoffman, it has often occurred in childhood. However, our society is so blinkered by rationalist, reductionist materialism that such ineffable experiences are regarded as somehow invalid, or even delusional. As a result, should such an experience arise through the introduction of an external agent, like a psychedelic compound, it is disregarded as even more of an aberration.

Since there is so much evidence to suggest that the very notion of transcendence, which underpins all our religious and mystical traditions, may well have been prompted by early shamanic experimentation with some of these substances, it seems doubly sad that they should now be viewed so cynically by so many. If the evolution of humanity’s spiritual dimension has been so inextricably linked with sacred plants, then surely it is only logical to propose that these same plants, along with modern psychedelic compounds, could play an equally important role in helping us overcome the crisis we are currently in?

Although I see that the ‘ritualized’, as opposed to purely ‘recreational’ use of psychedelics, can be of immense benefit, deserving to take their rightful place alongside meditation techniques and a whole host of esoteric modalities as ‘useful tools for exploring consciousness’, there are of course some caveats. We live in a dualistic universe and there are no one-ended sticks. We all know how powerful these substances can be and, when used without proper guidance, under safe ‘set and setting’ conditions, there can be problems. However, as we will see, these dangers have been massively exaggerated by mainstream media propaganda. Compared to most other ‘drugs’ deemed to be of ‘recreational’ use, the statistics and the science both prove how remarkably safe they are.

At the same time, along with meditation, yoga, or any prescribed technique, teaching or formula for approaching ‘The Truth’, psychedelics are still operating in the realm of phenomenal experience and can never in themselves lead to that deep and lasting peace we associate with genuine liberation or enlightenment. Indeed, just like any other ‘useful tools’ just mentioned, I believe that they can just become another ‘finger pointing to the moon’ and, as such, become the very obstacle to the goal that is being striven for.

As Manuel Schoch so persuasively highlights in Neurons to Nirvana,

‘Psychedelic is a beautiful help to open the door, as long as you are ready to accept it is not the solution.’

Or as Alan Watts realised back in the 60s,

‘Psychedelics are like a boat you use to cross the river. Once on the other side, the journey continues by foot.’

And as Richard ‘Ram Dass’ Alpert so succinctly surmised,

‘Once you get the message, hang up’.

IMAGE CREDIT: Strange Cargo by MARS 1

Check out Neurons to Nirvanathe definite documentary on Psychedelic Medicines.

Rory Spowers (12 Posts)

Rory Spowers is a writer, researcher, campaigner and filmmaker, based in Ibiza, Spain. His books include the critically acclaimed Rising Tides which has been compared to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Naomi Klein's No Logo, as a 'wake-up call to action'.