The Monkey Tribe and Me
By Rob Conrad
© 1999 by Rob Conrad
- "Two hours into the experience I knew there was nothing harmful for my body in any way. In fact a powerful cleansing was taking place throughout my whole system. Any memories of experience stored in my brain that were incomplete or stuck in some way were being systematically cleared out. It seemed to me that if a life experience is not allowed to complete itself in some way then there is some belief constructed, and emotonal energy tied with the memory of that event hangs around. The event-construct is kind of stuck in the brain tying up vital life energy from that point on. As the ibogaine enters the brain, it makes contact with this stuck stuff and fires off the neurons producing a picture and clearing all the stuck fragments in a similar way that a computer clears up file framgnets stored on a hard disk. I could see why ibogaine is non-addictive. It's no fun, and it's not an escape. What I did get from it though, was the sense that something deep down within me was satisfied. I seem to have a whole lot more life energy available for myself. I am grateful for the experience."
- "What it does is ... your memory is like a movie. And it shows you where you've gone wrong in life, and it shows you what you've got to do to correct it. It literally does that. I mean, you see everything."
- "All of a sudden you look up and a movie screen appears ... you begin to view a film of your subconscious and all of your repressed memories … and you're able to view it in a totally impartial manner. In the same way as if you were viewing a motion picture. Then you go through another stage where you ask questions about what you've experienced, and you come up with answers -- it's a question and answer period. And then you go through a third period ... you gain access to the information contained in your individual hereditary archive. You meet your ancestors. It's like a reset button, and it … clears and resets all of the neurotransmitters to operate at maximum effiiency, so that everything becomes crystal-clear to you. It was a very spiritual experience for me."
- "My eyelids, when I closed them, turned into a TV screen. And I'm watching a stage, and I see the beginning of the Earth and how it was formed. Century after century, how it was put together. I saw behind me and past me. I saw from the beginning of time to the end of time. Immediately after the treatment, my heroin use stopped. It worked immediately. It changed the way I think -- even my personality. It totally changed my life. I had my life handed back to me, like, 'Here. Finish it.'"
The Bwiti people in the African country of Gabon see themsleves as the guardians and protectors of the Iboga plant, although ethnobotanists believe that they got their knowledge of the plant from nomadic pygmies who brought it to their attention. The Bwiti have constructed a way of life and religion around the drug, complete with village chapels and societal rituals, and for them the Ibogaine vision is an initiation into full personhood. But I am not a Bwiti and do not intend to convert to the Bwiti way of life, so my intent was to take the drug without dependence on the Bwiti religion or social constructs. I trusted Eric, a white North American who has traveled to Africa to visit the ibogaine culture and to identify supply lines for the Iboga plant, to be my proper link to the drug and its healthy use.
Preparing For My Ibogaine Trip
Eric urged me to prepare for my vision by focusing my intent on whatever it was that I was seeking.(1) As I did this, in the weeks preceding my vision, I realized that what I most wanted was to see reality as it actually is. I did not want to limit my experience to a certain kind of insight or knowledge, and I did not want to flavor or color it with meaning that was merely personally meaningful. Consequently, I focused my intent on Reality with a capital "R", the "whatever it is" from which my own private reality has arisen.
I had these two primary fears as I approached my encounter with ibogaine:
- That I would be unable to face the contents of my own psyche (or of Reality itself), that I would turn away and not look, and not know the truth.(2)
- That my heart would stop working, or be damaged (within the previous year, my doctor had said my heart was fine).(3)
I knew that the quest I was undertaking would deliver a huge psychic wallop, because I had never taken a psychoactive drug before. Having read the Ibogaine literature beforehand, I knew that my primary experience would be a direct encounter with the unresolved tensions of my own self (or, because of my particular intent, perhaps with the conflicts inherent in Reality itself). And because I know that there are areas within myself that are not well integrated one with the other (not to mention areas that I may well know nothing about), I was prepared to be confronted with material that would horrify or frighten me, psychic stuff that would come out of left field and seem overwhelming. For example, I take the descriptions of encounters with demons in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the descriptions of hell in the Christian religion, to be vivid, culturally-determined metaphors that are nonetheless a too-close-for-comfort description of what the individual psyche sometimes actually experiences.
