Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

As stressed in previous posts on the topic, Burning Man is whatever you make of it. It is a place to lose yourself and find new selves amongst the dust and ashes. Some people go for the music and dancing, a few brave souls are there to fight in the Thunderdome, others go for spiritual reasons. I go for a mixture of the above and the below. This post is going to be about finding spirituality in the dust of the Black Rock playa. This year’s Caravansary is going to be ripe with opportunities for growth, as long as you are open to them. To begin I would like to borrow from Ron Feldman, Ph.D., a religious scholar and writer I met at a previous Burning Man. Quoting from his piece Sleeping in the Dust at Burning Man,

“The Talmud says, ‘Three things are a foretaste of the world-that-is-coming: Sabbath, sunshine, and sexual intercourse’ (Talmud Berakhot 57b). In various ways, all three of these tastes of the messianic era are to be had at Burning Man, the weeklong festival that takes place in late August near Reno, Nevada.”

Burning Man definitely has the sunshine covered. Not just the sun, but also the moon. Both sun and moonrise are very dramatic on the playa due to the natural geographic features, it tends to extend twilight a bit and give things and otherworldly light. The surreal feeling is only made more intense by the ritualistic howling at the moon upon nightfall, a time honored Burning Man tradition increasingly forgotten. As the sun and moon are both important symbol for numerous faiths and spiritual practices this is a major plus no matter what your beliefs are. Sexual intercourse has its own important role in spirituality, most notably in tantric meditation and yoga practices. It would seem, after reading Ron’s piece, that all of Burning Man itself is a Sabbath, a separate place in time and space for the sacred to happen, outside of the everyday world. The Playa isn’t just a Sabbath for Jews and other followers of the Abrahamic faiths, it’s a sacred place for everyone of all faiths or lack there of (it can also be a great place to find your faith, in self or something higher than).

I was raised as a Nichiren Buddhist, but now I primarily identify as someone poly-spiritual, embracing many faiths. A major component of my current spirituality is the belief that spontaneity and serendipity work together to bring us omens and gifts from the universe (possibly through quantum entanglement on the sub-atomic level…a topic for another post). My first burn I camped with a coffee camp, one morning while serving coffee I happened to meet three people from a Nichiren Buddhist camp. Burning Man is a crucible for serendipity, it loves to bring people together who need to meet. Last Burn I met two brothers I grew up with from my time as a Nichiren Buddhist, we haven’t talked in years and  they just happened to camp across the road from my friends. That small thing, a choice in a camp site, has now rekindled a friendship.

Another major component of my spirituality these days is alchemy, and there is a whole village dedicated to it, Sacred Spaces. This camp hosts classes on alchemy, yoga, tantra, sacred dance, and more. The alchemy village also has some pretty awesome music going on every night, generally with a bit more of a tribal sound than the generic wubwub dubstep you hear broadly across the Burn.  I am definitely a fan.

So whether you are out there for the music, out there for the Sabbath, or just to talk to people about God Burning Man has a place for you. The Playa is a big enough desert for everyone to coexist without even needing a bumper sticker to tell them so. And really, we’re better off for it. The world could do with less Priuses driving around sporting more bumper stickers than the number failed Nader presidential campaigns. Burning Man is certainly great for the lack of cars, which also adds to the spiritual element. Everywhere you go out there feels like a pilgrimage, especially in a bad dust storm. You are living in the present, in the scene, without barriers like cars or cellphones to keep you distracted. Nothing cultivates a deep sense of spirituality faster than dwelling in these Zen moments where you are connected to what is happening around you.

For many westerners that may be as close as we ever get to meditating in our daily lives. Burning Man can be a time to meditate on life in very active ways, it all is a matter of what you welcome and allow into you while there. You will certainly be welcoming a barrage of dust onto your person and into your being; otherwise it will be a rough Burn. Speaking as someone very OCD about dirt, it is easier than you think to be at one with the dust. Embrace it, do a dust angel in it, do whatever you need to be okay with it. Like in Dune, know that the dust permeates all things out there, you will sleep in it, eat it, and breath it.

You will become the dust. The phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” comes to mind. We all will become dust together, Burning Man just serves to bring the transient nature of all things to the surface of our consciousness through the physical act of burning things. Once Burned the Man, Temple, and other art pieces are gone forever; just like the artists who made them will be gone to dust in time. Just like the cities they hailed from, and our very planet on a long enough time scale. Like mediation, this idea of all things coming to an end may be hard for westerners to handle. Many of them come from a religion that tells them their soul is eternal and will live on in Heaven, or they may embrace a materialistic culture that teaches them to ignore death to consume more in the present. The Sabbath at Burning Man helps undo these wrongs that have been done to the collective human conscious.

Stay tuned for another upcoming post on spirituality at Burning Man, reviewing the book The Electric Jesus.

Continuing where yesterday’s blog leftoff, here are some famous examples of stories, myths, historical and religious figures who conform to the archetype of the Hero’s Journey.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: The first 6 are all historical/religious but then I go on to movies/books and I’d hate to ruin a plot for you without warning you first.  Specifically, I discuss Stranger In A Strange Land, The Lord Of The Rings, and Fullmetal Alchemist.

