Last week I interviewed Jude Currivan on understanding reality, where Jude explained all of the evidence we have to suggest that the universe is conscious, intelligent, and evolving.
Jude and I were obliged to rearrange our interview several times, and this turned out to be very fortuitous, as I spoke with Jude just days after having an extraordinary experience during an ayahuasca retreat.
Ayahuasca had been on my radar for a years as something I very much wanted to try, but wasn’t necessarily seeking out. I hoped an opportunity would present itself to me at the right time—and it did.
I've gone through different phases of evolution on my own spiritual journey over the years, and had fallen into a more rational mindset recently, curious in understanding the world on a physical, measurable level. I’d also been put off the spiritual movement by the rampant influence of capitalism; new age thinking had been sufficiently co-opted by predatory cowboys.
Nonetheless, I've had deeply spiritual experiences in my life, typically on a mountainside when off on a big hike. These experiences often bring me a sense of oneness, unity, peace, wonder, majesty. I had my first profound revelation when walking the Camino de Santiago in 2016 (although if I remember correctly I was sitting in a plastic chair on the side of a dusty road, drinking coffee and likely smoking a cigarette), when I weeped to a fellow pilgrim: “But we’re all just beings of love!”
I didn’t know what to expect on ayahuasca, but I hoped it would be transformative and revealing, in many senses of the word. I experience aphantasia, a blindness of my mind’s eye. When I close my eyes, I have no sensorial imagination or memories—I can’t bring forth the faces of people I love, I can’t imagine the smell of the sea, or the taste of my favourite meal. I can’t imagine a hand in mine, or remember the sound of my best friend laughing.
There are certainly benefits to being aphantasic, and my imagination is still wildly active—but it works in sentences and feelings, and is often quite abstract. That said, I long to have a more active memory (things slip away from me so easily—people, places, stories), and to keep those I love close with me at all times. I know, too, that it’s possible. Very often in the moment just before falling asleep, I see things quite clearly in my mind’s eye. I have the capability, but I repress it.
“Open my eyes.”
My intention for ayahuasca was “open my eyes”. What followed was the most profound night of my life.
After drinking, I lay down on my single mattress on the floor, amongst a group of wonderful people, and waited. Soon enough, tingles sparked to life on my skin, and the world was divided into rotating, geometric shapes. Quite suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I was seeing in what felt like five dimensions, and zooming around this new world; I felt like an electron, spinning through the fabric of space and time. I was extremely happy, kicking my feet together in glee. I felt brand new.
A memory came to me then, and I began to think of love and loss. The dimensions melted away and I was crowded by my own thoughts, and by sadness. I realised, in that moment, that I was not grieving the loss of love, but the loss of individuals, for how could we possibly grieve love when we all carry the wellspring within us?
I tried to hold onto these individuals with my thoughts, afraid to let them go, desperate to retain their meaning, their importance. Then a voice spoke to me: “You have to let go, Rachel.”
“No,” I responded. I lay on that mattress for five, ten, fifteen minutes, fighting the instruction, my hands balled into fists. “No, I won’t. I won’t.”
Then this voice, this gentle, woman’s voice, told me again to let go. Caught in a loop of sadness and frustration and exhaustion, I decided to trust her. I let go.
Suddenly, I was in space looking down at the magnificence of planet earth. Two women appeared before me, one facing me and one in profile. They were beautiful, they were ageless, they were all races.
People often talk of meeting the spirit of the plant, so I asked, “Are you Mother Aya?” They shook their heads.
“Are you all plants?” Smiling, they shook their heads again.
“Are you all life?” They nodded, the one facing me reaching out her hand. ‘Oh my god, they’re god.’
I was struck with the instant awareness that God is life itself. They took me by the hand and took me to the beginning of time, when life came into being, and then they took me to the end of time, when life will end. It was the most beautiful and extraordinary journey.
I saw our ancestors leaving Africa, I saw the women I have been before, I understood every single woman as an expression of God by producing life, and then understood every living being as an expression of life. I felt a complete sense of oneness with every being in the universe, and began blowing the atoms off the backs of my hands, and tracing them from my face, to give them back to the universe—because I was no longer Rachel, I was just one expression of all of the expressions of life on this incredible planet, in this magical universes.
I had never experienced such joy. I was so blissed out I genuinely thought to myself: ‘I could live off of this feeling. If I keep this feeling I won’t ever need to eat, because I’m connected to every living thing.’ The “I” to feed was disappearing.
