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The Basics of Spiritual Enlightenment
Spiritual Enlightenment transcends religion. It transcends thought. It transcends mind and its senses. And it conveys a level of wisdom and knowledge about life and the universe that is unparalleled. The concept of enlightenment implies complete understanding of life and the universe, which usually is accompanied by a detachment of all things impermanent and a complete awareness of everything that is, at the moment that it is.
Pretty cool, huh? Yeah. It’s what gave the Buddha his mojo, what gave Muhammad his immense understanding, and what gave Jesus (and Thomas) the power to heal people and perform other “miracles” (don’t forget Peter walked on water too). If you want to understand more about spiritual enlightenment, please read the article I posted that explains more about spiritual enlightenment here. This article is going to talk about the disciplines used world-wide to attain spiritual enlightenment.
I passed through the portal of the enlightenment experience about 12 years ago. I call it the “enlightenment experience”, because that’s what it was… an experience. It was an experience of my regular senses shutting down, to be replaced with amazing visions, sounds, realizations, epiphanies, and a melding with an intelligence and love so overwhelming it literally changed my life and granted me a wisdom of which I was not worthy beforehand. It was brought on by a deep focused meditation after a short prayer. If you would like to hear more about my enlightenment experience, watch the video (or read the transcript) I made about the first time I encountered it.
So how does one become enlightened? Well there’s not a set process. It just sorta happens. That said, it rarely happens to someone if they’re not looking for it. So intention is a good ingredient. But beyond that, there are quite a few commonalities among enlightenment stories globally and parallels within spiritual disciplines designed to bring on enlightenment that suggest we can make a few educated guesses on how to more easily get you there. Let’s first discuss my pet theory, then we can review how the world’s disciplines to achieve enlightenment support it.
My theory on how to attain spiritual enlightenment is simple: Stop all conscious thought in your mind, and the experience of enlightenment will occur. I suppose I could have made it sound much more mystical by saying “cease the noise that exists within your mind, and you will hear the truth that lies just beyond”… but I think you get the gist. In fact, from a scientific perspective, I believe that enlightenment is caused by certain chemicals that get released within the body during waking conscious hours when brain activity in certain areas of the brain is reduced below a presently non-defined threshold. We’ll discuss some evidence later in this article that supports this pretty strongly. For now, let’s take a look at the disciplines that typically lead to spiritual enlightenment, and then see how they individually stack up to this basic hypothesis.
The different disciplines / methods include:
Meditation (various forms discussed below)
Sweat Lodges / Physical Distress
Dancing / Quaking / Shaking
Near Death Experience
Depression / Despair
Spontaneous Enlightenment / Ego Death
There are a number of different types of meditation. Even some of the different disciplines in this very article can be considered forms of physical meditation. But regardless of the flavor of meditation, all types of meditation are connected with calming the mind and bringing conscious attention into oneself so as to reduce the focus on stuff going on outside of you. How does that fit our hypothesis? If you shut down external distractions, it becomes easier to reduce internal distractions, which is of course a baby step to ceasing all thought and attaining enlightenment. Here are the different types of meditation:
I. Mindfulness Meditation, is the popular term for a form of meditation called ‘Vipassana’ (vih-PAH-sah-nah), and it comes from the Buddhist tradition. It is probably the most popular form of meditation taught in the West, although it is usually not directly tied to Buddhism when it is taught. Vipassana focuses on being present wherever you are, letting your mind run freely, and simply observing whatever thoughts arise without judgement, and with full acceptance. Fans of Eckhart Tolle are familiar with this type of meditation. It’s about 2500 years old if not much, much older. The practice of observing one’s thoughts lets that person not be controlled by those thoughts, which then results in a detachment or separation of those same thoughts. Eventually, the process of not having your conscious attention drive new thought threads based on the spurious thoughts that fly through your mind (now doing so unmolested in meditation) allows the mind to eventually calm and quiet itself. Having the mind be calm and quiet is one step from having all conscious thought cease. Regardless of you ever being able to get to the point where conscious thought ceases, Vipassana has been shown through multiple studies to have dramatic positive effects on body and emotional health.
