January, 2011


Mythic Prelude:

Gate of Heaven
Hello, and welcome to a modest milestone for the Universal Festival Calendar. Last month's UFC was number 150 in a series that began in July, 1998 with the first issue of the e-mail newsletter that still goes out to subscribers a day or two before pages like this one get posted online.
Does the UFC have any words of wisdom to offer at the top of the sure-to-be dramatic year of 2011? (Cue sound effects: circus music, laughter.) The phrase that comes to mind at once is, "Kids, don't try this at home." There are pitfalls to becoming a kind of professional optimist. For starters, one is compelled by the role to keep writing that all is going to turn out well, even when the available evidence of events, and, more important, the emotions that create them, surely seems to indicate otherwise, especially now, as we are a few weeks away from the Chinese lunar year of the Iron Rabbit, with all that this implies. Is it likely that we are going to become softer and more flexible in a year when the most timid of all animals goes ferrous, even fierce?
Will we even awaken so brilliantly, into such a buzzing and blooming in the crown chakra, that we resemble this Flickr image of Mr. Wachuma, the famous medicinal archetype that we'll meet again soon? Or -- is it likelier to happen the way it usually does with human beings, that is, the hard way, so that at least for a time, many will remain so hardened in our postures of belief and opinion that something in the pressure of the time must impel a change of heart? When it comes, will it be only the grudging acceptance of Samuel Butler's "man convinced against his will / [Who's] of the same opinion still"?
Or -- may it be that change that many of us have seen so vividly that we can taste it now, as we come closer to manifesting it: a change that is illumined and willing, so transparent that it can't be hidden or confined, so empowered by a shared spirit of combined positive intention that nothing limited or negating can stand in its way? Is it the change Dr. Brian O'Leary spoke about in a Project Camelot interview by Kerry Cassidy, within in the context of consciousness itself as "the science of the 21st century"?
It's been a year since O'Leary spoke about the research in cognitive dissonance that a recent Boston Globe study cited in describing backfire, the defense mechanism that prevents individuals "from producing pure rational thought. The result is a self-delusion that appears so regularly in normal thinking that we fail to detect it in ourselves, and often in others: When faced with facts that do not fit seamlessly into our individual belief systems, our minds automatically reject (or backfire) the presented facts. The result of backfire is that we become even more entrenched in our beliefs, even if those beliefs are totally or partially false." Or, as O'Leary put it, "The pain center of the brain is hit as soon as you start to talk about anything that smacks of conspiracy theory . . . any painful new truth is going to reach the pain center of the brain first, but if you join the lynch mob, or the powers that be, then everything's pretty comfortable [in] the pleasure center, you can have fun with life."
There's nothing stunningly new about any of this. It resembles in many ways George Soros' Theory of "Reflexivity," which explains why so many financial decisions are based not on any criteria grounded in the actual energy and mechanics of money or markets, but rather on "reflexes" of opinion and belief that have nothing to do with what money is or how it works. And we were using the Greek word demagogue for thousands of years before Ronald Reagan said "facts are stupid things," and replied to those who objected to the fabricated tear-jerker stories in his speeches by saying, "Yes, but it was effective, wasn't it?" We are heart beings more than head beings, no matter how many philosophers fondly wish that "reason" might guide our beliefs and decisions. We believe what we want to believe, and resist what we don't want to hear. The only thing that has changed lately is that scientists have assembled new research samples, statistics and numbers to document and explain what we always knew to be true.
Have we had to navigate whole immense black holes of backfire in 2010? Clearly. Are we going to see a lot more of it in 2011? You bet. We will have so much unwelcome new truth served to us this year, so many smelly, seamy, slithering facts and reeking revelations, that by the summer millions of people who don't want to hear any more of it will be under so much pressure, especially when ballooning fuel costs slow the flow of beer, that ready or not, like it or not, crown chakras will be poppin' in Punos, Peorias and Peshawars among Homer, Omar and Umberto Simpsons everywhere. It will not be much easier for smug "progressives" who'll feel in the heart and the gut that bumpy sensation of colliding with all the arid vanity of their Voltaire scenario, which compels them to comment endlessly on how stupid everyone else is. And -- whatever happens in 2011, you and I can be grateful that we're not among the jittery were-limpets who are trapped in the paranoia of trying to spy on everyone and run everything. It is all unraveling on their watch. By September the controllers, their software security engineers and media mercenaries will look back wistfully on mid-2010, when Julian Assange was the only thing they had to fight, smear or suppress. There will be Wikileaks nostalgia in some very unlikely places by late 2011.
