In the world’s most holistic spiritual traditions, everything we interact with can be a point of spiritual contact. Every mundane or profound experience contributes to a fully-lived life, moving us closer to making sense of existence, helping us grow, change and evolve as beings of focused intelligence. But in the early 21st century we find our attention held by many things and ideas that don’t purport to connect, integrate, and evolve us, but rather separate, alienate, and discourage us. Plant medicines and sacraments are some of the best ways to access the hidden gardens growing wild on the other side of our conditioning; to reconnect with the sacred.
People seeking wisdom have long used plants as mediums to communicate with less-easy-to-contact spirits, ingesting mind-altering plants such as ayahuasca, hape, fermented plant material (alcohol), mushrooms, peyote, et cetera. to bring back insight and awareness.
We do this to get in touch with thoughts or beings wiser than our accustomed selves, from which/whom we can learn things and possibly improve our lives. In the process, we start seeing the world differently. With this renewed, enhanced vision, we can snap ourselves out of our habitual behaviors and thought patterns. We begin to discern the unity that links all living beings. New, transcendent thoughts and emotions start to influence our everyday behavior. Starting with our own consciousness, we each raise our own vibration of energy and help galvanize the world into greater common evolution. To fully perceive a single moment of wonder can change the course of one’s entire life. This is but one of the gifts that plant-based substances can provide us.
Some believe that what we access during moments of transcendence is actually what exists in our consciousness all the time, but that we have occluded our natural access by allying with illusions and rigid ways of perceiving reality. Our conditioning accumulates as we are institutionalized and propagandized, and our native ways of experiencing life grow into unnatural shapes.
For example, being taught not to anthropomorphize living things or not to believe in magic has robbed us of many of our native human ways of perceiving and interacting with the natural world. Young children anthropomorphize and perceive the consciousness of objects, numbers, plants, toys, in ways that they are later taught not to do. Whereas in an untampered state of being, we might have easily been able to discern the state-of-mind of a plant or a rock, later we learn to ignore the consciousness of so-called inanimate objects.
When allying with cannabis, an important perceptual leap is to understand the mindset of the plant shaman. To the plant shaman, cannabis has a distinct personality, part of which is revealed by its physical characteristics, and part of which is apparent when we ingest it. Here we’ll focus on how it reveals itself when we ingest it.
Gentle suspension of time and ordinary consciousness
First, cannabis helps to suspend our ordinary sense of time, and allows us access to thoughts that would ordinarily slip through the cracks in our attention. As Joan Bello says, in Stephen Gray and Julia Holland’s Cannabis and Spirituality: An Explorer’s Guide, cannabis merges alertness and relaxation. Paradoxically, it “is the resolution of two opposites.”
This paradoxical unity is symbolized by the lemniscate, a symbol for eternity which blends opposing fields into a single integrated field of reality. At the point of integration, this reality becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
In their meditative rituals, the bee shamans of Europe walk a path of the lemniscate on the ground in order to bring unity to two disparate ideas. During the walk, the lemniscate suspends ordinary time, and the ideas blend to become one, new, integrated vibration of meaning and energy.
Cannabis takes a similar action within us. It merges alertness and relaxation to catalyze unaccustomed thinking. Unlike many psychoactive plants, cannabis enables this merging gently: it provides a floaty, comfortable escape from mechanized, repetitive actions, and muffles the stress response. (This is the same quality that makes cannabis so effective in reducing everyday anxiety and overstimulation.)
Unlike many other mind-altering substances, cannabis does not overpower us or our sense of self, but rather the native cannabinoids in our bodies resonate with the plant’s chemistry. In Cannabis and Spirituality, shaman Hamilton Souther states that it “heals from the core outwards, healing the deepest part of our inner being first, and then working its way out to the issues of self and personality.”
Fresh mental connections
Second, cannabis forges new thought pathways, linking areas of our minds that usually don’t talk to each other, allowing us to form fresh connections between symbols and ideas. Cannabis breaks down mental fences between concepts. When high, we detect connections between disparate things, unconstrained by hierarchy or labels. The sacred, the profane, and the profound dance in new patterns on the same floor. For example, it might dawn on you that Ratty, Mole, Badger, and Toad — characters from the children’s book The Wind in the Willows — are actually metaphorical avatars of the stages of human cultural evolution. One can easily make a passionate argument for this, while high on pot.
In that mindset, everything makes sense and the connection between ideas is in harmony. When we later return to segregated thinking, such ideas can seem like flights of ridiculousness; their intuitive validity may have evaporated. Then again, the weed experience may have gifted us with amazing breakthroughs in poetry, music making, scientific discoveries or philosophy. The thoughts that seemed so deep when we were high have not lost their significance; rather, our minds have temporarily lost the depth of innocence required to form connections because we are no longer operating in a cannabinoid-enhanced state. But the connections are still there.
Third, cannabis lets us glimpse what usually hides from us in our personal blind-spots. Often, it affords us a detachment that makes it possible for us to watch ourselves pursuing our ego-driven strategies and objectives. We can access a detachment that allows us to observe ourselves without cringing. In an everyday left-brain state, often when we catch ourselves acting foolishly or leaning on worn-out machinations, we judge ourselves cruelly and can create a self-hating wound. But cannabis generally holds us in a loving place. As Higher Thought game cofounder Marc Polonsky says of being high, “When I see my habits of mind I feel compassion, and then my harsh judgement of myself melts away.”
Sensory engagement and richness
Fourth, cannabis creates a place where we are more engaged with our senses, closer to how we felt as children, when everything was new. It enables access to our purest selves, heightening our presence with touch, taste, hearing and scent. The tattvas of the Buddhist Tantric tradition, as taught by Daniel Odier in Tantric Quest, are these senses. As Odier’s spiritual teacher, Devi, says,
“We subject these tattvas to compulsions. We lose their richness. Everything is rushed. How long since we’ve delighted in eating a piece of fruit? How long since kissing’s made us lose our breath, feel dizzy, and blush, as a wave of energy surges through our bodies? Without a deep connection to our senses, the heart is not opened…Non-communication with the tattvas (is how) we construct our loneliness.”
Cannabis puts us back in touch with our senses, and our hearts.
The enchantment of ordinary experiences
Finally, as we access sensual spontaneity with lightness and humor while high, pot brings a freshness to spiritual ceremony. The plant takes the stuffing out of dogmatic posturing, restoring authenticity to spiritual practice. Instead of going through the motions, or forcing a layer of phony religiosity upon a ritual, we can enter into it with fewer pre-conditions and expectations. Cannabis enables pre-verbal, pre-literate, pre-numerate and right-brain thought patterns of relaxation and flow, placing us in The Now and highlighting the enchantment of ordinary experiences.
Disciplining ourselves to recall how we felt when we were having altered thoughts is a valuable practice, just as meditators deliberately practice remembering their insights. It can be helpful to keep a notebook or dictation app nearby to record deep thoughts for a post-high review.
Joan Bello sums it up this way:
“(Cannabis) enlightenment can be viewed from a number of vantage points. Psychologically, it is the experience of no worry, of nowness, of newness, and of joy. Physiologically, the autonomic nervous system is operating in its most balanced state, allowing for full oxygenation of the organism. Psychically it is the connectedness that allows for loving relationships born of seeing beyond the surface, often accentuated by an ability to sense through constraints of time-space. Intellectually, it is the moment of revelation, intuition and creativity. Spiritually, the mystic is in a state that transcends all programs.”