II. Sitting Meditation, called Zazen among Zen practitioners, is also very popular, although it is not always performed under the Zen umbrella. Zen, of course, is a form of practical Buddhism designed to lead directly to enlightenment through a conscious ceasing of all thought in the mind (sound familiar?). Zen koans are riddles that are designed not to have mindful answers to them, so that meditating on them may cause the mind to hiccup and stop thinking altogether. Good example: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” How could you think your way into a solution to that riddle? Zazen is your opportunity to practice that process.
Zazen is often referred to as ‘just sitting’, because the intention is that is all you do… you just sit… you don’t think. It is a minimalistic meditation, done for long periods of time, with focus on posture (sitting with the spine in alignment). It is the most difficult of all meditations, thanks to the pain associated with sitting motionless in perfect posture for potentially hours on end, but it has led thousands of people to enlightenment.
III. Walking Meditation
Walking meditation is a form of meditation in action. In walking meditation one uses the experience of walking as the focus. The practitioner becomes mindful of their experience while walking, trying to keep the awareness involved with the experience of walking. Walking meditation can be done anywhere, even between the parking lot and the grocery store. Often, it is done is out in nature, on a designated walking path, or around a space specifically designed for walking meditation, such as a labyrinth.
One of the biggest differences is that it’s easier, for most people, to be more intensely and more easily aware of their bodies while doing walking meditation, compared to sitting forms of practice. When your body is in motion, it is generally easier to be aware of it compared to when you are sitting still. When we’re sitting still in meditation the sensations that arise in the body are much more subtle and harder to pay attention to than those that arise while we’re walking, This can make walking meditation an intense experience. You can experience your body very intensely, and you can also find intense enjoyment from this practice. Walking meditation also fits within our thought reduction hypothesis, as that focus is reduced to sensations and awareness within the body.
IV. Transcendental Meditation is based in the traditions associated with Vedanta. Vedanta is the meditative practice within Hinduism. In TM, you sit in a comfortable position, while clearing the mind and focusing on a sacred mantra often assigned by a guru. Sometimes the mantra is chanted, sometimes not. Some newer forms of TM do not require a mantra.
In contrast to Zazen, a more relaxed sitting posture is recommended rather than a rigid one. Experienced TMers or yoga practitioners often sit in Full Lotus or Half Lotus when meditating.
Reducing mindful focus to repeating just one thing creates a space where the mind is just one step away from thinking of nothing… the cessation of conscious thought. Repetition of the mantra makes it a mindless practice. MIND-LESS… which hopefully then opens the door to the enlightenment experience.
While practicing TM, focus is given to separating from all things impermanent (emotions, thoughts, life situations, material posessions, etc.). TMers see their practice as a more dedicated and effective method of meditation, as that there is a progression of practice variations within its ranks. Ultimately, the goal is to achieve out of body experiences which are often the precursor to a full blown enlightenment experience.
V. Kundalini is also a practice that arises from the Vedantic traditions. Kundalini literally means ‘coiled’. The belief associated with Kundalini is that within the practice of yoga, a life energy… an unconscious, instinctive or libidinal force, also called ‘Shakti’… lies coiled at the base of the spine. Kundalini awakenings come from deep yogic meditation, which oftentimes result in enlightenment and bliss. In practical terms, one of the most commonly reported Kundalini experiences is the feeling of an electric current running along the spine. This can also be experienced as a heat coming from within the spine.
The practice of Kundalini attempts to help the coiled energy rise along the spine through energy centers called ‘chakras’. Breath control and proper posture help the energy rise through the top of the head to the ‘Crown Chakra’ which is the point where the enlightenment experience is then catalyzed.
Kundalini is described as a sleeping, dormant potential force in the human organism. It is one of the components of an esoteric description of the ‘subtle body’, which consists of ‘nadis’ (energy channels), ‘chakras’ (psychic centres), ‘prana’ (subtle energy), and ‘bindu’ (drops of essence). Kundalini meditation is also one that focuses on the body, bringing external distractions and thought to a minimum, thereby reducing the noise in the mind.
VI. Qigong is actually gets its roots from the martial art of Tai Chi, so it fits into both the meditation and martial arts categories, but from the meditation perspective, it is a form of Taoist meditation that practice to cultivate and balance qi (chi), what is commonly translated as “intrinsic life energy”. Qigong is literally translated as “life energy cultivation”.