What will 2011 bring? Let's be clear. No astrologer worth his or her salt is going to get dogmatic or fatalistic about "what's going to happen." At best, all we can do is lay out the terrain and the conditions under which we human beings will make our choices as responsible actors. The showdown is already underway between the dying late Piscean paradigm of secrecy, suspicion and paranoia and the unstoppable Aquarian momentum of transparency, synarchy and acceptance. The action will unfold on a hundred shifting, fluid and virtual fronts, and fortune will favor the fleet and the flexible as well as the brave.
How best to play the year ahead? Get healthier. Get connected communally. Instead of jumping out of the box only occasionally, when we have to, let us get prepared to spend a lot more time out there, even to imagine a gamesphere of multiple boxes. It will not go amiss to get up to speed with ideas that once looked unthinkable. One of the good places to start is with David Wilcock's October Surprise series, especially Part III, "The Fight for Disclosure." Those who can accord this astonishing report a fair hearing, and ponder its implications, will be better able to spend the year ahead helping others handle that burning, burping discomfort of backfire in 2011.
A Dose of Heart Nectar
So -- if we agree that the essential strategies for 2011 will include the proper care and feeding of the body, and the building of new alliances even with what may seem at first to be unlikely communicators and collaborators, it may be worthwhile to look for a moment here at the regimen of health and ceremony that proved so immensely valuable to me during my six months in Pisac, in the Sacred Valley near Cusco, from June to December last year. I had the opportunity, grace and pleasure to work with one of the most gifted, versatile and empowered masters I have encountered so far in this life, Dr. Howard Luvine. How does one know immediately that he's the real deal, whose mix of skill and authenticity attracts a stream of clients to the Heart Nectar Healing Centre that he founded nine years ago in the San Blas district of Cusco?
For one thing, he doesn't bill himself as a "healer," any more than a true shaman will ever claim to be one. For another, Howard is one of those men of few words who remind us of what Lao Tzu may have meant when he wrote, "Those who know do not speak, those who speak do not know." He's anything but terse, especially when he is, as shown here, at one of his favorite places, the KinTaro restaurant in Cusco. But like the best kind of teacher, he avoids serving insights to his clients on a plate. Instead, he guides them through processes of discovery that lead their intuition, and especially the divine intelligence of their bodies, toward feeling, in spontaneous movements that are involuntary rather than willed, what each one needs to see and integrate. Howard is a breathwork expert and nutritionist who has evolved over thirty years of practice into a leading practitioner of Network Spinal Analysis (NSA).
While NSA is based in the structural science of spinal anatomy, one could almost say -- though Howard, characteristically, does not say as much himself -- that Network Care is to chiropractic as reiki is to shiatsu. The practitioner's touch is light, often hardly perceptible at all. There is little sense that he is "doing" anything, especially when I am lying face down, eyes closed, doing deep diaphragm breathing and pelvic and neck stretches, and then, after several sessions, I have reached the point of now being guided to make less effort, and to let the breath go where it wants and do what it wants to do. Ultimately the process becomes meditative, less a matter of what one now "knows" than of what Dr. Donald Epstein, the creator of NSA, calls the "internal experience of [the] body." Thus Network Care is poised at the fast-converging borders of intellectual science, physical instinct and intuitive spirituality, the zone where the numbers, nerves and the nuances all meet and parley, the mythic space where the shapes shift and the archetypes grow.
