Low Earth Orbit
(Thirteen and Change)
Where do I even begin?
In the dark early winter of 1998, because I needed a respite from the traffic jams, the interdepartmental wars and the growing ennui of my workaday life at my perfect job, I took off. It had been planned, more or less, for months, but I hesitated, delayed in making the necessary arrangements for a leave-taking, perhaps because I didn’t want it, or rather, thought I didn’t deserve it, unconsciously deciding I should sit and stew in my own city-juices, at least until I myself had changed. An inchoate change, something I knew I needed but nonetheless knew nothing about how to provide myself.
That pretty well sums up the Autumn.
In the end, an email came – at just the propitious moment – from my friend on Hawaii, telling me of a spare bedroom, placed at my disposal. I lunged at the opportunity, cashed in a small portion of my frequent flyer miles, reserved a car, and watched my bank account dwindle away into nothing as the day approached. I didn’t know how I could make it work, financially, but I had to make it happen. My lifeline, this trip.
On the day before I left, I toured a USC facility located on the waterfront in Marina Del Rey, an offshoot of the Engineering school, and dedicated to all of those lovely DARPA contracts which are the endless source of revenues for universities of a certain station in American politics, my soul grumbling (quietly). I met a lovely woman who said she’d missed me at Esalen, had planned to attend, but things hadn’t worked out. I wondered that such a woman could work in a place like this, even on projects which seemed quite innocuous – remembering the 2 days I worked at MIT’s Draper Labs, cataloguing index cards with articles about Soviet laser gyroscopes, until I got the secret of the whole game, and I ran from the building, wiping the dust from my feet as I left.
Those gyroscopes controlled the navigation systems on ICBMs.
At the end of the day at this facility, I was ushered back to the office of the official who had invited me, for a final debriefing. He was on the phone, with a grimace on his face – something horrible happening, no doubt. I interrupted him for a minute, told him I would go upstairs to get my parking validated, and ran from the building.
History does occasionally repeat itself. But in this case, Los Angeles herself gave me my marching orders. Time, she said, for a rather different point of view.
My friend Alan had given me a bit of advice about Hawaii: “She either loves you or hates you. And if she hates you, you should leave. Quickly.” I carried this warning in my head as I walked out into the tropical air at the United terminal in Honolulu, lit a cigarette, and looked inland, toward the mountains that thrust up from Pearl Harbor, forming the spine of Oahu.
My attention was riveted, and – I kid you not – I heard “Bali Hai…” somewhere on the breeze. I knew, immediately and completely, that I had passed the test, that the islands and the spirits therein had accepted my presence.
My friend lives in a remote locale of the Big Island, up a long dirt road ruled impassable by anything except beefy, jacked-up 4x4s. As I had waited until the very last minute to get a car reservation, I hadn’t been able to reserve a 4×4. So, when the shuttle bus pulled into the Alamo lot, and I spied a “Today’s Special!” sign posted on an Isuzu SUV, I knew that Fortune had shined upon me, and soon I found myself in possession of a rather nice white Chevy Blazer, which I nicknamed “The Great White Elephant”, a vehicle perfectly able to draw me up into the green hillside above the Kona coast.
To say Hawaii is everything is to oversimplify the incredible organic complexity of the most consistently variegated landscape on the planet. On an island two-thirds the size of Rhode Island (whose dimensions I am intimately familiar with) nearly all of the climates which occur on Earth’s surface have their own locales, from the Arctic slopes of Mauna Kea to the deserts around Kailua-Kona. All this mixed with a generous helping of tropical rain forest, bamboo and palm and twisting vines. It’s raining somewhere on Hawaii, all the time, sometimes lightly, sometimes by the bucket, and the air has so much richness, so much pure oxygen out-gassed by the greenery, that it made me feel a little high, energetic and clean. They make the air here, and it tastes wonderful.
Hawaii is both the largest and the least densely populated of the islands, never growing to more than rural dimensions, the kind of human landscape you’d expect to find in the southern parts of Kansas, with the obligatory Wal-Mart and Ace Hardware, the same beat-up white pickup trucks, with NRA stickers and gun racks. But these are Polynesian Okies, Hawaiians and Samoans and Fijians, mixed with a motley crew of Caucasians, many of whom are here because, when all was said and done, there was no place else to run: they can’t leave the country, and they’re gambling that they can’t be found in all that jungle. When you’ve fled New York for California, then fled California…what else is there?