The history of qigong dates back more than 4,000 years into ancient China. A wide variety of qigong forms are still used in Chinese culture, such as within traditional Chinese medicine, in Chinese martial arts to enhance fighting abilities, and in Taoism and Buddhism as part of meditative practice. From a practical perspective, qigong can be considered a very effective and relaxing standing or moving meditation.
VII. Guided Meditation is a form of meditation where an individual is verbally guided into an altered state of consciousness either by a person’s live voice or by a recording of a voice. This process and practice of meditation requires an individual to follow verbal instructions that teach the individual how to relax the entire body, clear the mind, concentrate on breathing, and focus one’s awareness and attention.
Sometimes the guide may help the meditator build a virtual environment to explore. Sometimes the guide may provide an imagined scene to help the meditator relax and enter a more thoughtless state. Focus is often targeted on observation, and non-judgement of the environment being imagined.
Prayer as it exists today in popular religious faith organizations is not really how prayer is supposed to be performed. As it is performed at the highest levels of almost any religious order, prayer is a silent contemplative listening for God, not an appeal for help, an internal conversation voiced to God, or a rote recitation of a practiced orison.
Contemplative prayer requires a silent mind. A listening mind. A peaceful and patient mind. A mind willing to wait for God to connect and commune and communicate with the wisdom and intelligence that can only be described with the word ‘Grace’. When it happens, this silent grace manifests itself as enlightenment. But even in the contemporary form of prayer, where the internal or external voice is used to communicate to God, the design of prayer is also enlightenment.
The religious beads used to aid in counting the repetitive recitation of the same prayer over and over is designed to reduce thought in the mind to only the prayer being performed. The Catholic practice of assigning multiple recitations of the same prayers for penance is designed to reduce the mind’s thoughts to just performing the one same prayer, which not only calms the mind, but the focus on just the one thing is only one step away from the mind being focused on no thing. The entire designated intent of repeating the same prayer over and over until it becomes a mindless automated activity is that it reduces the mind’s focus to one thing… which again… is one step away from the focus being on no thing, or no thought, which then triggers enlightenment ( a direct communion with God).
I believe it was for this very reason that Jesus reduced his disciples’ prayer options to but one prayer; the Lord’s Prayer. Again, focus on one thing is only one step from focus on no thing, which then flings the internal doors to the Kingdom of Heaven open wide.
Chanting is the rhythmic speaking or singing of words or sounds, often used for the purpose of aligning internal spiritual energy with the divine. Chants may range from a simple melody involving a limited set of notes to highly complex musical structures, often including a great deal of repetition of musical subphrases, such as Great Responsories and Offertories of Gregorian chant. Chanting (including mantras, sacred text, the name of God/Spirit, etc.) is a commonly used spiritual practice. Like prayer, chant may be a component of either personal or group practice. Diverse spiritual traditions consider chant a route to spiritual development.
Chanting as spiritual practice is used in African, Hawaiian, and Native American cultures, Gregorian chant, Vedic chant, Qur’an reading, Baha’i chants, various Buddhist chants, various mantras, and the chanting of psalms and prayers especially in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican churches.
Chant practices vary. Tibetan Buddhist chant involves throat singing, where multiple pitches are produced by each performer. The concept of chanting mantras is of particular significance in many Hindu traditions and other closely related Dharmic Religions. For example, the Hare Krishna movement is based especially on the chanting of Sanskrit Names of God in the Vaishnava tradition. Japanese Shigin (詩吟), or ‘chanted poetry’, mirrors Zen Buddhist principles and is sung from the Dan tien (or lower abdomen) — the locus of power in Eastern traditions.
Chanting is designed to be a repetitive activity that then reduces the mind’s focus to the one action. Being focused on the one activity is one step away from being focused on no activity, or no thought.
There are countless styles of yoga that exist, almost all of which are birthed from Hindu tradition. One of the most detailed and thorough expositions on the subject comes from the Hindu tradition, the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, which defines yoga as “the stilling of the changing states of the mind”. Yoga has also been popularly defined as “union with the divine” in other contexts and traditions. Various traditions of yoga are found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. Western versions of yoga are now being separated from its eastern philosophical roots, but one primary foundation of yoga that cannot be removed is that it is a discipline designed to bring the mind and actions into focus on the body.
