Random Initiations

In the summer of 1999 I met a Cambodian Buddhist monk. I was working at The Elements of Life bookstore on State Street in New Haven Connecticut. This was the typical metaphysical kind of place. Newage music, crystals, books, all manner of spiritual tchotchkes, Goddesses, Gods, jewelry, prayer beads, the amorphous scent of every incense rolled into one permeating through out the space…. there was a diverse clientele of seekers and the curious. Any day could be a social/retail mixture of unmedicated mental illness, the true confessions of personal experiences, ghosts, weird pictures of blurry things, revenge seekers & spell casters, pagans, Wiccans, and the occasional scholar looking for resources. I called my three years working there bootcamp for the woo. I heard every kind of weird, wacky, and unhinged concept and story on everything thing from aliens to doomsday. And just when I thought I had heard everything someone would walk through that door and enlighten me with some thing new and fantastic.

I enjoyed the retail environment of the place. It was a magnet for the fringy folks but it also was a hub for interesting conversations and meeting people who I might not have in another kind of setting. The environment disarmed people enough to feel comfortable and open up about their inner workings about “God” and mysterious things.

New Haven in the late 90s was going through a growth spurt. The East Rock area was a pleasant place to live. I rented a first floor apartment on corner of Orange a Bishop streets. The area had just about every thing one would want within walking distance. I live three blocks away from the Elements of Life Book store. I work there 3 days a week.

It was a July day when I was at the back of the store talking with my boss when door jingled and in came the current Abbot of the New Haven Zen center. I started to make my way to the front of the store to help him and as I came around the CD case I nearly bumped in to a strange looking man who had come in with the Abbot. He was wearing a florescent orange wool hat, wrapped in orange fabric. We smiled at each other and then he busied himself with finding small gifts to bring to Washington DC. This monk was in route to go see the Dali Lama speak. As he moved about the store I could not stop smiling. I felt this joy coming from him. It was infectious… this odd looking orange wrapped being was truly embodied with a sense of purpose and presence.

That my introduction to the venerable Maha Gosananda ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preah_Maha_Ghosananda ) He was the spiritual leader of Cambodia. After the fall of the Khemer Rouge government (1978) he when into the refugee camps and taught/ reintroduced Buddhism to his people.

I read his book Step by Step ( https://books.google.com/books/about/Step_by_Step.html?id=_tAKAAAAYAAJ ) which I highly recommend as a simple yet affective way to define and practice non violence.

I’m thinking about Maha Gosananda this morning because I wonder about this country and the traumas that are being inflicted on us by this current a government. What we are experiencing will make for a long recovery. The compassion needed for the grief and humanitarian repairs are going to be costly. Who will rise to the occasion? Who will have what is needed be needed to heal the inner emotions of loss this country will face once this is over.

It not about savior(s). It is more about leaders who can unite and guide us to not hate but find compassion. The ways to reconcile our understanding of self and the consequences of past/current actions. How to build from that knowledge as lessons for recovery and reconstruction that creates an inclusive environment for peace and quality of life for everyone.

Sober Shamanism

It’s easy to think that shamanism is somehow about this wild and untamed, unkempt and estatic/hallucinagenic aspect of our human nature. When in fact shamanism is more about how we connect, communicate, and understand the mystery of the cosmos and the phenomena of the world around us. And that requires an embodied state of awareness. Be here now. Be aware. Be awake. Be in the unfolding present moment of the magic that is the gift of your physical life here on the planet. Almost all shamanic training ( I am referring to my training) focuses on not running but facing shadows, fears, emotions, inadequacies, all in the context of navigating this complex tricky world. Finding connections and doorways in order to find a state of belonging and purpose.

The world we live is full of magic… not just the magic of ideas and dreams but the crazy beautiful, elegance of stuff and substance… the tiny particles that dance and attract to make trees and sunlight. This physical expression of mystery and the desire to create itself drives this world and the larger cosmos forward.