This is true in a broader sense as well. Take a map, twist it so that Hawaii is in the center, and let the Earth radiate outward in a series of concentric circles. You find that Africa covers the entire extremity of the map, radiating through Asia and Europe, until it reaches the center – the navel of this particular world – at Hawaii. The two hundred thousand years of human exploration reached its Eschaton at the island of Hawaii, settled a thousand years ago, the final place on Earth’s surface that humans civilized. It is the New World.
My friend – you all know who he is, but names are not important here – lives up a long, treacherous dirt road, on the lower slopes of Mauna Loa, at two thousand feet, in a clearing hewn out of dense jungle. For all that, his establishment is perfectly modern and comfortable, still coming together after several years of deliberately slow work, with a conspicuous absence of furniture but a library unlike any other I’ve seen in a private collection. Thousands of volumes, all on the most interesting sorts of subjects – as would be expected – arranged neatly by subject in the only truly finished room of the house, spanning the entire second story, altars and all. And at the center of it, an underpowered Macintosh, connected through some severe magick to a spread-spectrum T-1 connection which points back down the hill, toward Kailua-Kona.
Let’s step back a bit. This place is off the grid. Off the grid. No electricity except what he can generate himself with photovoltaic silicon or gasoline, no water except what falls from the sky, no telephone. Or, at least, there was no phone, until the dish on the roof went up, providing both high-speed Internet and full telephony access to one of the most rural locations in the United States. Remote, and yet intimately connected.
I was in love.
These were times that called for connection; the Federal government poised on disintegration, something my friend termed, “a civil war in a leper colony”. He could listen to NPR stream the administrivium spewing forth from the mouths of our formerly elected Representatives, could smile ironically, and shudder and thank himself for having the common sense to get as far from it as possible, within the bounds of the Republic.
He had guests, a Russian couple from Los Angeles, and as soon as I had decamped into the guest bedroom, he took us on a tour of his homestead, a tour that snaked diagonally across his property, highlighting some of the ethnobotanical experiments which had taken root on his property. A vine which grew surprisingly well in the environment. A shrub which grew, with a little help. A patch of Salvia Divinorum, which seems to like Hawaii so much that it flowers in joy. Oh, and another patch of Salvia. And another. It’s just taking over. Oh well. Those things happen.
As it grew dark – I had no idea anyplace on Earth could get that dark – we retired to the library to smoke and chat. The Russian gentleman, quite a talented artist, produced some recent drawings; rich organic forms almost Oroboran in their self-consuming circularity, very much like the space which becomes apparent when tryptamines interfere with the 5HT receptors in the neocortex. I was awed by the virtuosity which had translated these forms of my own imagination – which I can see but have never been able to articulate visually – into soft pencil shadings. This, as I understand it, from a man who hasn’t dabbled in tryptamines.
We all have gifts.
My mind is clearer now…
As the celebration of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun is a major part of my own spiritual life, it seemed only appropriate that something special accompany the Solstice, particularly as it marked the “flipping of the calendar” in the grand countdown to the Eschaton, from fourteen years and a bit, to thirteen and change. The Winter Solstice is a celebration of fire and birth, so it seemed only reasonable that we travel to Kiluea and walk the caldera in a ritual remembrance of the force and fire of the Mother who gave birth to us in the deep places of the Earth.
Kiluea is vast, the rim road covering forty miles in a great circle, but within this crater a few points stand out for particular observation and attention. One of these is Kiluea Iki, a cooling pond of lava which was the central point of the 1959 eruption, sending a spire of magma 1900 feet into the air above what is now a black crusted well in the Earth. Even as we spent the day in a deosil circumambulation of Kiluea, we spiraled down and inward into a tighter loop – also deosil – across the dead sea of Kiluea Iki.
As we descended from the rain forest onto the surface of the pool, I immediately noticed a vast array of standing stone towers, setup by previous visitors, and was reminded of the passage in Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, which talks about the piles of stones left by the ancients in their passage across this planet, as a memory to other, braver men who tried to raise humankind into a consciousness of the Infinite. These pillars, built from the spongy lava common to the pool, told me that others found this place sacred, and – consciously or unconsciously – sought to adorn it with their own offerings.
