The Examined Life

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Great Pagliacci

A man was suffering from profound melancholy. He had seen the best doctors available and none were able to help him. He finally was referred to a physician famous for his powers to heal the soul. The doctor suggested that the man could find solace and end his melancholy in love. The man told the doctor that love was not the problem, that he was loved by many, many people.

The doctor’s next suggestion was that he should go on a voyage and experience other parts of the world. But the man responded that he had already visited every corner of the world. The doctor then recommended hobbies like arts or sports but the man's response to every one of the doctor's recommendations was that he had done all of those things and still had no relief. The doctor then suspected that the man was a compulsive liar. He could not have done all the things he claimed to have done.

But being an insightful man, the doctor had one final suggestion: “I have the perfect solution for you. You must attend the performance of the greatest comedian of our time. His performance will delight to the point of forgetting all your melancholy. You must attend the performance of the Great Pagliacci”.

The man looked at the doctor with great disappointment and said “If that is your final recommendation, I am indeed a lost man. There is no hope for me. You see, I am the Great Pagliacci”.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ayahuasca Flashback

The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.

- Albert Einstein

The lights of the city reflect in the bright metallic streetcar tracks. People are bustling about. The stop and go lights at the corners flash their neon commands. Automobiles whiz by on their way to the next appointed rendezvous.

Suddenly it all stops as if frozen in the cold night air and another identical but alternate reality appears as if I were witnessing everything for the very first time. It is a reality so transformed and unfamiliar I might as well be gazing into the nucleus of an atom or holding the cosmos in my hand.

Then just as suddenly, the world starts up again hardly having lost a beat. I am left with a sense of wonder that quickly recedes, into the past like a déjà vu. Can I really know what anything is? Or is every moment really just a leap of faith into the abyss of an unfathomable mystery? Where is this “I” that knows how to take a next breath? Who is this “I” that witnesses this  reality? Where will this “I” go when this world ends?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Shamanic Healing

In November of 2009 I spent ten days in a Peruvian jungle where I took part in a series of four ceremonies in which over 40 people drank Ayahuasca, a tea made from a plant used by the shamans of South America. This plant has been used for centuries to induce visions that allow the shaman to provide spiritual guidance and do healing for his community.

This adventure was an extraordinary and wondrous experience that took me beyond the farthest reaches of my imagination. I was left with insights that seemed to come from a place so beyond my ordinary experience of reality that to even begin to adequately describe them occurs as an exercise in futility. I must therefore allow the Ayahuasca experience to remain forever in the realm of the ineffable and trust that the transformative effects will speak powerfully through my being rather than my words.

People come to this experience from all over the world and out of their own specific motivation. I was there for a spiritual experience, but many of the others came for healing, both physical and mental. Regardless of the initial motivation I have no doubt that everyone there experienced something personally unique and extraordinary.

I have spoken to several friends about my experience and did a presentation and slide show. Invariably and most frequently, the question that I am ask is “Was anyone healed?” It is clear to me that what they want to know is if blind people miraculously begin to see or did crippled people throw down their crutches and begin to walk. And I tell them no, nothing like that happened. But I also tell them that great vistas and vast landscapes were opened before me which I saw without the use of my eyes. And that I traveled to great heights and distant lands without legs or wings.

Because we believe so completely that we are our bodies and minds we feel broken when our bodies and minds fail to function the way we, and others around us, have come to expect and demand. What is the real affliction? Is there really anything “wrong” in the universe or is it that we have chosen to reject and suffer with “what is so” rather than be grateful for our lives as they has been given to us?

Yes, I can say absolutely that there were miracles and healing that came out of the Ayahuasca experience. Is it not a miracle to come to know that we are more than our bodies, greater than our thoughts and emotions, and infinitely beyond our fears and doubts? Is it not a miracle to remember that everything we have been given is a task we chose, maybe even before we had a body, to work with in order to become more conscious and experience the fullness of what it is to be a human being? Can any true change or healing take place in our bodies or minds without first we see and feel the perfection of our lives just the way they are and the way they are not?

At the end of each ceremony the shaman asked us to sing as a group. One of the songs that I chose to lead the group in was Amazing Grace. It pretty well sums up what this experience provided for me. I quote the first verse here.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me....

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now, I see”