On this planet we humans engage in the tasks of survival and evolution. Our success can be seen in the adaptation to a wide spectrum of climates, geographical locations and dietary patterns. One example of this is the human desire to articulate ideas and concepts which became the 7,000 plus languages that now are spoken across the globe. We can also see this in the diversity of arts, traditional clothing, folklore/mythologies, spirituality and social structures.

This planet evolves as it adjusts to the constant growth and destruction of its physical dynamics. Human evolutionary ecology has interfaced with this process. Forcing the early hominids to evolve in response to change which in turn pushed the physiology to grow a bigger frontal cortex in the brain. That in turn allowed for more complex processing of the environment and the synthesis of ideas. Problem solving became more nuanced and the journey to discover new technologies to improve life began. The desire to know and understand branches out in many directions: science, medicine, arts, agriculture, design, etc….

Life is not for the faint at heart… life requires the will to live in it.

Shamanism in it’s simplicity is the recognition of something called “anima” the spirit in all things. This anima can be addressed, communicated and negotiated with to create a more symbiotic relationship between all living things. It has been hypothesized this this is the earliest form of religious or spiritual ideas. The diversity of geography and social/cultural values and the needs to create a sustainable relationship to the environment further modifies the symbols and processes used to affect the awareness of anima and it’s relationship to a given group of people. That is why what we call Shamanism looks as diverse in the expression and the experience it offers all over the planet.

Over the last 10 to 15 years there has been a strong trend to narrow the definition of shamanism and its diversity to the use of psychoactive plants. Not only does this hurt traditions and practices it opens the door to a complete misunderstanding of how shamanism works.

These traditions of these plants and their use were regulated in their respective traditions by medicine people/healers who understood the importance of the plant and it’s potential to shift someone’s perception of the world to awaken greater understanding of consciousness/connection. Under the right circumstances these plants are affective in that capacity. Out of context and traditional use these plants and traditions become vulnerable to exploitation and for some species of plants eradication through over harvest and use.

Unfortunately, most people are only presented with the concept that shamanism is the use of hallucinations and psychoactive botanicals as the primary means to engage with the mystery or find meaning in the world. I had a teacher early on my training who basically said there are no short cuts… You train your mind. You practice. It’s not about having a drug induced experience it is about having an embodied experience. I have been grateful for those wise words because practice gives you the ability to develop skills to navigate inner awareness and responses to the environment you live in. For me that has opened the world to me in ways I never could have imaged.

There is risk and a danger especially in the environment of a more privileged society that is seeking spiritual identity to abuse these traditions and plants for selfish misguide experiences. This falls under the guise today of spiritual awakening. When in fact it is more in alignment with spirtual by- pass and recreational use… embodied as a sort of ethno spirtual tourism experience. People are encouraged to travel all over to the world to have an experience to add to their life list. Without considering the consequences or impacts on the people who hold these traditions, the economic, social and environments. The lack of suport to manage these plant medicines can lead to addictions to these plants in order to try and further sort out the experience. There is also a “black market” of groups and professed healers who promote and promise magical results from the plants here in the states. This has it own ecology of risk and danger.

I titled this blog “Sober Shamanism” to begin a dialogue about the direction that this ideology has taken. I have witnessed the abuse of these plants and the dark climate it is creating to divert the traditions of shamanism towards something it is not. I fully believe the world needs shamans as seers, scientists, artists and societal healers and commentators. To do that the path for education in this work has to be grounded in the practices and traditions that are sustainable. Their is a responsible sobriety that needs to be part of the evolution of shamanism in remaining relevant and an insightful contributor to the earth and where are going with humanity.


One year around the sun

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Something new is coming…..

Through this Covid-19 experience a whole lot has been emerging. Creativity is on the rise, some new directions and more mischief and magic….

This blog is getting an upgrade and will be gearing for more teaching content and premium subscription content. All of this is necessarily for me to continue my work and keep the knowledge flowing.