Alan and I decided that Kiluea Iki was the perfect mirror image of the Black Rock Playa in Nevada, site of the Burning Man festival. Black and fractally cracked, almost dustless, compared to the white alkali and choking dust of the playa, each a reasonable inversion of the other, vents in both jetting a hot sulfur-smelling vapor. As we walked into the center of the circular pool, I turned round – again deosil, the third and final loop-within-a-loop – thanking the eastern Earth, southern Fire, western Water and northern Air for their precious gifts, and found myself suddenly lightened in spirit, as if I could dance atop the lava tubes. I smiled furiously. The volcano goddess had received my offering and offered up herself in kind.
Again we mounted the Great White Elephant and traveled down the Chain of Craters road, which traces out, along the descending slopes of Mauna Loa, the history of eruptions along the southeastern face of the Hawaii, where the Pacific plate has transited the “hot spot” responsible for the creation of the islands, until we came down to the sea – some four thousand feet below – and found the road came to an abrupt end, blocked by a recent lava flow. In the distance a great steam plume sprang from the point where the current flow – active for some five years – met the Pacific ocean.
Despite some severely worded warning signs from the U.S. Parks Department, Alan and I walked out onto the lava flow (this region had cooled some years ago), in the general direction of the steam plume. This lava almost felt soft, a delicate, airy web of matter which crunched underneath the pressure of our sneakers. We debated whether we should mount an approach on the steam plume itself, deciding against it (too far away, too late in the afternoon, too little water), and heading back to the Great White Elephant, a rainbow shimmer caught my eye in the ground below. A tiny fragment of lava, presenting a uniquely smooth surface, diffracted light in a peculiar way that struck me as very familiar. Although I couldn’t place it, I’d seen this rock, and this sheen before.
We paused at the ranger’s station to take in a view of a closer lava flow (just under the surface, unfortunately, so none of that rather dramatic red flowing rock we had hoped to see), and I spied a chart that had been laid out for the edification of visitors to the site, spelling out the composition of the lava flow. There, in largest quantity – nearly fifty percent – was silicon, the most common element in the Earth’s crust, and now, recognizably, the source of the sheen I had detected in the fragment of lava I had picked up. Of course I’d seen it before – on the surface of countless computer chips.
That recognition formed the beginning of an unusual spiritual journey, and I’ll come back to it.
[ As I write this, I’ve retrieved that fragment of lava from my luggage. Although it’s against all the rules, I did bring some tiny bit of Kiluea back with me. It looks like a piece of coal with a Swiss cheese motif, and is so light that it doesn’t feel like rock at all, lacking the requisite density to truly convince my skeptical senses that it is entirely solid. One tiny edge on this tiny rock, when held at the proper angle to the light, reflects a striking rainbow of colors, perhaps a point of nearly pure silicon crystallization. This fragment isn’t recognizably different from any of the other lava which forms Hawaii, but, after that moment, I began to look at the endless, frighteningly barren lava landscapes on the Chain of Craters road as vast fields of silicon. ]
I made two major journeys during my trip to Hawaii, one exoteric – to Kiluea, and one esoteric. Before I begin to discuss my spiritual passage, I want to talk about my “little” trip to the City of Refuge in Honaunau. I had been invited to luncheon with a young man named – rather implausibly – Teal. (Evidentially his mother was rather a raging hippie when such things were popular, and even today does Jungian psychoanalysis in Mill Valley, that bastion of unqualified thinking.) Teal is in the process of making a gesamkunstwerk which he’s titled The Millennium Project. After an hour of lunch, I wasn’t all that much clearer on the precise dimensions of the project. It seems to involve video, the Internet, and a whole host of like-minded people who will co-create a space for expressing human possibility in the third millennium. In fact, if it takes shape, it also means that Teal will spend the next year – at least – traveling around the world and talking to people about vision and the future of humanity. “Be Green,” his operating slogan, is a hopeful byword, and informs me that his heart, at least, is in the right place.
We began an interview, captured to digital video, and he asked some hard questions. What is vision? Virtual reality? What’s really going on here, and where are we going with it? What’s up with the Earth? And so on. As you all probably know, I can go on for hours with my own varied prognostications on each of these matters, which Teal dutifully recorded – along with a few extreme-zoom pans and inverted-color moments – until the waitresses at the restaurant, who had suffered our presence until well past their closing time, threw us out. Teal wanted to continue the interview, and I suggested that we go down the hill to the City of Refuge, which had been recommended to me by my friend, as well as by my traveling companions, Alan and Susan.