My Ibogaine Vision
On the morning of my vision, I took two small gel capsules of the drug, made from alkaloids in the roots of the Iboga plant. The dose was calculated to my body weight and to the level of the experience that I wished to have. Up until that morning, I had never taken--or had a desire to take--cocaine, heroin, LSD, mushrooms, ecstasy, peyote or any other psychoactive or hallucinogenic drug (I had smoked marijuana maybe six times in college years).
I took the drug with courage and a sobering sense that momentous things were about to happen. After ingesting the drug I lay in bed under a cover and relaxed. The acute phase of the trip, the period of time when I felt myself to be away from "normality," lasted for roughly eight hours.
The effects that I felt were all visual. I did not hear the characteristic "helicopter blade" whirring or incessanting chanting, mumbling or chattering that many people experience. I did not have any physical pain--rather, the pain that I felt was psychological, ethical and moral.
As I say, the acute effects of the drug lasted for roughly eight hours, and during the first four hours of that time, my experience was calm and mild. The normal variegated darkness behind my eyelids moderated slightly and I felt like I was gazing into very fine, sifting, reddish-purple sand. Over and over again, the ordinary floaters in my eyeballs would morph into little starships that would appear and swoop into the middle of my field of vision, hover there briefly, and then dissolve. Those first four hours felt very much like my normal waking consciousness, with occasional wisps of fleeting, fragmentary images like these:
- A woman's face, serene and untroubled, appeared in the upper left corner of my visual field, rotated to match my own orientation, looked down at me and then floated back out. I smiled and said "Hello" out loud.
- A cartoon-like illustration of a fully-energized, athletic couple, dressed in 50's garb, doing a hyperactive, full-tilt rock and roll dance. Above them was a cartoony sign that read, "Rockin' Daddy!"
- Large spreading stains of violet and purple, sweeping from right to left, following the course of blood flow across my eyballs--a sensuous, calming feeling.
- An image of my own eyeball, with all of the blood vessels, eyelashes, iris and pupil, visible in a washed-out, grayish caste, but remarkably detailed, as if under a microscope.
The very first visions I saw were two ideas for colorful paintings. The first was of a nude woman, entwined in the doorframe of a house, holding her hands out to a naked man, who was in first stride away from the house. One of his hands reached back toward the woman (without touching it) and his other hand reached outward into the world, which seemed bright and clear. The second painting was of a standing, well-muscled, vibrant, healthy, nude man, entering into a blazing, colorfuul, spherical sun. Half of the background was deep darkness, half a rich blue.
Eric came into the room periodically. For the first four hours our conversation revolved around why the experience was not kicking in, and whether he would gift me with me another dose to take later.(4)
However, that mild reaction was not to last. The vision finally began to unfold in earnest at the four-hour mark, and at a level of intensity that matched the first-hand experiences I had read. That intensity would hold sway for four more hours.
What I saw in those four hours was devastating.
I will give you all of the vision that I can remember, and then circle back to particular portions of it and attach my interpretation.
The Acute Vision Begins
I was certain that the full effect of the drug had arrived when the image of a darkened movie theater arose, screen softly glowing, with the silhouettes of people seated in front waiting for the show to begin.(5)
Now my vision swooped up and into a claustrophobically small room, dimly lit, with soft lavender walls. It was as if the room was made of acoustic tiles that were furry with lichen or perhaps carpeting. It was quiet and close, a square room with a low ceiling, just myself lying on my back and looking up into the ceiling. I felt psychologically uncomfortable, even anxious, as if something was about to happen that I didn't want to see.
I backed out of this space (down and away) and bobbed up into another space, even smaller and now definitely claustrophobic--a narrow, subtly colored wooden box, something with a lid over it. I felt even more confined than before and the thought hit me that perhaps this was a coffin or a burial, and I was to be confined here, alive, trapped for endless eternity. This possibility filled me with dread and by effort of will I again wriggled down and away.