Drawing…. 2

To draw a line across a plane shifts everything. Now there is a direction or a division…. up or down… in or out…. the page is now interacting with the line to form space, textures and patterns… the line has transformed the space. This leads to a dialogue with the eye, brain and the on going experience and exchange with composition, texture, direction and form.

The line is a portal for unleashing an expansive fusion of marks and relationships that evolve towards a unified page that becomes the topological structure fo a surface…. a demographically cohesive image. The meandering lines and the build up of pigments, values and depth tells the story of birth, action, life and rest…

Drawing is the mind’s story teller… the fibers that call the dream into the moment… the linear tracers from the magic wand pencil.


In the dark amphitheatre of KCAI early in the morning my brain tried to keep up with the large slide images of art made by us humans. The professors voice droned away in the dark. Peppering the air with exclamations and information in centimeters, medium, and tidbits about the personal details of the artist. Art history has largely focused until recently on western and European art world. There are some references to cave paintings and the rare indigenous image of a basket. Art history that requirement of a freshman Art education was a white wash of greatest hits: Titian, Giotto, Raphael, Michelangelo….Monet, Degas, Picasso… etc… This academic survey of art left out most women, continents of people who explored the world they lived in through image, textures, colors, and meaningful objects.

As we are wakening to the diversity of people on this Earth through the internet and recognizing the rich social and cultural traditions of art from all over the world, it seems fitting to also find the common thread that is the unified web that all this art stands on.

All this art starts somewhere. Creativity is uniquely human. Art has always been one of the driving forces behind designs, tech, science… inovation… If we look around our world the application of art is everywhere. The design of your smart phone, the pencil, that label on the bottle, fashion, your car, architecture, and more are the product of artists and creative thinkers. The artist takes an idea and moves it from impulses in the brain to a physical form.

This is a sophisticated and complex process of seeing, responding, discerning, articulating space, object and movement. The method to make this mind/body machinery spit something out is drawing. This is probably one of the most important human capabilities. No other animal or species does it. We humans have been doing it for a very long time. It is evident all over the earth in every kind of medium from pecking out glyphs on stones to the screens of our computers today…. We draw.

My best understanding of when humans started drawing seems to correspond with the growth of the frontal cortex of the brain. This part of the brain is the seat of imagination, language, dreams, problem solving, and emotional response. As the science of neurology continues to explore the brain and its functions we are seeing how art, creativity, and problem solving stimulate multiple regions in the brain building neurological pathways and exercises the mind to utilize more of the brain’s ability to sort and function. Because of these relationships to mind, experience, engaging with the world and the body I feel drawing is a superpower.

Drawing can express humor as in cartoons and the details of complex structures such as architecture and engineering. Drawing offers the space for exploring an idea and the means to discover ways for design or to express deeply complicated things and ideas.

We are fascinated by the notebooks of Leonardo Davinci and Michelangelo because they show the artists struggle and process to bring a project to life.

There is also the cave drawing in Lascaux France which tell the stories of an ancient group of humans. The beautiful drawn lines of ocher and charcoal the sensitive handling of line and color to synthesize an animal’s form on to a stone wall.

The giant cliffs of the south west in the United States are home to large figures of importantnce to indigenous peoples that have lived there. Representatives of their spirtual ancestors and cosmic beings.

We can also see the mysterious and the story of cosmology in the carefully place dots and colors of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia.

These are only a few examples of drawing as it is utilized across the globe.

I have practiced drawing all of my life. It is a necessity in focusing my mind, sorting out ideas, seeing and exploring the world around me. I see it as a practice similar to meditation. Recently, I have been thinking drawing is perhaps a tools that needs to become a method for people to navigate the changes in the world. We don’t see the world or each other… we react. Drawing requires, observation, patience, response… it demands a conversation with the page and the subject.

In general, I feel we have become so distracted from the practical skills we posess as humans. We evolved these methods naturally from our curiousity and willingness to take that curiosity to the next level. The act of drawing is one of the ways that we create(d) the world. It might be the pathway to embrace in order to begin creating the world want as we forge ahead looking for new ideas and concepts.