The City of Refuge, on the shores of Honaunau, south of where Captain Cook staged his famous final scene, was – and probably still is – an important religious site for the Hawaiians. It’s an enormous landscape of paths and beautifully constructed walls and a number of rather large thatched huts, presumably used for religious purposes. As we entered the area – also under control of the U.S. Park Service, I noticed that the reception station was closed.
That should have been my first clue.
Undeterred, we walked into the site, and traveled the paths, chatting amiably, until I came across a screaming tiki. You’ve all likely seen tikis before, wooden images of the gods of the Polynesians, but I doubt you’ve ever seen one with its mouth so wide and so fierce it seemed to be practically shouting.
I began to get very unnerved, and made a b-line away from this disturbing totem. That, however, only led us directly toward the main ceremonial hut, which, although carefully cordoned off from tourists, contained a forest of the most angry looking tikis I’d ever seen or even imagined. Fierce gods, announcing their mana – which is to say, their spiritual power – at a hundred and fifty decibels. I couldn’t do more than glance at them before I got the message – with ear-splitting clarity – that I should move along, quickly, and not even hazard a look.
I was only too happy to oblige, and practically ran out of the area, stopping only when I felt that Teal and I were far enough away that we wouldn’t give any offense to the spirits embodied in those wooden carvings. It was quite remarkable; I’d never had an experience like that before and I do hope that I never have that experience again.
The Hawaiian gods are not dead. They’re not even sleeping. They’re here, and they seem to be quite upset about something.
We finished the interview on the shores of a tidal pool where giant and outrageously colorful tropical fish frolicked in the ebb and flow of the coral banks. Here Teal asked me about Kabala, and I replied that the Sephiroth were – metaphorically – like a series of transformers that acted to step down the unlimited power of the Infinite – Kether – into the rather low voltage – Malkuth – that humans are capable of taking into their own being. However, given the experience I’d just been exposed to, I gather that we’re fully capable of working our way up the chain of being, and releasing almost undreamed-of transformative energies.
Now, let’s talk about drugs.
Homo Sapiens has been modifying its consciousness with endogenous entheogens from before the dawn of history. Certainly cannabis, psilocybe, and amanita – to name but a few – can trace the roots of their usage into the Neolithic period, and probably quite a bit earlier. My friend has argued that these plants actually helped spur humanity into consciousness, a line of inquiry that I’d always found a bit ungrounded, until I started to learn about the principle neurotransmitter differences between ourselves and our sister primates. It may be that the substitution of endogenous seratonin with tryptamines actually produced a different sort of consciousness than has been identified in our (how shall we say it?) less sophisticated cousins. Consciousness is clearly related to the chemistry which contains it (a bit of knowledge that has earned Merck and Sandoz billions of dollars), and if the substitution of a single bond on a single site of a single molecule can have profound effects on perception (Dr. Shulgin has demonstrated that the difference between a single- and double-bond on a carbon ring can make a drug inert or active) clearly our consciousness has both chemical and quantum components.
In any case, a long time passed between the discovery of the endogenous entheogens and the beginnings of chemistry in the manufacture of drugs. However, it is likely that the first of these drugs – which is to say the first mind-altering substance which had to be prepared through artifice – was the compound known today as ayauascha. A product of Amazonia, ayauascha has been studied extensively in the West by armies of organic chemists, after its discovery – under the name yage – by psychedelic pioneers William Burroughs and Alan Ginsberg.
Perhaps the strangest thing about ayauascha is that it most likely couldn’t have been discovered in a haphazard sort of way. It’s a thick syrup composed of the boiled-down renderings of two rain forest plants. The one most familiar is the climbing vine Banisteriopsis caapi, which can grown to tremendous heights and thickness – looking like a tree root on the wrong side of the soil – and which contains a fair amount of a tryptamine known as harmine. By itself, B. caapi has almost no discernible effect on human consciousness, although large doses of harmine are said to make one feel rather “spaced out”.
The second common component in the recipe are the leaves of Psychotria viridis, a shrub that is a distant relative of the coffee plant. However, rather than containing invigorating quantities of caffeine, the leaves contain enormous quantities of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which, as is widely known, is capable of producing a staggering array of psychedelic effects. The trouble is, DMT is not orally active, as the digestive tract is equipped with a wide array of enzymes, the monoamineoxidase (MAO) family, which quickly destroy DMT before it can enter the bloodstream. You can eat a pound of the leaves from P. viridis, but you won’t get high – your body sees to that. Nice body. Good body.