So it makes sense that Howard is also a brujo who guides ceremonial journeys that begin with ingesting a brew of the cactus that is called wachuma in the Quechua tongue, but is better known as San Pedro because wachuma has long been said to exalt one's consciousness all the way to the gate of Heaven itself, which the Spanish conquerors of South America, and others in the Christian tradition have traditionally associated with St. Peter. Unlike the famous Amazonian vine ayahuasca, a potent psychedelic which opens the mind to perceiving spiritual entities that can't be seen by leftbrained waking consciousness, so that Lady Ayahuasca calls us to the place and time she rules, in the jungle at night, wachuma can invite us to a vision quest in the dark or in daylight. The territories we cross can be challenging in both physical and psychic space. It is best traversed under the eyes of a clear ceremonialista -- and with the help of other eyes we meet as we go along.
We began by drinking the brew at Howard's home in upper Cusco, maybe a kilometer from the Temple of the Moon near the ancient ceremonial site of Qenqo, then a hike of some 20 minutes brought us to a mirador, or outlook point where we aligned with the four-armed cosmic chakana, or "Andean cross," and asked the blessings of the condor, jaguar and serpent guardians of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Then we started the main mythic journey that could not have been more graphic in taking us symbolically through what we were about to leave behind. Our path took us along a narrow trail that was not at any point unsafe, but it did require that each one move very attentively, or risk sliding down a hillside covered with burnt grass and brush, and littered with garbage and animal turds in all sizes and hues of black and brown.
Then we climbed with some effort -- I had to stop more than once to catch my breath -- up a field that had been mattocked several days ago into melon-sized clumps of stubble that the Sun had hardened by now into clods that were brittle and slippery on the outside, but rock-hard within. We came at last to a landscape that was more vale than valley, and each of us -- we were five -- chose for the next few hours a spot that mirrored our emotional spaces. Two of the women went to more remote places, and the third perched halfway up a slope where we could see each other, though we had no interaction until hours later. The other man in the group climbed to a crag at the summit of the slope. I sat next to the stream, attracted at first by the sound of the water, not sensing yet what this location was about to show me about myself.
Are You Enthusiastic? Or . . . Entheogenic?
Wachuma, echinopsis pachanoi, grows in the Andes at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000 meters. It has been used for 3,000 years in human and veterinary medicine, notably for the treatment of nerve disorders, joint ailments, cardiac conditions and various addictions. Studies by organic chemists have shown wachuma to be a kind of pharmacy unto itself. One of its alkaloids, hordenine, can inhibit at least 18 strains of penicillin-resistant Staphlycoccus. But it's a more celebrated alkaloid, mescaline, that makes wachuma a powerful psychedelic and entheogen, and a topic of legal logic as spiny as the plant itself. In some countries it's fine to use the cactus as a home ornament, but illegal to ingest any soft green stuff from inside it.
Like mescaline images that are familiar to us from the American Southwest and Mexico, the ones shown on this page can incorporate the coils of the serpent, the fangs and claws of the puma and jaguar, the jagged angles of lightning -- as in this Chavin wall relief -- and eyes that look down and out to the Earth around us, and up and in to what may appear also between our third eye and crown when the doors of perception are open, and entheogenic experiences may come from anywhere, take any shape and bear any message. Curiously, the closest thing to the idea of entheogenesis in our day-to-day usage is enthusiasm. Both mean a state of "having God inside." But it's their differences that tell the tale.
Enthusiasm suggests the excitement and fervent elation that can come from getting benignly "nuts" or "crazy" about hobbies, gadgets or fashions, but it literally means that God has somehow entered, inspired and wired us. This idea of God-occupancy is generally acceptable and tolerated, and at least is usually not persecuted, in those cultures that see the Divine as separate from humanity and the rest of the material world, and that accept the unfathomable agendas by which God may want, in ways none of us can begin to hoist aboard, to take up temporary accommodation in places as untidy and unworthy as human minds, even in low-rent braincases that love to dance with snakes on their necks to clunky music from tinny speakers in clapboard churches in a swamp. There is no accounting for taste. If the Lord wants to light up the unlikeliest-looking tenements, like Julius Caesar campaigning in the Aventine, then who are we to question Him? We sure don't get it -- but So Be It.