A new scene came into focus. I approached a small wooden panel set in a wall, and on that panel was a dot. As I looked at the dot, I realized that it stood for my physical death, and the real possibility arose that I might actually travel, in this very moment, to the other side of that small dot. I clenched into a fear state because I suddenly realized that even though I might die, my consciousness might live on--and if I lived on in that particular state, I would be plunged into a state of perpetual psychic torment. I was horrified to consider the possibility that hell might be real or it might not be real--and the only way to find out was to go to the other side of the dot.(6) If I lost this stark experiment in which only one outcome seemed possible, I would be trapped in an eternity of pain. In panic I backed away again.(7)
Now I faced a display made out of whitish, groundy, organic material, an earthy triptych that framed three scenes which added up to a total impact:
- On the left was a man wearing a hat--he looked not unlike myself--sitting on the floor, slumped dead against a wall, his eyes open, with a knife plunged into his upper left chest. A long rivulet of fresh blood traced a line down his chest and side.(8)
- In the center, happening all at once at a cartoonish fever pitch: a woman, slaughtered with a knife, and then dragged down and into a churning froth of large intestines from butchered cattle, mixed with baked beans and watery blood. A blue-collar factory worker lunges in from the bottom, and using a multi-pronged metal rod, spears the woman's body--using her vagina as his point of contact--and pushes all of this bloody suffering into horizontal, churning metal grinders at the back of the scene. The whole scene is understood as only a snapshot in time of what goes on incessantly. The killing, the grinding, the froth of suffering, the uncaring cruelty of the workers that participate -- all go on ceasely. The grinders are always turned on, they are always grinding.
- On the right, then, a naked woman on a bed being sexually penetrated by a man. The pervasive feeling from the man and the woman was one of boredom and thrill-seeking. I watched briefly.
I viewed these scenes without trying to resist or escape, but together they filled me with a profound horror and sadness and I withdrew from this display into a narrow, dark space at the bottom and went to sleep.(9) Next was a long segment that is unknown to me. I was either asleep or uncomprehending.
The Earth Is Dying
At some point I saw the planet Earth, suspended in space. It was small and it was choked with concrete expressways, buildings and traffic. An inscription displayed: "The Earth Is Dying!"(10) On the left and right-hand side of the screen were representations of two theoretical planets, perhaps our immediate neighbors Mars and Venus. Subtle dotted lines stretched from the Earth to each of these theoretical planets, and the implication was that although they were in our neighborhood they were not realistically available as places we could move to. No, the overall certainty was that the Earth is the local oasis of life--there is no show outside of this show, nowhere to flee to, nowhere to relocate to, no engineering option that would enable us to offload The Monkey Tribe from the Earth to a better place. We live on an illuminated platform in the vastness of dark space.
Most of my vision had a pervasive slump to it, a downward-trending, wearing out feeling of increasing lifelessness. Things seemed compacted, running out of time, exhausted of hope. I often felt like I was looking into endless shelves of broken-down, useless, dirty, thrift-store junk decaying into insignificance. The associated feeling was that this was true both for me personally and for The Monkey Tribe as a species.
The visual appearance of most of the imagery that I saw was cartoonish or artificial in appearance. No image ever stayed stable -- things were always morphing, fighting to assert their own shape over other shapes, endless in number. The net effect was like watching one of the fundamental activities of life and reality itself. Change, change, endless change, and for what? Only for change's sake.
I saw fleeting pictures of ancient hieroglyphs or pictographic bas-relief carvings that had an Egyptian and a Central American flavor. These images were photorealistic, unlike the cartoonish or artificial appearance of most of the imagery in the trip.
I saw a calcified, three-pronged, upward-branching structure that I understood to be a visual representation of a psychological reality that had been created during the time of my father's death when I was 17. Just before he got colon cancer (he was dead within six months), I had entered into the stage of adolescence where I had started to talk back to my father (a big taboo in my family). I saw that the net effect of my father's death produced a rigid structure that overshadowed and determined my relationship with older males and authority figures, and indeed colors all of my life relationships.
I saw a visual representation of myself, propped up, made out of organic materials like paper, wood strips and cardboard. My torso had once been full of books on bookshelves, but these had now decayed, broken down and fallen into the middle of my body. The import was that half of my life is over and nothing will forestall my trip toward death (which seemed to be measured in about four new decades, more or less). This visual model of my life produced a feeling of personal devastation, a feeling that I had utterly wasted my life, a pervasive sense of mortality, sorrow, a net loss of hope. The upper part of my chest was divided into two areas, which represented two possible outcomes for a critical choice that has been facing me in my personal life. If I exercised one option, represented by two blurry people standing together in the left-hand side of my chest, my life would fade steadily down into predictability and routine, and be met with the approval of life as most people live it, and my life would settle feebly into death. On the other hand, I could exercise an option that was represented by two knotholes or bones or bumps on the right-hand side of my chest, and this option would give me vitality. The choice was made clear to me through feelings that have specific personal meaning. Predictablity, approval, domesticity--or vitality? This decision will be answered by me over time.