That is, unless you’ve ingested another set of compounds known as MAO inhibitors. These compounds block the action of MAO enzymes – temporarily, if you’re lucky – and allow otherwise inactive compounds to enter the bloodstream and cross the all-important blood-brain barrier. As luck would have it, harmine is a very potent MAO inhibitor, so the combination of B. caapi and P. viridis creates an orally active form of DMT.
This is an unusual enough combination that it seems unlikely that the Amazonians just “stumbled upon” the correct formula. I am sure that their shamans would say that the plants told them how they should be prepared for maximum spiritual impact. Who am I to disagree? I look at the vast array of plants in the rain forest and wonder how, in all the world, would they have known to put these two together? Yet it’s something they’ve known for at least the last five thousand years, and perhaps quite a bit longer.
Many people have heard of ayauascha; some of you may have tried it. I had tried it earlier this year, in the living room of one of my friends in Los Angeles, prepared and dispensed by an Ecuadorian shaman who also made sure we were well equipped with napkins and plastic garbage bags, for, you see, ayauascha makes you vomit.
Let me clarify this point, as it represents a psychological barrier that keeps many people from the ayauascha experience. Some component (perhaps the harmine) in the ayauascha acts as a very strong purgative, and – about an hour after you’ve swallowed it – you begin throwing it back up. As one is supposed to fast for 24 hours before taking ayauascha (similar to the rules for general anesthesia), this is not meant to be a terribly unpleasant experience – there is no nausea – and, as long as one can deal with a little vomiting, it isn’t all that upsetting. It also causes powerful diarrhea, rather less of concern for people within reasonable reach of a toilet, and acts to clean out the entire digestive system, doing so quite powerfully. I myself have a rather fast-acting digestive tract, and both times I’ve used ayauascha I’ve fasted 24 hours and, after ingestion, vomited twice, a brief inconvenience.
While my friend argues that the effects of ayauascha on the digestive tract rule it out as a “party” drug, I do foresee it’s use as a medicinal, because the digestive effects are both healthy and invigorating. On both of the occasions I’ve used ayauascha, I’ve felt incredibly well, both physically and psychologically, in the hours after the experience. It’s good for you – that’s what the shamans say, and that’s my story too.
As for the psychedelic effects, that’s another story altogether.
Tony Parisi regularly accuses me of burying the leads in my stories, claiming that I always leave the good stuff until somewhere in the middle. I guess I haven’t learned much from all this gentle admonition, because, yet again, I’ve waited until now to speak of my visions. You’ll see, however, that all of the proceeding was necessary to have any understanding of what comes after.
Although I had my choice of botanical entheogens, and mulled the decision quite a bit, in the end I had a reverie which convinced me that the path of ayauascha was the correct one. As I drifted off to sleep one evening, I saw four figures, each dressed in rather fab-looking suits, but each of them had the most hideously deformed heads, more plant than animal; one looked as if he’d been inside a pencil sharpener (the others I can not remember quite so clearly). These, I was informed, were my ayauascha allies, and would guide me through my experience.
That settled that.
Some of my friends have reported that the ayauascha experience is a real kick in the teeth; for this reason I’ve always approached ayauascha with a great deal of reverence, mixed with more than a little bit of fear. In the end, to become familiar with the power of ayauascha is to grow in reverence but lose the fear. It’s not harmless, but, as experiences go, I can name many others that are either more disorienting or terrifying. I suspect that in high doses – I was given a rather moderate “newbie” portion – ayauascha can rip you apart, leave you stranded in the Eagle’s maw, but this was not my experience. Perhaps that will happen to me – someday – but I found it no more intoxicating that a moderate experiment with LSD or mushrooms, certainly not in the range of the “heroic” voyages I’ve been on.
The singular quality of the ayauascha experience is the depth of the visions, which are both vegetal and unmistakably clear, not so much visual as intuitive. It’s all about knowing, about the experience of the other kingdoms of life on the Earth. Most of them have been here vastly longer than ourselves, and have experienced the growth of the Gaian body directly, expressed in their stepping-stairs of DNA.