As the mind is trained to focus on the body, and the body is trained to work more efficiently and be more healthy, the combination of the activity of the mind’s focus and the body’s exhaustion while practicing creates a prime environment for enlightenment to occur within the practitioner. In addition, the repetitive nature of the yogic movements provide the mind an opportunity not to think about what you’re doing. Physical stress on the body can assist with with the cessation of conscious thought so as to catalyze the release of the chemicals in the brain that cause the enlightenment experience.
5. Martial Arts
The parallels between practicing martial arts and practicing yoga are pretty clear. Both are a strenuous physical practice of repetitive motions that demand a high amount of mental discipline.
Contrary to the contrived connection between enlightenment with popular martial arts such as Karate, Tae Kwon Do, or Jiu Jitsu, commonly identified as external or physical arts, there also exists a number of internal or mind focused arts such as Qigong, Tai Chi, and Budo.
The repetitive nature of martial arts movements allows for the mind to quiet and be focused into the body, thereby reducing conscious thought. In a way you could say that martial arts and enlightenment have nothing to do with each other. On the other hand, you could say that martial arts have as much to do with enlightenment, and that enlightenment is the entire purpose of all the martial arts. The possibility of enlightenment is of course always present. Nonetheless, particularly because of the association of Zen and Budo, we must assume there is a connection with some arts. O-Sensei, the Founder of Aikido, was enlightened.
Most spiritual religions and traditions practice some sort of fasting, a practice that generally means going without food for a certain period of time. According to the Bible, Jesus fasted for 40 days. As did Siddartha Gautama, the first recorded Buddha. The Islamic holy period of Ramadan requires fasting, as does Judaism during Yom Kippur. But why is a food fast so important to spirituality? It’s quite simple and logical, really. Because food is a necessity for life, it is a habit that we MUST indulge in, several times a day. Thus, it becomes a sort of a “God” to us. By depriving yourself of this food God for a specified period of time, you become closer to the one true God.
You begin to rely on the spiritual sustenance of God rather than the physical sustenance of food.
To meditate, pray and/or read spiritual books frequently during fasting has sometimes helped practitioners to initiate enlightenment experiences. Schedule as much spiritual contemplation as possible during a fasting period; after all, from a traditional perspective (although there are health benefits to fasting from food), spiritual enlightenment is the reason for your fast. Many people have reported spiritual breakthroughs during prolonged fasting periods.
7. Sweat Lodges / Physical Distress
Sweat lodges have recently gotten some bad press, thanks to a supposed spiritual teacher who moved to strip the sacred traditions out of the Native American foundations of the sweat lodge experience and hold part of a retreat in a contemporary tent not designed for the ancient ritual. People died. Others went to the hospital with extreme dehydration. But the ritual of sweat lodges, when performed to the guidelines set forth by the Lakota Nation and other Native American groups who practice the spiritual discipline, can be exceptionally effective at triggering an enlightenment experience in a spiritual seeker.
When the body falls into a deep form of distress (including that caused by the high heat and profuse water loss caused by a sweat lodge), the brain (as part of the body) also falls into distress. As the brain falls into distress, thought in the brain decreases and becomes less patterned, bringing the mind into a much more focused state. Even level 2 and 3 hypothermia includes not having control of your conscious thought. And this natural phenomenon can assist in the process of spiritual discovery. Thus in a sweat lodge, the mind is actually brought to a stop for some people through physical intervention of its proper operation, triggering enlightenment.
8. Dancing / Quaking / Shaking
Just like physical distress can cease conscious thought, physical exhaustion can do the same. Subsequently, dancing to excess (such as within ritualistic ceremony), and similar activities such as quaking and shaking can initiate the cessation of conscious thought that catalyzes the enlightenment experience.
The founder of the Quaker Religion, George Fox was an enlightened master. “The Lord showed me, so that I did see clearly, that he did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in people’s hearts… his people were his temple, and he dwelt in them.”