There were long stretches of activity that were nothing more than random meaning (letter shapes, number shapes) and advertising. In fact, most of what I saw in my vision was advertising without break or relief. It was merciless; it would not stop running.(11) It disturbed me greatly--it made me psychologically nauseous--that so much advertising was so deeply embedded in me.
Much of the advertising imagery had a particular 40's or 50's look to it, and more specifically a Pennsylvania Dutch quality.(12) I also saw entire advertising displays that were staffed by a hostess (these were always women). Never mind that the displays made their points clearly without explanation -- the women would reinforce the obvious, even caressing certain points or knobs or flourishes in the setting, deeply and happily immersed in their idiotic advertising routines. A feeling of suffocating sameness, endlessly repeated, suffused these scenes. It was distressing to see with what loving happiness, with what affection these hostesses performed. What repulsed me even more is that sometimes I would join in, and I would join in as a middle-aged woman myself. I could not restrain myself, and it had a charge of psychological degradation.
Convenience was the overriding virtue in Advertising Hell. Convenience, predictability, routine--these were the psychic pathways in Advertising Hell, and they interlocked to form a claustrophobic psychic suffocation. Nothing changed--everything was "just right" and in no need of change. And it didn't change, endlessly, over and over again. Everything I saw was done exactly right. I longed for a place where people were not so pathetically satisfied.
During this same general portion of the trip, I indulged in writing perfect, solid lines of dialogue for small scenes from black and white movies circa the 1940's. But my ability to write perfectly seemed somehow oppressive. Did nothing unexpected ever happen?
Either just before or just after Advertising Hell--I don't know which--I saw a sign, a combination of a philosophical conundrum and a piece of advertising, that consisted of the words, "Does Life Have Meaning?," along with a large arrow that pointed to a small dot. The answer to the question was under the dot, and the answer was not revealed.
The Powerful Woman and Her Tree
Lastly, I want to tell you about a woman that I saw.
I was in a lusciously dark space. Everything was exceedingly quiet and calm. Seated in a chair in front of me and to my right was an extraordinarily powerful woman, protected by a palpable aura of impregnability and strength. Around her, at the limits of her personal space, in a kind of angular, boxy shape, gleamed the subtle blue highlights of an impregnable force. The woman was well-groomed, self-possessed, immersed in an ultimate way in the peace and enjoyment of her own being. She seemed to be meditating, and she exuded a presence that was deeply ancient and simultaneously alive. To her right hand was a tree-like plant form, no taller than she. I say "tree-like" because the leaves of the bush were made out of glassy material in colors of dark green, deep red, and dark blue, edged with some kind of precious metal, and well-separated one from the other. The leaves were vibrant, and shimmered slightly in the deep blue-black darkness of the environment, displaying subtle pinpoints of a red light, like the end of an ultra-fine fiber optic line. This woman and her plant gave off a kind of energy or power that was permeable (but at a very slow rate, in the way that water seeping through sandstone is permeable). A cold chisel, dynamite, a nuclear bomb -- none of these could violate her space. I got the feeling that it might be possible to penetrate into this woman's space, but because she was so powerful, it would take a length of time that would be measured in hundreds of thousands--or millions--of years. You would have to approach so slowly, you would have to be so single-minded, it was unimaginable the length of time or force of nature employed to get into this state. Here is how powerful she seemed: I looked at a single tip of her hair in extreme closeup, and it was as strong as a steel rebar in concrete or a tempered Japanese sword. I did not interact with this woman or her plant, I was only in her presence. Tears have come to my eyes thinking about this scene again. What I say about her and her plant is beside the point; she has a reality of her own that stands without need of my commentary.
I was certain that the ibogaine vision was closing down when I again saw the darkened theater, the movie screen, and people sitting, silhouetted, in front. On the screen, a sign appeared that said, "That's All!," and then this sign morphed into a small color television set, which in turn swooped away into starry blackness of deep space and was gone.
Except for some lingering after-effects, the acute vision was over.