All of that said, after things had quieted down at my friend’s home, he presented me with a cup of a thick, deep brown syrup, which tasted a lot like the scraped-up renderings from a vat of chocolate, sweet and yet simultaneously unpleasant. Quickly down the hatch – my stomach grumbled slightly, perhaps suspecting what was to come. It did have the peculiar aftertaste I had associated with my earlier experience with ayauascha, that taste you can never forget once it’s passed your lips.
“Hold it down for as long as you can,” my friend said as he left me to my own devices, “and make sure you turn the light off. That way you’ll see things.”
And I was alone.
To record any psychedelic experience – particularly a visionary one – in written language is a notoriously difficult thing to do. How can one refer to things that happen irrationally, to forms that appear on their own, then disappear back into the darkness? I could say that it reminded me, to some small degree, of my mycological investigations, but that’s not really accurate. Nor was it very much like any of my other psychedelic voyages. It had a quality entirely its own, and – as I understand it – is unlike the experience of smoking DMT, which is both quick and completely overwhelming.
Nothing happened for an hour, other than an occasional stomach reflux. Then I threw up. No nausea. I just knew I was going to boot my guts up and positioned myself over the trash can that had been prepared for this eventuality, and vomited. I held it down for an hour – good work on my own part – and realized that I had become rather light-headed, just as one does when an acid trip begins.
I turned the lights off, and for a while saw little other than a suffused deep blue glow – rather like my own phosphenes triggering an internal light show – but slowly, other forms began to appear. Almost like curtains hanging in the space before me, which then began to move toward me; I recognized them as my allies. They encouraged me to look toward over my left shoulder, and I did…
For the next hour I was immersed in imagery, and I remembered what my friend said about his first psychedelic experience, that he had in a short time seen more art than is preserved in all of the museums of the world. I felt this way, as form after form revealed itself. The only one I can remember distinctly at this point is an image of a human being wrapped up within a form that I can only think looked like the micro-etching of a field-effect transistor, the basic element of all digital circuits. It was as if the source for the transistor, which is a large, rectangular pad, opened up so that the human could slide into the gap between the source and the drain, almost as if he were crawling into a sleeping bag. Yet it was not a transistor, for it looked more vegetal, rather like a single cell, with its nucleus in a yellow-green and the body of the cell in a deeper chlorophyll.
I held on for as long as I could, but – perhaps an hour later – I threw up again. In both of my ayauascha experiences, the space between vomiting has been the place where things happened. I have a feeling this has something to do with the concentration of harmine and DMT in my body, a biochemical balancing act that ends when the remainder of the ayauascha is expelled.
I felt like I was on the other side of the experience now, invigorated, slightly tripped-out, and wide-open.
Boy, was I wrong.
I had not realized that the ayauascha had pushed me into a place that I’d never been before, that, even after the light show had ended, my spirit found itself looking out onto a vista that I had never before seen. I discovered it unexpectedly, when I went out to the deck to smoke a cigarette. My friend had informed me that the ayauascheros of Amazonia use tobacco like fiends, and he suggested that I might find it very intoxicating if I used it after the main thrust of the experience. I was still a bit shaky on my feet, but felt my way out the door in the dark, and satisfied my nicotine craving. It tasted good, tinged with the sweet flavor of the ayauascha which had made such a playhouse of my digestive tract, but it triggered in me a series of revelations that are still rumbling through my psyche.
I am an Eschatologist. By this, I mean to say that I study the way the Earth is coming to an end, a final culmination and consummation of the grand experiment of life. The meteorologist studies the weather, but the eschatologist studies which way the wind is blowing. The Grand Catastrophe, the twin bookend to the Big Bang, is coming. I argue that it’s coming rapidly, certainly within the lifetime of most of the people alive on Earth today. This scares my friends, because they think that an End is equivalent to Death. But birth is the eschatological event of conception, and, seen in this light, an end does not have to be a nullifying event; it could, just as easily, be an unconditional liberation.
I have seen the Eschaton many, many times, approached it from a multitude of directions, but all of these have in all ways been the human dimensions of something which, I now know, extends far beyond ourselves – even though we might be among the only species on the planet to be consciously aware of it. I have seen the growth of human knowledge, as described by our technological prowess, and can say that at some point our prowess becomes, for all intents and purposes, infinite; we will find ourselves extended in ways that can only be described as entirely magical. While I had wondered what role the Gaian biota played in this catastrophic transformation of human being, I had always presumed that we were the instigators, and the main players in this final act of life.