Quakers got their name from the physical movements their bodies made for extended periods during attempted communion with God (attempts to achieve enlightenment). Similarly, the Shaker religion, also birthed from the Society of Friends groups that provided Quakerism its roots (not to mention the first religion in America to espouse equality of the sexes), focuses on allowing their bodies to shake so as to be “taken by the Spirit”.
This is the only activity that does not directly point to the cessation of conscious thought as a result of the activity, however, it does fall in line with reducing one of the largest factors that can inhibit enlightenment, that factor being the ego. Ego is the mind’s sense of self. And often it is our sense of self that inhibits us from discovering our deeper sense of self uncovered through the enlightenment process (and which replaces our original sense of self.
Oftentimes our familiar surroundings help support our existing sense of self, and remind us of the illusion of who we think we are. So in our quest of discovering the deeper truth of who we are, it makes sense that getting out of our familiar surroundings is a great step in removing our grasp on our existing sense of self. And so enters the option of making a pilgrimage.
Pilgrimages are designed to remove us from our familiar surroundings and take us to a place that we perceive as more holy, or more targeted to bring about a greater sense of meaning and purpose than our familiar surroundings do. Many people travel to Jerusalem in this effort to find a more holy place. Some people visit Mecca during the Hajj, which Islam requires to be done at least once in a Muslim’s lifetime. Many Buddhists climb great mountains to sit in small humble but sacred temples. Oftentimes a pilgrimage can take the form of visiting a spiritual retreat.
In the grand scheme, it doesn’t necessarily remove conscious thought from your mind, but it does remove a large sense of you from your mind, replacing it with unfamiliar surroundings, and more ideas of a spiritual nature that you might not have in your regular environment. And those babysteps can be super helpful when trying to replace what you know with what you want to know when you tap into the sacred knowledge and wisdom that comes with passing through the enlightenment experience.
10. Sensory Depravation
Sensory depravation tanks are a favorite place for me to relax. They are a completely dark and quiet place of respite from the world and how it reacts on our five senses. Inside an SDT, about 12 inches of body temperature salt water allow you to float effortlessly, experiencing a feeling of weightlessness in your own body. In addition, no light enters the tank, so your sight is neutralized. In the best environments, no sounds should be able to be heard. Oxygen and nitrogen levels in the air are maintained so as to provide no smells that can be detected, and even if they are, olfactory senses naturally zero out after 10 minutes anyway. So an SDT becomes the perfect place to reduce your outside sensory distractions so as to be able to enter a deep meditative state.
When you reduce the noise in your head, it becomes easier to reduce the noise in your head even more. I have spoken to a number of people who have experienced psychedelic enlightenment experiences in an SDT thanks to its capability to assist in clearing the mind and focusing attention on what is going on within you, reducing your conscious thought to the lowest level possible.
Rental SDTs exist and are becoming more popular in spas across America and elsewhere. If you can find one, I highly suggest getting a package of 5 – 10 sessions (one or two just won’t do), so as to experience the removal of your regular senses, so as to open up the other senses you didn’t even know you had.
11. Near Death Experience
When you almost die then come back, during that process the brain shuts down and conscious thought ceases. This section really deserves its own post, and hundreds of scientific books have been written on the near death experience and its association with spiritual topics and mystical awakenings. But regarding our active search for spiritual enlightenment, please don’t attempt a near death experience in your search for awakening. You might not awaken, period. There are many easier and less risky ways to seek enlightenment.
12. Depression / Despair
When psychological pain becomes too much to bare, and suffering piles up so much and becomes so large that you can’t even think about anything else but the psychological pain and agony you are experiencing… the simple truth of the fact is that you are but one step away from… thinking of nothing.
Explained very frequently as “the dark night of the soul”, psychological pain is a very common catalyst of initiating the enlightenment experience. From a more profound or spiritual perspective, it could be said that God reveals Himself to those who who need Him most. And who might need God more than someone being ground up in the sharp bottom gravel of life’s downcycles? I could think of no one who might need God more than a person so down that they may wish life to end before it goes on.