The Days After the Vision
When I woke up the next morning, I realized I had been laughing uproariously inside of myself. About what, I don't know, but it was hysterically funny.
At one point on the first day after, I found myself looking at my own hands. As I clenched and unclenched my fingers, the physical strangeness of the human hand impressed itself upon me. We have limbs that branch off into five portions and through this capacity to clutch and change the world flows most of our human meaning. As I looked at my hands, the thought formed that "This is the weapon. With these we drive the bulldozers, we make the bombs, we pave the wetlands, we fire the machine guns."
The second morning when I woke up I was watching a mental picture of my friends Tom and Larry. Larry would say "Rob Conrad!" and hold up a sign that said, "$10,000!," which was fabulously funny all by itself. But then Tom would expertly arrange the word "What?!," made out of a smoky, cottony substance, as a prompt for me to say "WHAT?!" out loud, and this was also funny. This routine looped a time or two, and it was terribly amusing.
During that second day, while the drug was still leaving my body, I began to cry often, and this continued all day. I was crying because I had gotten a pure, undiluted insight into the unutterable sadness of death -- death at the multiple, interlocking levels of personal self, species and planetary web of life. I was glad that I had a friend with me, because crying in his presence allowed me to show the sorrow in a way that was in some way sweet or satisfying.
On the way home, we stopped the car and I lay down for a while under the pine trees. When I got up to go, I carressed a small clump of grass, and then, as I rose to my feet, I absent-mindedly tugged on that clump. For no reason. The roots of that grass made a small tearing noise and the whole clump came out of the soil. Immediately I was stricken with sorrow at the off-handed way that we are so cruel and deadly (I felt as if I was driving the bulldozers all over the world at that moment). Again I wept, and tried to tuck the roots of the grass back into the soil. On that day, the senselessness of so much of life as we live it (I could say, "so much of death as we increasingly die") became acute. For example, when we passed by an automobile dealership tent sale, with hundreds of new cars ready to buy and use, I sobbed with sorrow. The painful, deadly suffering of it, the net loss of life and liveliness that these cars would cause, seemed overwhelming.
Finally resting at home in my own bed, I had the feeling that I was being moved up and down rapidly, in a pleasurable way, even though I was lying quietly on my side.
On the third morning when I woke up, I had the distinct sensation that my head and my consciousness were in two widely separated places -- my consciousness was in some kind of large, empty, generally spherical space, and was empty of thoughts, save the feeling of being separate from my head. This was not frightening nor especially pleasurable, it just was.
For about six weeks after the vision, I experienced lingering effects that I interpreted as organic physical damage. I was physically unsteady on my feet--as if I were slightly tipsy--and my visual perception of the outer world was not smooth and continuous, but seemed jerky. I also saw photo-optical displays in the periphery of my visual field (shimmering light, kind of like bright, fluttering, vertical venetian blinds), especially at night under artificial light, or when I was tired. Those effects have since worn off.
What Was the Meaning of My Vision?
This is my personal interpretation of the key points of my vision.
My overall reaction. I felt that I had personally bombed out of my own life and that the Earth too was on a downward slope. The combined impact of my vision--at the personal level and at the level of the species itself--was merciless. The connection between the violence and morbidity of reality in general and myself in particular was ironclad and undeniable. Waves and waves of sadness played through me, and there was no escape from the despair: I was dying, Earth was dying. I was left with a reverberating feeling of deep, piercing sorrow.
The small room, the little box, the dot of Death. I interpret these as pointed metaphors for the reality of increasing lifelessness and, finally, the obliteration of my self through death. This progression started out "easy" and quickly moved, in two more stages, to an ultimate choice. Was I capable of dying, without resistance, without fear, at peace with myself? No, I was not. Further work is needed.
Advertising Hell. I was just sickened at how much advertising is inside of me. Enough already! When I consider that a lot of The Grinder is fueled by desires generated in Advertising Hell, I am repulsed. Have you noticed how much advertising there is at every level of life?
The Powerful Woman and Tree. I saw Death (The Grinder), and I also saw Life (The Powerful Woman), as far as I'm concerned. The fact that she came in a pair, and her partner was a precious plant, seems important.