One Big Tree
Then my sense of self came back and I shot up: ‘But why are there selves? Why are there individuals? Why did life make herself this way? Why are we not one big tree?’
The answer flooded me: We do not exist as one big tree so that we can be in relation with one another, so that we can love one another. We are all expressions of life, and we cannot choose that, but what makes us individual is how we choose to love. Love makes us unique, and the ultimate experience of being alive is the union of life and love.
I floated back down to the mattress in ecstatic bliss. I felt myself to be filled only with love, capable of only giving and receiving love because love is the only emotion we have—anger, sadness, hatred are all because of love. I wanted to crawl around the room and whisper in everyone’s ears: “It’s ok, everything will be ok, the answer is love.”
I was filled with an ultimate and eternal peace, within the infinite oneness, lying in the belly of the big O.
From the stillness, Life whispered to me: “Let go of Rachel.”
“Can I?” I asked gleefully?
“Let go of Rachel.”
I began to let go, slowly, loosening my grip, lifting one finger at a time. I came to the edge and let go—and then grabbed back on again quickly! I tried again and again. It was like letting go of a helium balloon and then grabbing onto the string before it floats away.
But in those moments, those flashes, of letting go, I felt myself to be back in the eternal womb; in the infinite void. For what is so perfect about a womb is that it is empty in order to be filled; it can only be filled by the very state of being empty. Its emptiness is its being, and within that being is its potentiality, and from that potentiality, life is brought forth. It is the eternal possibility. It is the manifestation of the state of relationship; the place where nothing and everything exist as one. It is, then, a state of wholeness.
We are one big tree, and the only reason we don’t present as one big tree is to love one another.
An ecosystem exists to be in relationship. Life is this chaotic force by which we are all expressions. Love is how we make sense of it. Love is how we live it.
And we are dying through a lack of love.
I experienced ayahuasca again only a month later, the same week the final IPCC report was published as a “final warning” to humanity. The message this time was equally clear: We are dying.
I felt the thirst of animals on the savannah, the hunger of children around the world, the fear of trapped souls. I felt profound rage for those who destroy our world for profit. I felt the world collapsing around me. I truly felt that which I intellectually know—the world will never be the same, and, if we don’t change, it will end.
We are on the brink of crossing five major tipping points in the earth’s systems. We have seven years until we blow our carbon budget and new oil licences are being granted every day. We’re facing “phosphogeddon” and may be unable to fertilise our food. We’re looking at billions displaced in the next decade, and not enough capacity to feed even ourselves.
We are at war with those who would see the end of the world before the end of luxury. We are at war with those who exploit and extract. We are at war to save our world, and we are running out of time.
We, the masses, are not powerful enough anymore. Not in a world of such technological advances. We cannot arm ourselves with weapons against the powerful. But we can arm culture.
Culture is the ground we fight this war on—and win. We must mobilise culture against the powerful to claw back land, claw back dignity, claw back love and possibility. We must fight with art, with music, with poetry. We must fight with local economies and currencies, with community energy projects. We must fight with creativity and imagination. We must fight with stories, stories that reveal what has been done to us all, and what can be done to free us.
That’s why I’ve launched WE WILL BEAR WITNESS, a media project to document the perils—and the resistance—of this moment in history, told by earth’s citizens.
Tell the story of your country's politics, of its decline, its decay. Tell the story of your community's imagination, optimism and resilience. Tell the story of what must be done. Tell the story of who is to blame. Tell the story which keeps you up at night.
WE WILL BEAR WITNESS to the collapse of society, or its regeneration.
WE WILL BEAR WITNESS to each others' strength and creativity.
WE WILL BEAR WITNESS to the malevolence wreaking havoc on the lives of the vulnerable.
WE WILL BEAR WITNESS to the world as it is—and how it could be.
In the spirit of ecosystems, the project will pay lifetime monthly dividends to contributors to encourage their relationships with one another. The more the project grows by sharing each other’s stories, the more everyone receives.
You can support the publication by choosing a paid subscription or donating a story by emailing email@example.com
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This also means that there can be no sustainability without peace. Disarmament is a necessary requirement for the survival of humanity, albeit not sufficient. Try telling that to the US military-industrial complex.
Love is more powerful than war. The love found folded between the layers of peace and hope is what we have to strive towards.