By Carisa Rowe
The art of dialing in your mind and body to chase your thoughts to their inevitable ends. We meditate, we make art, we garden, we dance, we run…
We run after the void, seeking the end of understanding or to quiet the noise so that we can feel the static of oblivion. La petit mort – or the little death – is the release of energy that untethers us from all that we know. These little deaths are the endorphin rush from a great work out, the high of closing a big deal, the crashing waves following an orgasm. All we are chasing is that burst of pent-up energy that allows us to bask in our afterglow or the silence of the expulsion.
As philosophical beings, we explore our comprehension of reality. Its heady work. Work that drives exceptional minds beyond the void, some driven to madness. Philosophers have influenced the evolution of the human consciousness for millennia by sharing their personal understanding of reality with any listeners who will receive them.
Socratic philosophers believed the world was only as real as we universally believe. This gave birth to Western philosophy and innumerable philosophical disciplines.
Over the two and half millennia, since Socrates spun his thoughts into the web of consciousness, Western philosophy has discovered and developed into countless iterations of reality, each tethered to one another through an invisible network of consciousness. As we outgrow our collective understanding, the energy that we have built for growth must be absorbed until the collective conscious achieves a reset. Every time we condense enough energy to affect change, we’ve progressed into a deeper collective understanding of who we are. The duality of being both The observer and the observed catalyzes many of us forward into the void. We are wanting to understand more of ourselves. This inevitably leads to a desire to understand those around us and how we are all connected.
The limit of understanding is set by our connection to our consciousness. Within the conscious mind exists ego, which brings awareness of self and within that knowledge we can only understand the world. In that regard, we can only understand our non-existence. We as individuals are nanoscopic in comparison to all that binds us. The dissolution of self, or ego death, as it has come to be known, is where we achieve the realization of everything and nothing. These realizations are fleeting because the conscious mind seeks constantly to understand beyond its own knowledge. At this juncture, gleaning knowledge becomes a compulsion, a subconscious fixation to find the next unknown and know it.
How we achieve that state of absolution from reality varies greatly. For some, bliss comes simply. These people are capable of walking with the void and granting the grace of eternity to those around them. For others, the disconnection is harsh, causing them to reverberate chaotic energy.
To best tap the collective consciousness, our energy must be flowing in the correct direction and there must be no interruption to the flow of that energy, such as the limitation of our own consciousness. Being that individual consciousness is a mitigating factor to collective consciousness, we must first identify the channel of energy that we are seeking to join and then dissolve our ego into the ether. We must know how to achieve la petite mort.
Preceding Western philosophy are the concepts of karma and balanced chakras. These provide a mission and a legend for Vedic philosophers. They are seeking to achieve ultimate knowledge through good intention, balance, and discipline. Vedic practices include Yoga, Tantra, and Ayuverda which prescribe routines for physical and mental fitness. These routines could direct followers to fast or meditate until they enter a state of altered consciousness. Somatic practices in the Vedic traditions included plant-based concoctions and relied heavily on cannabis in the development of Taoism, or so it is understood.
Even earlier in human consciousness, at the dawn of civilization, Mesopotamian philosophy centered on living a life as laborers for the gods so that the world would not spin into chaos. Early human developments such as these relied heavily on the leadership of spiritually gifted individuals who were tasked with knowing, understanding, and responding to the needs of the people in their collectives. In an article titled “Psychedelics and the Ancient Near East”, author Diana L. Stein describes the plant-based medicinal practices of third and second Millenia Mesopotamians. Stein further explains that “the resulting concoctions were applied as salves, ingested as potions, powders, and pills, or inhaled as fumes in order to treat all manner of ailments, both real and imagined. Certain drugs were prescribed for their mind-altering effects. Some of these brought about sedation, anesthesia, or analgesia. Others were administered in order to relieve or overcome inhibition, fear, panic, and depression as well as, in the odd instance, to induce hallucinations.”
Heralded as sages, healers, and prophets, these guides would utilize plant medicine to journey beyond consciousness seeking communion with the gods, ancestors, or with trapped spirits. Many of these ancient philosophers understood that hallucinogens could remove the barrier of consciousness. In some civilizations, as evidenced by Mesopotamian anthropology, the guides would utilize hallucinogens to improve the health of a particular individual. Shamans in northern cultures administered mushrooms and mushroom teas to raise moral during brutal winter months. This evidence of plant-based medicine to induce hallucinations in the earliest known human civilizations indicates an innate understanding of entheogenic nutrition.
Those little deaths, the quiet moments – those are the place where sanity is found. The shuddering breath after finishing a marathon or the roar of a crowd so connected to the music on stage that they move like so many birds on the wind. That is where we remember that we are more than one; it is the only space we can hold everything and nothing. In every documented explosion of human evolution, psychoactive compounds are evidenced to treat illness, heal communities, and explore the limits of human understanding and innovation.