I think The Powerful Woman stands in opposition to a certain kind of destructive male power, as described so well by the writer Dale Peck:
"There was a line in my book Now It's Time to Say Goodbye that I cut because I thought it was too pointed and direct, in which one of the characters says that in this country no boy becomes a man until he hits a woman. Which I think is true, and I learned that myself the one time I ever hit a woman. It was my stepmother, who was hitting me, and I hit her back. When you do that, you worry what that means: You're physically stronger than another person and you realize for the first time that the only reason you're hitting them is because you know you're stronger and that there's not much they can do about it. It's the core of manhood, whether you accept or renounce how you deal with that particular possibility of violence associated with being a man … The earliest Judeo-Christian myths are all about blaming the woman for everything that went wrong. The woman has to be disciplined, and if you don't discipline her, she will bring you down."
I believe that what Peck says becomes even more true if you substitute "human" for "male" and "nature" for "female." If The Powerful Woman and Plant was a metaphor for Nature, then I saw that Nature is at peace and happy--in contrast to The Monkey Tribe, which is at war and unhappy.
But The Powerful Woman and Tree may be something else yet again. The experience was one of presence and power sufficient to itself. Description of the scene seems okay but explanation seems unnecessary, like trying to improve the Mona Lisa by painting on the canvas a little bit more.
The Powerful Woman made me feel good and The Grinder made me feel bad, so my natural human tendency is to put The Grinder out of mind and focus on The Powerful Woman. However, I cannot concentrate exclusively on this powerful image of aliveness. I must temper it with the sober realization that the Earth is dying and I along with it. Because it seems harder to deal with the reality of The Grinder, that is the developmental work that I need to face.
The Grinder. The thing that stays with me most of all is the vision of The Grinder. I believe that I saw, in essence, the operation of Death itself, the dispassionate, equal-opportunity destroyer of life. I am reminded of Arjuna's description of Vishnu, the Hindu god of Death, in the Bhagavad Gita:
"…Terrible with fangs …,
All the worlds are fear-struck, even as I am.
When I see you, Vishnu, omnipresent,
Shouldering the sky, in hues of rainbow,
With your mouths agape and flame-eyes staring--
All my peace is gone; my heart is troubled…"
Later Vishnu again appears as Arjuna's friend, Krishna, and says,
"This my form of fire, world-wide, supreme, primeval …
That shape of mine which you have seen is very difficult to behold."
The Grinder is the inevitable or unavoidable pain of life(13) --but I have also come to view it as the unnecessary suffering that is caused by the pursuit of non-essential human desires.(14) It is this aspect of The Grinder, the unnecessary, additional suffering and death caused by The Monkey Tribe, that is so terrible, because this is pain that does not have to happen. It happens because The Monkey Tribe makes it happen.
Listen to these real-life examples of The Grinder in operation:
Unless governments take significant measures to protect tigers, they may go extinct by 2010. Tiger numbers have decreased 95 percent in the past century and only 5,000-7,200 tigers still survive in the wild -- compared with nearly 10 times that many at the start of the century. Illegal hunting for the medicinal trade, loss of prey species, weak law enforcement, poaching, habitat loss and a shrinking gene pool are the major threats facing the world's tiger population. Three of the eight subspecies of tiger -- the Bali, Caspian and Javan tigers-- are extinct. The South China tiger faces the same fate as only 20 or 30 are known to remain in the wild, down from an estimated 4,000 in the 1950s.
--press release from the World Wildlife Fund, February 16, 1999
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released videotaped footage of pigs being tortured, beaten with pipe wrenches and skinned alive by workers at a hog farm in North Carolina. The videotape was obtained with a hidden camera worn by a PETA investigator who worked at the farm for three months. In one instance, a sow is skinned and has its foot sawed off while it is still breathing and moaning.
--Associated Press article, February 12, 1999
A Pensacola subdivision developer says he plans to begin clearing 58 acres after rejecting the latest State of Florida offer to buy the land to preserve rare insect-eating pitcher plants. Developer Dan Gilmore said that he and partner Vince Whibbs, Jr. have been offered nowhere near the $500,000 they are asking for the land.
--extracted from an Associated Press story, January 1999
Like the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, humanity finds itself in the midst of a mass extinction, a global evolutionary convulsion with few parallels in the entire history of life. Unlike the dinosaurs, though, humans are not simply the contemporaries of a mass extinction--they are the reason for it. Estimates are that at least two out of every three bird species are in decline worldwide. About 25% of all mammal species are treading a path that, if followed unchecked, is likely to end in their disappearance from Earth.