Entheogenesis, though, has usually been frowned and even fired upon as a far more dangerous business, suggesting as it does that God is not dropping in from outside and slumming for a while in our consciousness, but that our minds are awakening to the Divine within, sensing and feeling that God is in me now, has perhaps been there all the time, and, unthinkable as it may have appeared before, there may be not only no separation between God and me, they may even be . . . no difference. The Sufi saint Mansour Al-Hallaj was crucified for chanting out loud, in his ecstasy at noon in the square, that he was Haq, or Truth, one of the 99 Divine Names that can be known. Like innumerable mystics, adepts and "witches," he proved how risky it may be to know and say openly that God is not unreachably above and beyond me, but is here in the glow and pulse of my heart, riding and singing on my every breath.

I did not research any of this or contemplate it much before my day in the valley with San Pedro, not wanting to set a plan or prepare and thereby control the experience. I sat by the stream, feeling the breeze and the sweat on my brow, listening to the wind in the leaves and the splush of water, waiting for whatever was to come. The stream was the first to speak, telling me that the green surface in front of me was not algae-as-usual, but that the slime was coating the plastic bags that had all gotten bunched here, pinching the water flow to a trickle. The moment I got up to find a stick that I could use to fish the plastic out, sunlight flashed where the water was clear, and I heard: "No need. I will clear it. Just notice how the debris we collect is blocking the flow of what wants to move through."

Soon after this the other messages: from plants that seemed to be growing greenest and hardiest from having pushed their way through cowflops near the water's edge, then from the animals. Howard and his two dogs -- just like humans, some touch and talk, some don't -- seemed to take their turns visiting each sitter. The dogs held the space the way they usually do, and when one started to bark at a farmer as he passed through, I tried what so often seems to work, holding the thought, "Thanks for doing your job so well. But there's no danger here. Please, take a break. You've earned it."

Following the Dragonfly
Then the dragonflies began to arrive: little red ones, green and big blue iridescent ones, so many of them that one thing I'll explore when I visit Heaven's Gate again is whether dragonflies come when wachuma calls, and this is why Mr. Wachuma as we see him above has twin dragons at his temples. As I was to learn later -- especially from the Dragonfly Site -- the dragonflies mirrored my intentions and conditions on this day, and at this time in my life. They are symbols of maturity and wisdom, and when they appear in one's later life they may suggest an opportunity to look below the ripple of appearances on the surface of the water to penetrate into the truth that hides underneath. The dragonfly practices extreme economy of effort, moving at up to 45 miles per hour while flapping its wings only 30 times a minute. Some 80% of its brainpower is allocated to its enormous eyes, which can see at 360°. And it spends only a fraction of its very short life in flight, thus symbolizing the ability to live fully in the present, wasting no energy on hopes or regrets, making accurate, impeccable decisions from moment to moment.
How is any of this relevant to our life in 2011? We shall see as the year unfolds. But it does seem quite possible that it might help us to become more practiced at looking deeper, past the surfaces of things, viewing each person and possibility from every direction, flying fast and light, using each moment as if it is one of the few left, even when there are many more to come. The dragonflies did not deliver a whole menu of messages to me. The big blue dragonflies just kept saying, "Keep moving. Stay light."
Try as I might as I kept toning when the dragonflies came, I couldn't match the hum of their wings, or when I did it was never for more than a slice of a second, as the sounds kept changing constantly, as did everything on this day. So if my day by the stream near the Temple of the Moon may indicate anything about what is to come and how to live with it, then 2011 may be the year to know more skillfully when to Keep Holding That Frequency, and when to shift it in an instant, to be ready to scan the stream and move in a moment.
All best wishes for a healthy, lively, nimble New Year.
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The Chiron - Neptune Conjunction of 2009 - 2012:
Prelude (2008) and Acts 1 - 5 (April, 2009 - Nov., 2010), see UFC Index
2012: The End of . . . What?
Copyright 2010 Dan Furst. All Rights Reserved.