Heracles with Cerberus.

1. Hercules/Heracles – Hercules is the Roman adaptation of the Greek hero Heracles, son of the god Zeus and a mortal woman, making him a demi-god. Heracles is most known for twelve trials he had to endure, one of which was going to the underworld to capture Hades three headed dog Cerberus. Going to the underworld of Hades is a figurative death Heracles passes through in order to best his labors and recover his sanity while achieving immortality. The purpose was not becoming immortal, that was merely a side perk, the main goal was atoning for slaughtering his children after he was driven mad by Hera.

Baby Achilles takes a bath in the River Styx.

2. Achilles – Another Greek hero, Achilles was also demigod like Hercules. Instead of being immortal like Heracles, Achilles was invulnerable to harm everywhere on his body other than his heel, creating the metaphor Achilles heel. His mother baptized him in the river Styx, the river of the underworld, which granted him immunity to harm everywhere except his heel, where she held him. Ultimately he died in the Trojan War, that grand battle to bring home the beautiful Helen of Troy to her native Sparta. Many warriors fought in this battle, some died; the cunning Odysseus, both Ajax the Great and Ajax the Lesser to name a few of the best known. Of all the many heroes mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey, the only one better known than Achilles is Odysseus himself who is a main character in both books. Achilles has gained eternal glory through his death for himself but more importantly for Greece.

Jesus Christ, Superstar!

3. Jesus – Jesus Christ was potentially a real person who lived in ancient Mesopotamia, born in 1 anno domini (AD). There is much dispute over whether Jesus was real or is myth, and the belief that he is the son of God. I believe he was a real man, likely not a pale Anglo white man. He was a religious philosopher of sorts and also had a stripe for politics, this won him few friends with the Romans who just loved crucifixion. Jesus preached a new way of doing things and shook things up in the social order which annoyed those in power. Jesus is said to be the son of God, the product of a miraculous birth, sent to earth to be killed to man’s sins, only to be reborn and go to Heaven. The story of Jesus is a perfect telling of the major steps in the Hero’s Journey.

Buddha under the Bodhi Tree.

4. Buddha – Buddha was a real flesh and blood man before attaining enlightenment, a prince from the Himalayan foothills named Siddhārtha Gautama. Unlike Jesus, there is no dispute about his existence, merely differences in opinion on the nature of his divinity and enlightenment. Buddha means “enlightened one,” and contrary to the beliefs of some there is not one Buddha but countless. Anyone can become a Buddha, an enlightened one, given the right environmental factors. For Siddhārtha, he needed to meditate under the sacred fig tree, now called a Bodhi tree in honor of the enlightenment achieved beneath its boughs, like a religious Sir Isaac Newton. Buddha does not physically die during his Hero’s Journey, but his ego is allowed to die. The death of the ego is a central to many Buddhist sects and The Buddha was the first to demonstrate how this can be done and why it is desirable. That was The Buddha’s glory.

President John F. Kennedy

5. John F. Kennedy – President John F. Kennedy was America’s youngest President until Obama, our first non-Protestant President, and a brilliant statesman/playboy. He was a real American hero on many levels who did a lot to advance civil rights and was an early advocate for wave-powered electricity, just to same some of his glorious exploits. He was tragically assassinated during his first term.

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr

6. Martin Luther King Jr. – Like JFK, Martin Luther King was assassinated for shaking up the present day politics. MLK and Malcolm X both occupied crucial roles in the civil rights movement, aided in a political capacity from JFK. Martin Luther King was a preacher who was instrumental to the success of the American civil rights movement, most known for his legendary I Have A Dream speech.

Rodin’s “”Caryatid Fallen Under her Stone,” a central piece of the allegory in the book, and an allegory for Mike himself.

7. Michael Valentine Smith – Mike is the main character in Stranger In A Strange Land, perhaps the most famous novel by Robert Heinlein. Mike is about as blatant a Jesus allegory as one can be without the Church coming after them for copyright infringement. A Muslim character even eludes to him being The Prophet reborn. While one can read a Jesus allegory in Stranger there is much more to the story than that. In the end of the book, Mike is martyred, not on a cross but in his own way and that is his death on the Hero’s Journey. But as anyone who has truly grokked the book knows Mike cannot really die, no one ever really dies as long as something has grokked them.

Gandalf, The Grey

8. Gandalf – In the Lord of the Rings there are several heroes who die but the one who best embodies the Hero’s Journey is the wizard Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf fights the Balrog in Morea and in the process is killed only to be reborn as the more powerful Gandalf The White. His death empowers him to further glory along his Hero’s Journey. Other heroes also die along the way, physical deaths, spiritual deaths, and perhaps even some deaths of ego.

Ed and Alphonse Elric.

9. Alphonse Elric/Edward Elric – In the anime Full Metal Alchemist both brothers experience various deaths along their journey, in both series and in the movie as well. Alphonse actually dies before the series even begins but his soul is brought back to the living world at the expense of his brother’s arm which is Ed’s first death, from there it continues until you wonder how either character keeps sane. Before all of that, the death that portends all others is that of their mother, her death is the catalyst that literally makes our heroes into the men they are destined to become.