- --extracted from "Sharing the Planet: Can Humans and Nature Coexist?," USA Today Magazine, January 1999
The Southwest Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz., wants an emergency listing of the Cloudcroft checkerspot butterfly as a federally endangered species. But the village of Cloudcroft, nestled atop the mountains at 8,640 feet some 200 miles southeast of Albuquerque, wants access to 140 acres of prime butterfly habitat that is now part of the Lincoln National Forest. The village -- population about 750 -- is asking the U.S. Forest Service for permission to use, and eventually annex, the land. Most of the land would be used for baseball, softball and soccer fields… "Unfortunately, we've had to overcome -- or we're trying to overcome -- the Mexican spotted owl, the northern goshawk, the Sacramento Mountain salamander, a golden bladderpod and several species of thistles and now the Cloudcroft checkerspot butterfly," (the county administrator) said. "What about the kids? Aren't they threatened, sensitive or endangered? Shouldn't they have adequate recreational areas?"
- --"Environmentalists Want Endangered Label," by Matt Mygatt, The Associated Press, 1999
…along the Gulf Coast (of the United States) a dozen pounds of sea life--much of it juvenile fish--may be sacrificed for a single pound of shrimp. "The average bycatch ratio is about four to one," says a federal biologist.
- --"Diminishing Returns: Exploiting the Ocean's Bounty," by Michael Parfit, National Geographic Magazine, November 1995
These real situations give me the same feelings of sorrow that I felt when I saw The Grinder operating in its mythic or archetypal form. As I watched The Grinder, I saw a hyperactive, incessant, destructive, unconscious, cruel, pervasive energy at work, and now I can see The Grinder in operation in consensual reality. The Grinder is bad enough by itself but Advertising Hell and Convenience Hell interlock with The Grinder and make it work at an obscene pitch.
Add to this all of the other things in life that cause unnecessary suffering. A parent slapping a child is The Grinder; rape is The Grinder; war and torture is The Grinder--you can add your own list of things that belong to The Grinder. The cruelty, the self-centeredness, the unconscious insensitivity, the wasted life produced by The Monkey Tribe--it is awesome. Because enough individual people do these things, collectively they add up to Life dying the death of a thousand cuts on a planetary scale.
Indeed it is hard to watch The Grinder. But worse than watching it operate in its natural form is for me to make it run when it does not have to. And even more awful is to make it go and not even watch or be aware of what I am doing.
"The Earth Is Dying". I accept the image of the Earth dying as a true statement of fact--it is more than a personal truth. You can measure the death of the Earth in individual lives (that orangutan, that whale, that dog, that child, that redwood tree) or in whole species (animals and plants) or in crippling attacks against entire planetary systems (the planet's ozone layer, clean water supplies, planetary temperatures). From one perspective, to say that "The Earth Is Dying" is ridiculous, because the Earth will not die, not totally. Life is incredibly tenacious--there are one-celled organisms living at the mouth of volcanic vents miles under the surface of the ocean. But from another perspecitve, to say that "The Earth is Dying" is true and accurate, if you measure it in individual lives and discrete species (as we should).
I believe that the general outlines of humankind's immediate future (200 years or so) are clear. Experts can and do argue about predictions and trends, but at the end of the day, most of them agree on these broad points:
- Earth's population will peak in the next 100 years somewhere around eight to 10 billion people (as of 1999, there are about six billion human beings). The figure of eight to 10 billion takes into account current and projected trends toward smaller families, longer life spans and mass die-offs from war.(15)
- All of these people will continue to want "the good life", an expectation that seems to be hard-wired into our genetic code (a persistent dream of more things for me, better status for me, longer life for me, a place of my own). The unavoidable truth is that this adds up to biological death and ecological damage on a planetary scale--even if we reduce our consumption of resources dramatically.(16)
- The poorest of those billions (the largest percentage, estimates vary) will destroy the biosphere in a hands-on kind of way for immediate survival needs (habitat destruction for firewood, subsistence farming and animals for food).
- The richest of those billions (a smaller percentage) will destroy the biosphere in a hands-on way (running over endangered manatees with power boats, chopping down redwood forests, poisoning the Gulf of Mexico with toxic chemical runoff, etc.) but also in a hands-off kind of way (through a rich standard of living that degrades the biosphere with pollution that crosses national borders, and that needs cheap resources, goods and labor from places that are "out of sight and out of mind").