Although I believe this is the most common catalyst out of which unexpected enlightenment experiences blossom, I wouldn’t suggest throwing yourself into a deep dark despair before reaching out to God for answers and meaning. There are numerous other ways to attain enlightenment that are much more enjoyable. Although, that said, I expect this accidental method of spiraling into the pits of agony, which then focus the mind on nothing but the pain, to be a rather common (though unpopular) way of attaining enlightenment for centuries to come. 13. Mortification of the Flesh
Also called self flagellation, self infliction of pain through intentional damage of the human body works on the same functional path that psychological pain and suffering works through. When the pain becomes all you can focus on, you are but one baby step away from the mind shutting down completely, causing the experience of bliss that accompanies spiritual awakening (potentially also then augmented by a dopamine release). But there are other theories about why mortification is practiced in global spiritual circles.
In the same way that people who change their appearance through painful means will sacrifice and deny themselves pleasure in order to attain some physical or material goals, some people voluntarily perform self-inflicted sacrifices in order to receive spiritual or intangible goals, e.g. union with God, a higher place in heaven, expiation for other people’s sins, self-realization, or the conversion of sinners.
The Rev. Michael Geisler, a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature in St. Louis, wrote two articles explaining the theological purpose behind corporal mortification. “Self-denial helps a person overcome both psychological and physical weakness, gives him energy, helps him grow in virtue and ultimately leads to salvation. It conquers the insidious demons of softness, pessimism and lukewarm faith that dominate the lives of so many today” (Crisis magazine July/August 2005).
Members of the modern Church of Body Modification (CBM) believe that by enduring pain they make a connection to their spirit. Some indigenous cultures’ shamans believe that endurance of pain or denial of appetites serves to increase spiritual power.
Some theologians explain that the redemptive value of pain makes pain lovable in its effects, even though by itself it is not. Pain is temporal and limited, thus to undergo it is worthwhile to gain the real benefits. For those with this viewpoint, pain is seen as a means to an end. Thus, a modern Catholic saint, Josemaria Escriva said, while consoling a dying woman who was suffering in a hospital, “Blessed be pain! Glorified be pain! Sanctified be pain!”
One thing remains constant, however: Pain is created within the mind. If the mind is overcome, union with God can be attained.
14. Psychedelics (including the very catalyst of Enlightenment)
If you listen to the propaganda, it would be easy to be convinced (as I was for decades) that psychedelic drugs are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, the science simply doesn’t support these conclusions. The simple facts are that psychedelics are almost impossible to overdose on, they are exponentially safer than legal drugs such as caffeine and alcohol, which kill tens of thousands of people yearly, and most of them help convey a very profound experience akin to that of full blown spiritual enlightenment. Let’s discuss a number of the most popular and potent external catalysts to spiritual / mystical experience (and by the way, all of these under brain scan are shown to reduce activity in the conscious thinking centers in the brain):
I. The All Natural Psychedelic That Is Actually the Cause of Enlightenment
The scientific/physiological explanation of the spiritual enlightenment experience is that enlightenment is the result of the consciousness expansion that occurs when endogenous DMT (di-methyl-tryptamine) is released into the blood stream during waking consciousness. DMT is a natural chemical generated by numerous organs your body, including your lungs, your liver, and your brain. In fact, DMT is so common within your body, it is released every night during your REM sleep cycle. Coincidentally, it is also the most potent psychedelic substance known to mankind (by a large margin).
II. Manufactured DMT
If you can’t get your body to release your own DMT through meditative or other practices, there’s always the option of going somewhere to get some manufactured DMT and select a method of getting it into your body that way. The options include smoking it, taking it intravenously, and potentially taking it orally through a potent tea drink called Ayahuasca (detailed in the next section). Please note that DMT is a Schedule I controlled substance in the US, and thus highly illegal to possess unless you are a member of the UDV church, which has Supreme Court clearance to consume Ayahuasca as part of their religious ceremonies.
Taking exogenous (outside the body) DMT will deliver the same type of experience you would get if you urged your body into an endogenous (internal to the body) DMT flush sourced from the pineal gland in the brain, and although I’ve never tried it, I would assume the enlightenment experience is similar in either case. The chance of overdose on DMT is almost impossible, the effect of the drug kicks in immediately (within 30 seconds), peaks at 5-10 minutes, and is completely metabolized by the body within 20-30 minutes (at which point you are completely unaffected again). You can find a number of videos on YouTube where consciousness expanders have actually recorded their DMT sessions and put them up for review.