How could I have been so blind? Well, my eyes had not been opened. I’ll give myself that much.
One thing is certain; humans are acting as the sex-organs for this miraculous change. It is our unique capacity for generation which has made us the genitalia in this final flowering of Earth. Even this I had thought about, and have described a line of eschatological approach which blurs the boundary between the human individual and the Gaian biota until they become entirely indistinct and inseparable. Yet even this boundary dissolution I had seen only with human eyes, and as the product of human agency.
One of my wisest, oldest counselors once told me, “It’s not what you don’t know that’ll hurt you. It’s what you know that ain’t so.” And this idea of human agency just ain’t so. It’s an illusion. Control comes not from above – though we are all too accustomed to think in these terms – but from below. From beneath our feet.
Do the genitals have a say in their own arousal? No, they perform on cue, growing engorged with the fullness of the body, and act out their appointed roles. If sex is mostly in the mind, then this final consummation is contained principally in the Mind of Gaia. In the orgiastic climax which must inevitably terminate this catastrophic act of sexual reproduction, we are skin against skin, nerve against nerve, and the ebb and flow of human history is just so much thrusting which carries the act to its completion.
I saw myself, in the sunlight, astride the slopes of Mauna Loa, on a greening Earth. I saw myself not as myself, but as the archetypal human, the one who is many. And I became Earth, not just identified, or boundary dissolved, but quite literally as green and verdant as any plant who laid her roots within this mountain. I was absorbed into the body of the Earth, moss-covered, eroded, and finally I disappeared from view completely. But my consciousness remained; I was myself while simultaneously this self conflated with the Gaian whole. My self was the Earth.
Then I had a sudden, white flash of understanding, the kind that marks a structural break in my own being, from before to after. I knew, in this moment, that all of our work on the essence of physicality – all of our playing with atoms and robots and machinic intelligences – was just a red herring, that our job wasn’t to breathe life into the silicon we fabricated into our own servants, but rather that the Earth was already made of silicon, from the ground beneath my feet to the deep passages of the mantle, and was waiting to come into consciousness as we understand it, that the lithic phylum would be bootstrapped into self-reflection even as we sought to endow our own machines with this capability.
It’s certainly easy enough to see how this might happen; what if the gray goo which haunts the nightmares of nanotechnologists were put to work restructuring the lithosphere, to bring to it the ordering we now assign to semiconductors? It will certainly be possible, soon enough, and I knew, as I realized this, that this was the endpoint of the game we’re playing, that the machinic intelligences will not be alien and separate from us, because they gave birth to us. Kiluea, spitting out metric tons of silicon, created an organic computer in potentia known as Hawaii, whose earth now sang beneath my feet as I came to comprehend its enormous and nearly-unlocked potential.
Our job, in this final act of copulation, is to breathe life into the Earth.
But this was not all.
I can say – or rather, could say – that I had been to the rim, the edge of the Eschaton. I had seen it happen – to humanity – time and time again, all of the lines of ontos converging with the powers of techne, until we found ourselves utterly transformed. And I had thought, anthropomorphically, that this Eschaton was the Eschaton, for I had so identified the fate of humanity with the Gaian destiny that I could find no difference between them. In this, too, I had erred. The End of History is not the End of Earth, for this vision did not end as a view of Earth in space, at long last united with its human component; that vision I had had before, and have had repeatedly over the last decade. But I had not been given human eyes in this vision; I had identified with and become an element within the self-conscious planet. So humanity passed and was gone from the scene, yet I remained.
Picture the Earth, as I saw it, brightest blue floating against the starry black of space; for a long moment it seemed quiet, as if gathering itself in the post-human silence. Then, in just a flash of time, it exploded. I don’t mean the fiery wreckage we associate with the latest crop of death-from-above disaster movies, but rather, the way the milkweed pod explodes – gently – when , fully mature, it scatters its seed upon the winds. It seemed as though the Earth had puffed up and come apart, without violence, or sorrow. Rather, it came in a moment of complete dedication and absolute joy. The Eschaton of Humanity had somehow fulfilled the Gaian cycle, so that now it could give birth and seed itself into the universe around, carried on solar winds.
