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Shaking the Snow Globe

June 25, 2018

In Texas it has been (and still

sometimes is) said that
“there ain’t no such thing as
free barbecue,” a typically
Texan way of expressing the
truth that every action has it
cost. This is particularly true
in the realm of human
evolution, the processes that
have led our species to
where it is today. One of the
crucial differences that exist
between Homo and other genera is that we can pay selective
attention to elements in our environment that we find
interesting, ignoring others that seem less important at that
moment. Evidence suggests that one reason that people on
the autistic spectrum often feel overwhelmed by modern life
is that they lack this ability.

What we gain by this is the ability to see patterns and to

classify those patterns according to how they might affect us.
Pattern recognition has permitted adult humans to generate
complexities in our reality that are beyond the capability of
any other terrestrial being (if you have never read A Pattern
Language, do yourself a favor and do so), for which we pay the
price of losing the innocent sense of wonder that we had as
children, when everything fascinated.

Inertia being omnipresent, most people find patterns in which

they are mostly comfortable, and live their lives first guided by
and later incarcerated by configurations that have become
habitual, first perceptually, then physiologically. Good health
requires both the establishment of healthy patterns and the
regular restructuring of those patterns to prevent them from
fossilizing. Since time immemorial humans have explored
ways to “shake the snow globe” and re-order their
representations of reality, including meditation, chanting,
yoga, drumming, dancing, hypnotism, and the consumption of
psychoactive substances.

As Michael Pollan observes in his new book How to Change

Your Mind, every known human culture except the Inuit (who
lack psychoactive substances in their native environment)
uses some substance (usually a plant) to alter the workings of
the mind and offer potential pattern-changing results.
Psychedelics have been and are even now being used to
facilitate dying, treat addictions, and explore consciousness.

In his usual thorough way Mr. Pollan provides fascinating,

useful, even-handed evaluations of just how psychedelics first
reached American society, why they were prohibited, and why
they may now be rehabilitated. In his guise as a reporter he
brings admirable objectivity to his examination of his subject,
but he then went further by electing to employ some of these
substances personally and sharing with his readers some of
his subjective perceptions of his experiences, with reports on
how the shaking of his personal ‘snow globe’ permitted him to
perceive, dismantle and transcend some patterns that had
been preventing him from living his life more fully and

Mr. Pollan emphasizes the importance of a guide who can

‘hold space’ for those who elect to explore their potential in
this way, and to this reality I can testify personally. I first
experimented with psychedelics as a teenager, happily with
an enquiring mindset and in generally salubrious
circumstances. But it was only after I met Sri Vimalananda,
who trained me to use intoxicants for transformative
purposes rather than as vehicles for intoxication, and whose

company offered a rare and cherished setting, that I could
really understand just how transformative intoxicants can be
when rightly employed.

Each individual will take away something different from each

such experience, but anyone who has enjoyed the privilege of
ingesting distinguished substances in sacred circumstances
is likely to agree with Mr. Pollan’s concluding words:

“Mysteries abide. But this I can say with certainty: the mind is
vaster, and the world ever so much more alive, than I knew
when I began.”