I’m not talking about portabello mushrooms stopping world hunger. Nor am I talking about magic mushrooms making people hallucinate that they are saving the world. This post is about the myriad of fascinating solutions mushrooms, mycelium, and fungi offer to problems presented to mankind. While many of our problems are our own doing, mushrooms may be needed allies  to undo the damage.

You may be suffering from what mushroom researcher Paul Stamets refers to as mycophobia,  and now you may find yourself wondering, “how can mushrooms save anything? Get a job hippie.” This is regrettably a normal response for many when you begin a discussion with mushrooms can save the world. My love of mushrooms came from Paul’s amazing TED talk, go watch it then continue reading this blog.

You watched it now? Good.

Mushrooms have had more time to evolve than nearly anything else still living, they can do cool things like eat radiation and alter the weather, but that’s not all. Paul has six revolutionary ways mushrooms can save the world: cleaning up oil spills, cleaning up toxic waste, pest control,  biofuel manufacturing, and as a new generation of antibiotics. Most recently, it was shown that mushrooms form a natural Internet that all of the plants in the world are hooked into.

You may be thinking that a new generation of antibiotic drugs isn’t worth worrying about yet. If this is you, then you must have been living under a rock to not have heard about all the drug resistant bacteria running rampant and killing people uninhibited. If that doesn’t tickle you maybe a cure for small pox to help prevent biological warfare is more to your liking. Even if you aren’t worried about small pox everyone can do to be a bit healthier with better disease resistances, and it seems like the Reishi mushroom can do just that, maybe even cure cancer.

It is hypothesized that Jesus was a shaman, of sorts, who dolled out psychedelic mushrooms and mold to his followers to aid in his miracles. Clark Heinrich, the author of decade old book on Magic Mushrooms Religion and Alchemy, attests that Jesus used the fly agaric mushroom in conjunction with bread, like rye, who’s mold displayed ergotism. I first learned about rye bread and ergotism when I was 13 and ate a very special sandwich; that tuna sandwich remains my only LSD experience to this day (more truly LSA, a precursor to LSD). I do not recommend anyone trying to hallucinate in this manner as it is very risky and unpredictable if you will die or merely hallucinate. You’d be safer and better off eating psilocybin mushrooms.

Psilocybin has a lot more to offer than religious revelations, research shows that it can make you less depressed. The Multidisiplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (better known as MAPS) is at the forefront of research on psilocybin, MDMA, cannabis, and even more exotic things like ibogaine. Aside from helping relieve feelings of depression and other mental disorders, psilocybin also shows promise as a way to lower our socially imposed inhibitions allowing us to expand our consciousness. Perhaps that was Jesus’ greatest miracle and the real fruit of knowledge was actually a fungus.

Despite all these benefits that can lead directly to more happiness, not everything is perfect with psilocybin; bad trips can happen. I feel like most bad trips are the result of not being properly prepared, with psilocybin this includes preparing for feelings of “ego death.” Having experienced people shrooming with you and a baby sitter can help immensely. There are also people working to provide MAPS to safety from bad trips. Reading that MAPS post reminds me of my own personal harm reduction story with mushrooms, which happened at my first Burning Man. It was about 2am and an Australian man wandered up to me from an art car and said he had just been given mushrooms and it was his first time. He went on to say that he wanted to wander off into the darkness of the open desert alone, with no lights and no water. Over the course of a cigarette I gave him a light, some water, and directed him back towards his camp and away from the dangers of being high in the dark alone (getting hit by a car, for one). We need more people at festivals and concerts making sure everyone is tripping safely and responsibly. As a bartender at festivals I often risk reprimand from my bosses for giving out water or ice; I personally view charging for water at music shows as criminal, or something that should be. Having gone to many raves and seen the effects of people overheating firsthand I understand better than most how water can save lives.

Mushrooms can also save lives, with their amazing antibiotic properties and unique abilities to make formerly uninhabitable lands inhabitable. Mushrooms are the reason life was ever able to come to land due to their processing of rocks into soil allowing for the first plants to grow, creating the oxygen rich atmosphere we have grown to depend on. Prototaxites was a prehistoric plant that most scientists agree was a giant fungus, but recently an alternate view has been proposed that it was a liverwort. Mushrooms may also hold the keys to purifying our soils and air through the projects that Paul Stamets was working on. Paul isn’t the only revolutionary TED Talk about mushrooms, check out this one by Jae Rhim Lee.

Her project, the Infinity Burial Project, is a unique new approach to death and the ceremony of death. Jae has created a suit laced with mycelium that she will be buried in that will consume her remains and process the myriad of toxins that build up in a human body in the course of a life. This is the alternate she proposes to cremation, which pours those toxins into the air, or burial which has many other issues associated with it. Jae’s idea still allows for open casket funerals too. My favorite part is that it forces people to think about their death before it happens, something many Westerners never do. I was raised as a Nichiren Buddhist and have since read much about Tibetan Dzogchen Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists strive to live a life in harmony with death, rather than in fear of it like many of us in the West. This mushroom burial suit is one amazing tool to help cultivate a death consciousness in the West.