III. Ayahuasca (orally administered brewed DMT)
Ayahuasca is a brew of various psychoactive infusions prepared with the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. It is usually mixed with the leaves of dimethyltryptamine (DMT)-containing species of shrubs from the genus Psychotria. The caapi vine acts as a natural monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) which allows the DMT to become orally active. DMT would normally be digested and neutralized by gastric juices on contact after reaching the stomach. The tea, first described academically in the early 1950s by Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, who found it employed for divinatory and healing purposes by the native peoples of Amazonian Peru, is known by a number of different names, including ‘la purga’ (the purge) because of its extreme purgatory physical effects (people often vomit afterward, and/or experience diarrhea – it is an extremely effective treatment for intestinal parasites that sometimes are found in the jungles of the Amazon).
It has been reported that some mind expanding effects can be had from consuming the caapi vine alone, but that DMT-containing plants (such as Psychotria) remain inactive when drunk as a brew without a source of monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) such as B. caapi. How indigenous peoples discovered the synergistic properties of the plants used in the ayahuasca brew remains a mystery. Many shamans (the keepers of the practice) say the plant spirits themselves told them how to make ayahuasca.
If you want enlightenment in a cup, this is it. You WILL pay a price physically for consuming it, but almost everyone who I have met who experienced ayahuasca say it is well worth the trip to Peru, the vomiting, and the diarrhea to experience the mystical / spiritual experience that the magic mixture conveys. In addition, almost everyone I meet who has drunk ayahuasca plans to drink it a second or multiple additional times, calling it the most profound experience of their entire lives.
IV. Psilocin / Psilocybin (Mushrooms)
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms, collectively known as psilocybin mushrooms. The most potent are members of the genus Psilocybe, such as P. azurescens, P. semilanceata, and P. cyanescens, but psilocybin has also been isolated from about a dozen other genera. As a prodrug, psilocybin is quickly converted by the body to psilocin, which has mind-altering effects similar to those of LSD and mescaline. The effects generally include euphoria, visual and mental hallucinations, changes in perception, a distorted sense of time, and in addition spiritual enlightenment experiences. With psilocybin adverse reactions are also possible such as nausea (which can accompany the good effects) and also panic attacks (set and setting are critical when taking psychedelics).
Imagery found on prehistoric murals and rock paintings of modern-day Spain and Algeria suggest that human usage of psilocybin mushrooms dates back thousands of years. In Mesoamerica, the mushrooms had long been consumed in spiritual and divinatory ceremonies before Spanish chroniclers first documented their use in the 16th century. In a 1957 Life magazine article, American banker and ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson described his experiences ingesting psilocybin-containing mushrooms during a traditional ceremony in Mexico, introducing the drug to popular culture. Shortly afterward, the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann isolated the active principle psilocybin from the mushroom Psilocybe mexicana. Hofmann’s employer Sandoz marketed and sold pure psilocybin to physicians and clinicians worldwide for use in psychedelic psychotherapy. Although increasingly restrictive drug laws of the late 1960s curbed scientific research into the effects of psilocybin and other hallucinogens, its popularity as an entheogen (spirituality-enhancing agent) grew in the next decade, largely owing to the increased availability of information on how to cultivate psilocybin mushrooms.
Recent studies by Johns Hopkin University on high dose psilocybin experiments showed long lasting positive psychological effects in a high percentage of study subjects. In fact, 78 percent of the volunteers were reporting one of the top five most spiritually significant happenings of their lives. Enlightenment in a veggie. Again, these mushrooms are a Schedule I controlled substance, so take caution in attempting to attain any.
Lysergic acid diethylamide, abbreviated LSD or LSD-25, also known as ‘acid’, is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug of the ergoline family, well known for its psychological effects which can include altered thinking processes, closed and open eye visuals, synesthesia, an altered sense of time and spiritual experiences. It is also well known for its key role in 1960s counterculture. It is used mainly as an entheogen, recreational drug, and as an agent in psychedelic therapy. LSD is non-addictive, is not known to cause brain damage, and has extremely low toxicity relative to dose. However, adverse psychiatric reactions such as anxiety, paranoia, and delusions are possible.
