Published: March 28th 2012March 28th 2012
The past two months have been marked by an increased curiosity and participation in spiritual practices. I was introduced to many new approaches besides Buddhism, which had been my main focus until recently. First of all, I will try to answer a question that has been haunting myself (and many others) concerning ideas such as enlightenment, the spiritual path etc. What is the deal with all these? Why do we bother? In the past blogs I have answered this with the conclusion that those who follow spiritual practices are those who see through the faults of material life. Why bother investing time in careers, money, cars, if you’re going to lose it all sooner or later anyway? This answer doesn’t mean that we should renounce all of life and live secluded in the woods. Spiritual practice is more about renouncing our ordinary way of thinking and reaching a higher state of consciousness. This doesn’t mean that we need to change what we do, but rather change our attitude towards it.
Why is the mind the source of all our happiness and suffering? Because everything that happens in this world, everything we see with our eyes, everything we feel with out body, everything we smell with our nose, it is all ultimately perceived through the mind (through our thoughts). So the mind is the key to our happiness in life.
Spiritual practices all have one thing in common: The focus on reaching a different level of consciousness. Our ordinary mind creates unnecessary suffering and those who can see its faults will eventually follow the path. If we can only direct our thoughts in a different way, and ultimately eliminate destructive thought patterns, then we can live a fulfilled life in the knowledge that death is an illusion, birth is an illusion, our physical body is an illusion, the physical world is an illusion, and that we are left with our true nature, which is eternal, pure consciousness free from self-created limitations, destructive attachments and desires. This can be called Samadhi, Self-realization, enlightenment, awakening, the soul, the unnamable. Call it whatever you want, but this is the purpose of spiritual practice. There are many ways in which we can reach a different state of consciousness, besides meditation. Here I would like to introduce some of the spiritual practices which I have been introduced to recently. I try to look at all of them with curiosity, open-mindedness and a healthy portion of critique. Yoga and Hinduism
Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert) and George Harrison (The Beatles) have been two of my main inspirations in the past while. After taking up an interest in the use of psychedelic drugs as part of spiritual practice, it did not take long before I stumbled upon Ram Dass. Together with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner he was involved in the psychedelics experiments at Harvard in the 1960’s. I decided to watch the documentary (Fierce Grace) and read the book (Be Here Now) by Ram Dass and found that his approach to life was very different from Timothy Leary. After being thrown out of Harvard, Leary continued his road of changing society, while Ram Dass took a step back and decided to work on his own development (in India). He studied and practiced different types of yoga and meditation. He came back to the West with great inspiration. All the wisdom is summarized in one of the best books ever written: Be Here Now. Highly recommended for those who have already been on the path for a while. It gives a fresh perspective on spiritual practices including chanting, dancing, yoga, food, Sangha (community) and many more. It’s a great book for those who have already read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power Of Now.
Soon after researching Ram Dass, I came across George Harrison. In the documentary Living In The Material World, the life of George Harrison is perfectly sketched. Being one of the less-known Beatles, through meeting Ravi Shankar he started devoting more of his time to India and spirituality, mainly through music. Not surprisingly he became a follower of Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotional chanting), which is focused on reaching a different state of consciousness through chanting the holy names. George Harrison is probably the main reason why the Hare Krishna Movement has spread rapidly throughout the West.
Both Ram Dass and George Harrison inspired me to start focusing on Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. I didn’t realize that yoga implied much more than just the physical movements. It is a complete system which is designed to merge mind and body, which is why meditation is such a big part of the classic yoga methods. I’ve started taking Ashtanga Yoga lessons, which is completely different from an average yoga class. Ashtanga means eight-limbed and so it is based on eight different stages, not all of them directly relating to the physical yoga practice (but they are part of it). One should see it more as a way of life, a philosophy. For example, the first two stages (Yama and Niyama) are more about how we should behave in the outer world. I am still in the early stages of practice, but hopefully I can share some more about yoga and its philosophy in the near future. Dietary changes
It was bound to happen someday, but at last I have made the first steps towards becoming a vegetarian (still some steps to made in order to become a full vegetarian/vegan). Not primarily out of disgust for the mass-production based industry of meat, but more because of its positive effects on my health. I now drink 1,5 litres of water daily and take three tablets of Spirulina (which is a perfect alternative for vegetarians) which helps in gaining energy and strength. The increased interest in diet was sparked by an Ayahuasca weekend attented in February. In preparation for this psychedelic session we were asked to not eat meat (and to semi-fast) for one week. During that week I already felt some tremendous benefits. It was a tough week, but after losing three kilo’s in weight, I can say that my body has never been so cleansed.