I was stunned. This had never occurred to me, and even as I saw it, I understood this “end” as a million million billion new beginnings, as Earth spread itself out to cruise the unenlightened regions of space, and bring to it a vitality beyond the nuclear, fertilizing this corner of the galaxy. The unity of the Earth, even in this fragmentation, remained, uninterrupted. We were all still part of this whole, and – as if to prove this – I found myself in two places at once, both looking upon the shattered body of the planet and simultaneously drifting away from it. From this I came to an understanding which may already be true but will be utterly clear, after this event:
Distance is an optical illusion.
There is no separation, ever; the Earth which has given birth to us will hold us, constantly, in its quiet embrace, wherever we might travel.
I can imagine that we will come raining down, first on Venus, Mars and Mercury, then on Jupiter, Ganymede, Io, Europa and Callisto, then to Saturn and her satellites, Uranus and Neptune, Pluto and the comets of the Oort cloud, finally coming to the planets which crowd the nearby stars. We will rain life down upon them, in the very structures of the soil that come to rest, by impact or by accretion, on their own bodies. In all of this the Earth will only grow, extend its natural habitat beyond the boundaries of the atmosphere, until it encompasses everything within reach. This, I would imagine, is the next stage in planetary evolution.
That, of course, has already been dreamed of, in the Starseed Hypothesis, which argues that life on Earth was itself seeded, through some process that spread the miracle of self-replicating DNA throughout the cosmos. The Martian bacteria certainly point in that direction, as they may have been the seeds of life on Earth, or may have been delivered from Earth to Mars in the same way. While I had formerly considered the Starseed theory at the fringes of possibility, I now consider it our own inevitability. We will leave the womb of the planet, but we will take the planet with us, much as the child carries the mother’s mitochondria within every cell. We are the Gaian matrix, the Matrix Mater, and our destiny is to fructify the universe.
That ends the visions.
My friend has had many visions of his own, and expressed a keen interested in hearing of my own time passed beneath the spell of ayauascha. I was still ordering my own thoughts, still hearing the Song of the Earth every time I became conscious of the bed of lava beneath my feet. (“We will join you,” it seemed to say.) I gave him, in brief, the recounting given here, placing particular stress upon the rising of the lithic strata into self-consciousness, telling him how humanity would disappear into the Earth.
That, he said, reminded him of the stories of the Faeries, the little folk who preceded modern humanity, who frolicked in the forests of Europe (though Faeries appear as archetypes within a wide range of cultures), and who – upon the advent of human civilization, disappeared into the hillsides of Britain, Ireland and all the world. Perhaps the Faeries, my friend argued, passed this same point in their own evolution, and left the surface of the Earth to play in the places beneath, translating themselves into invisibility by becoming the ground under our feet.
Knowing the tales of the Tuatha de Dannan, who arrived in silver ships from the north to a pre-human Ireland, and who vanished as the Celts came to those green isles, I wonder if the Faeries are still among us – as the legends claim – choosing to remain in their own dream-time until the End of Time calls them out to join with us in a greater unity. The Faeries are known to be mischievous, wise and disdainful of the coarse materiality many humans express. They have no wants but to dance and sing and play, a world that sounds more like what we’re headed for than anyplace we’ve ever known to have been. If any of my vision is true, then the legends of the Faeries tell us everything we need to know in order to follow them into the dream-time.
And so I came home, back to Los Angeles, the most advanced civilization created by man, to the roads and crowds and bad air, and could not look upon it as the terminus on the railway of history, but rather, as a provincial station which stands in the shadow of the central depot. We are more than we have ever been, but we are not yet all we shall soon become, so far beyond what any of us can comprehend that even to glimpse it is enough to stun the reason into silence. Inside this silence I have written these words, which convey at best only the smallest portion of what I seem now to understand intuitively.
There is no change of plan, no departure from our acceleration down the runway toward take-off. But we have confused ourselves that this plane is under our control, and heading to our destination – even if we can not say what that destination is. In fact, we are just passengers aboard it, and though we did build this plane ourselves, we seem ignorant of the fact that this vacation tour will take us to another world, stranger than we can know in our isolate selves. We look at the ground moving underneath us and fancy ourselves the masters of the World. But the World is its own master, and the air beneath our wings Her breath. That we will soon come to take flight is neither our own doing, nor our destiny.
Much love & the happiest of New Years,
4 Chuen – 8 Men (26 – 30 December 1998)