LSD was first synthesized by Albert Hofmann in 1938 from ergotamine, a chemical derived by Arthur Stoll from ergot, a grain fungus that typically grows on rye. LSD is typically delivered orally, usually on a substrate such as absorbent blotter paper, a sugar cube, or gelatin. In its liquid form, it can also be administered by intramuscular or intravenous injection. LSD is very potent, with 20–30 µg (micrograms) being the threshold dose. New experiments with LSD started in 2009 for the first time in 40 years, and the results for treatment of PTSD, stress, depression, and other psychological issues have been highly positive.
VI. Peyote / Mescaline
Lophophora williamsii is a small, spineless cactus with psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline. It is known by many English common names including cactus pudding, devil’s-root, diabolic-root, divine cactus, dry-whiskey, dumpling cactus, Indian-dope, mescal-buttons, turnip cactus, whiskey cactus, and white-mule. The Spanish common name is peyote; from the Nahuatl word peyōtl. Native North Americans are likely to have used peyote for at least 5,500 years. It is native to southwestern Texas and Mexico. It is found primarily in the Chihuahuan desert and in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi among scrub, especially where there is limestone.
Known for its psychoactive properties when ingested, peyote is used worldwide as an entheogen and supplement to various transcendence practices, including meditation, psychonautics, and psychedelic psychotherapy. Peyote has a long history of ritualistic and medicinal use by indigenous Americans. It flowers from March through May, and sometimes as late as September. The flowers are pink, with thigmotactic anthers (like Opuntia).
VII. Eating Cannabis
Not smoking pot. Eating it. While smoking cannabis provides a large number of positive health benefits, the psychedelic capabilities of smoked cannabis pale in comparison to what doors are opened within you when you eat it.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is generally considered to be the primary active substance in cannabis. Along with other psychoactive cannabinoids, THC is a hydrophobic oil, meaning it is insoluble in water but soluble in lipids (oil/fat) and alcohol. Using either one of these to extract THC from cannabis is required to have the cooked product be psychoactive. During preparation the cannabis or its extract must be heated sufficiently or dehydrated to cause decarboxylation of its most abundant cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, into psychoactive THC.
The oil-solubility of cannabis extracts has been known since ancient times, as evidenced by Sanskrit recipes from India. Making a tea by boiling cannabis in water is a highly inefficient way to extract cannabinoids, although if the cannabis is of good quality and has plenty of resin on the outside, a portion of resin can be softened by the heat and float out into the water. Adding milk (which contains fat, water, proteins and electrolytes as well as certain sugars) when steeping, however, makes it much more efficient than using plain water, and this technique has been used for thousands of years in India to make the drink bhang.
Some claim that oral consumption of cannabis, when properly cooked, is a more efficient way to absorb cannabinoids than smoking it. Oral consumption of cannabinoids can result in a similar and more powerful psychoactive effect or “high” as smoking marijuana, although it may be delayed or mitigated due to slower absorption of the THC from the digestive tract. Whereas the effects from smoking cannabis are usually felt within a few minutes, it can take up to two hours to reach full effects after ingesting it.
I plan to eat some pot brownies and take a 2 hour float in a sensory depravation tank. I’ll let you know how it goes.
VIII. Other Psychedelics
You can find good information on Ketamine, Ibogaine, Ecstasy (MDMA), and other psychedelic / mind altering drugs on Wikipedia. To cover every potential enlightenment catalyzing drug would be space and time prohibitive for this post.
15. Spontaneous Enlightenment
If you don’t like any of these natural and non-natural ways to achieve your spiritual awakening, spiritual enlightenment has been known to spontaneously occur also. I spoke to someone who attained in a dentist’s chair once. He wasn’t even seeking. It changed his life. I wouldn’t count on this path, however. As the Buddha once said (as recorded in the Chiggala Sutta), that the likelihood of a spontaneous enlightenment of a man could be compared to the likelihood that a sea turtle who rises once every 100 years for a breath were to stick it’s neck through a yoke of a piece of wood floating on the surface of the ocean. Best of luck finding enlightenment without seeking. Personally, I would start at the top of the list, and make my way through the disciplines. You’re almost guaranteed to attain enlightenment before having to rely on spontaneous attainment.