Reviving Terence McKenna
Terence McKenna, known as the Psychedelic Philosopher, challenges our well-established and deeply rooted ideas about the nature of reality and perception. Although he passed away in 2000, he is still encouraging us to look beyond our conditioned assumptions and free ourselves from the limitations of our inherited belief systems.
The dictionary defines psychedelic as “of or noting a mental state characterized by a profound sense of intensified sensory perception, sometimes accompanied by severe perceptual distortion and hallucinations and by extreme feelings of either euphoria or despair.”
One of his famous quotes is "What psychedelic means is getting your mind out in front of you —by whatever means necessary— so that you can relate to it as a thing in the world, and then work upon it."
Terence McKenna, an Irish-American born in Colorado, stressed felt experience over reliance on dogma. Conditioning locks us into bad behavior. In his talk, “This World and Its Double”, he says, “We have the technological power, the engineering skills to save our planet, to cure disease, to feed the hungry, to end war; But we lack the intellectual vision, the ability to change our minds.” McKenna was a proponent of using naturally occurring psychedelic substances to assist with this de-conditioning and to explore other states of mind.
Not only a philosopher, teacher, researcher and writer, McKenna was also a charismatic speaker about consciousness, alchemy, evolution, and various other topics. If you have an opportunity to listen to one of his talks, I highly recommend it. His use of language is awe-inspiring in its creativity and ability to vault you into new understandings of the magical and mysterious, while jarring your mind with the shock of its humor. He has an amazing skill of stringing together metaphors that can pull you out of your self-imposed apathy.
Unfolding the Stone
I recently had the pleasure of listening to his talk “Unfolding the Stone”, given back in June of 1991. Here are some of the gems I captured from it…
He says, “Fate can be overcome” through magic, which is an empowering force, our very own divinity. Fate, as deciphered in the study of astrology for example, can leave us feeling powerless, especially if we believe we don’t matter in the grand scheme of creation.
Modern education teaches us that history is random and meaningless, characterized by a causality that can’t be changed, making us feel caught in a course out of our control. McKenna sees history as a novelty that is intricate and ever increasing, where everything is saved and passed on, coalescing into the present moment. History is the “alchemical engine for forging an alchemical humanity”.
Alchemy, McKenna says, is where “spirit can be redeemed from matter”. Alchemy has always perceived that we now exist in “a dimension of greater opportunity, greater freedom, greater possibility, than has ever been.” Our challenge is to not “drop the ball”. Our part is to work on our small section of the whole, to work on ourselves, to heal the damaged psyches we inherited. If we see this as a gift, though, we can begin the process of “distillation, sublimation, and casting of ourselves into the golden being, a luminous creature”.
Magic he defines as “reclaiming and reconstruction of language to a sufficient degree that it becomes at first possible, then probable, then inevitable, that miracles can happen.” The “mind conjures miracles out of time”. The proof of this lies in Earth’s history, where nature constantly raises the ante ever higher.
“Nature loves courage.” When we make the commitment, nature will honor our commitment by moving what previously appeared to be impossible obstacles. Hurling ourselves into the unknown and discovering it is “a feather bed” is the essence of magic. Courage, first of all, is telling “society to f*** off”.
Alchemy’s greatest strength is in its wisdom of seeing that everything exists in the presence of its opposite. McKenna gives the example of birth where nature bound “pain and ecstasy, death and completion, regeneration and dissolution all in that experience”. Today we are “the last people. Beyond us lies the mystery if only we have the courage to move forward into the abyss, to believe nature rewards the dreamer.” We need to do the alchemical work of perfecting our own sense of the union of opposites, so we will stand ready at the end of history, to be a partner in the transformation of the our planet, and to find our own completion.
As we stand on this precipice of transition, the power of our imaginations is needed to “bootstrap itself to higher and higher levels”. It is our imagination that will lift us out of time to go beyond our fate. We need to invoke our magical selves and choose the opposite of that which has influenced us up to this point.
McKenna’s message is for everyone. No one is more special than another. If his message was only for “some kind of elect”, then he says it would have no impact, no ability to save the planet. It is a truth that belongs to us all.
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