Fasting is both good for ones health, because it cleans the entire system, but it is also good as a way of getting into a different state of consciousness. Although I haven’t tried it fully, it does seem to have a definite spiritual purpose. Future exploration will provide more insights and personal experiences on the topic of fasting. Ayahuasca
After a successful trip with Psilocybin Truffles, the next step in the psychedelic journey was to undertake an Ayahuasca trip. This plant contains DMT, which is naturally produced in the human brain and this is the part that is activated when we are dreaming. DMT is a little-known molecule but it has fascinating potential. The plant originates from the South American Amazon, where it is used as part of Shamanic healing practices. Ayahuasca is said to do healing on different levels: Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. The trip itself was not as intense as expected, but there were some out-of-body visions. Since the trip, I’ve felt very healthy and for the first time I’ve established a daily meditation practice. Above all, the Ayahuasca trip was a confirmation that the path I’ve chosen is the right one.
One of the other things that fascinated me was the people who joined the organized weekend trip. People young and old, with different backgrounds and most of them with deeply traumatizing experiences. All these people have come to the Ayahuasca weekend to be confronted with their problems and to get a chance to deal with them. The heroes’ journey (as Ayahuasca is called) is tough but very rewarding. Holotropic Beathing
During the weekend, we were also introduced to a method of getting into a non-ordinary altered state of consciousness, namely Holotropic Breathing. By simply breathing really fast and heavily (see YouTube) we can quickly go into a trance state. It can be seen as a way of getting high without the need for a substance. The method was developed by Stanislav Grof and has proven to be one of the most effective ways of treating depressions, chronic illnesses and addictions.
Although its hard to describe my experience, it definitely made a big impact. After about five minutes into the session I already started feeling strange and had some third-eye (the invisible eye between the eyebrows) visions. Soon after I was in a state that my body became very stiff and seemingly unmovable. After some time, I tried to move around but my body said ‘NO’! One of the guides of the weekend came over, put some pressure on my belly and said ‘let it all out’. The next moment I was surprised to see myself roaring loudly and this lasted for about 15 minutes. With this, all the inner anger, frustrations and emotional blocks seemed to be cleared. It was a great feeling and although I am still not sure what exactly happened, I did see the great potential of Holotropic Breathing for dealing with problems. Thank you for reading! I would like to leave you with some inspirational quotes which I’ve come across in the past few months in books, movies and articles:
“Are all thoughts part of the illusion? Yes” – Ram Dass (Book: Be Here Now)
“People would say that I am the Beatle who changed the most, but really that’s what I see life is all about. The point is: Unless you got conscious, you have to change.” George Harrison (Movie: Living In The Material World)
“DMT (part of Ayahuasca) reproduces many of the features of an enlightenment experience, including timelessness; ineffability; coexistence of opposites; contact and merging with a supremely powerful, wise, and loving presence, sometimes experienced as the white light; the certainty that consciousness continues after death of the body; and a first-hand knowledge of the basic ‘facts’ of creation and consciousness.” – Rick Strassman (Book: DMT, The Spirit Molecule)
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite” – William Blake
“The Shaman gains entrance into a world that is hidden from those who dwell in ordinary reality” – Terence McKenna (Book: Food Of The Gods)
“The principles that operate in the outer universe, discoverable by scientists, are called natural laws. But there are subtler laws that rule the hidden spiritual planes and the inner realm of consciousness. These principles are knowable through the science of yoga. It is not the physicist but the Self-realized master who comprehends the true nature of matter.” – Sri Yukteswar (Book: Autobiography Of A Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda)
“By daily stilling my thoughts, I could win release from the delusive conviction that my body was a mass of flesh and bones, traversing the hard soil of matter. The breath and the restless mind, I saw, are like storms that lash the ocean of light into waves of material forms – earth, sky, human beings, animals, birds, trees. No perception of the Infinite as One Light can be had except by calming those storms.” – Paramahansa Yogananda (Book: Autobiography Of A Yogi)
“Try to become aware that you are not your body, you are not your emotions, you are not your intellect. When all this has been quieted, you will notice there is something else; hold on tight to this and it will reveal itself.” – Sri Ramana Maharshi (Book: Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi)
“We need to understand that it is not external circumstances which makes us happy or sad but the way our mind relates to them.” — Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Om Shanti