- Entire species (mammals, fish, trees, plants) and entire natural systems of life (fresh water, atmosphere, soil, oceanic) are going to be stressed or destroyed under the impact of The Monkey Tribe. Scientists already are describing this narrow period of human history as the time of the sixth largest mass extinction that the Earth has gone through (the fossil record reveals five previous mass die-offs of biological diversity). Just like the asteroid that took several seconds to collide with planet Earth and caused a planetary disaster that killed off the dinosaurs, The Monkey Tribe will obliterate a large number of species and change the natural ecology of the planet on a worldwide scale in these several hundred years of human history (on the geological and evolutionary time scales, several hundred years is a mere instant of time).(17)
- The Next Earth will be biologically poorer than this Earth. There will be life, of course, but gone will be whole bioregions of exotic plants, trees and animals that we now take for granted. New human beings decades from now will not even know what they are missing--their lives will be emptier and they will experience that as normal. If you had lived in the mountains of the Eastern United States before the Europeans arrived, you would have shared the forest with a species of buffalo. That type of buffalo--along with the native mountain lion and wolf--was hunted out of existence. What evolution herself would accomplish gradually, over many millions of years, by natural selection, The Monkey Tribe did in several decades.
Maybe The Monkey Tribe will do a U-turn in the road and we will decide to make sure that all forms of life continue to live. If we do so, it would represent a vast and almost simultaneous change in the mass mentality of The Monkey Tribe. We would have to see our lives in terms of harmony with nature rather than triumphant over it. I do not think that this will happen in time, on a large enough scale--because I think that individual people will continue to want to become wealthier, have children, and live as long as possible. I think that the destructive imperatives of humanity are so strong as to be unstoppable. But certainly we should work hard to keep the Earthly web of life as alive as possible (measured in individual species, which also means healthy habitat, which in turn means stopping the spread of humanity into the natural world that remains). More life is better than less life.
This change will be hard to accomplish because there is a pronounced human tendency to escape from difficulty rather than to deal with it (especially when it is a dilemma that is not external but internal). The Monkey Tribe has deeply ingrained beliefs that are so unexamined that we label them as "reality" or "normal" (religious belief in a "new, improved" afterlife, economic belief that we can "grow our way out", political beliefs that every constituency can be satisfied at once). I believe that the way to break these illusions apart is by changing myself, and by changing the system that operates The Grinder--but not by attacking other people.(18) My task is first of all to find life in myself, and treasure it and cultivate it--and by so doing I will begin to take seriously the entire web of life, upon which my life is utterly dependent.(19)
During my research to answer the question, "Is the Earth dying?" I was especially impressed by two articles:
- "Planet of Weeds: Tallying the Losses of Earth's Animals and Plants," by David Quammen, Harper's Magazine, October 1998
- "A Special Moment in History," by Bill McKibben, The Atlantic Monthly Magazine, May 1998
There are countless other articles, books, organizations. So much information. Eventually I have to stop reading, thinking and talking and start actually changing.
Personal Changes That I Must Make
To not change in the face of what I saw would seem colossally stupid because it would be out of accord with reality. After the vision, I felt an urgent imperative to do these things:
- Actively cultivate a positive psychological ecology. Don't go toward mental morbidity and decay (death), go toward liveliness and growth (life). Show compassion, sympathy, love, helpfulness, creativity.
- Follow the suggestions of other people. This is a good way for me to give up excessive self control and self reliance, and cultivate my social connections with other people.
- Change myself physically. Lose weight, exercise, eat right.(20) Monitor my posture constantly so that I am upright and ready to be physically active.
- Live in the reality of the present (where everything is always changing and never totally okay) and not in some imaginary future (where everything will be permanently okay--as in the concept of heaven, or winning the lottery, or a political uotpia).
- Pay closer attention to basic earth sciences, and how the web of life works.
- Stop the incessant operation of The Grinder and Advertising Hell by being aware of whether I am hurting or healing on the personal and planetary level--and by leaving the planet alone. There are many ways in which I can do this.
Thank you for listening. Please feel free to talk with me about this or anything else through my e-mail address: RLSCONRAD@HOTMAIL.COM.
During my preparation, I asked Eric if there were any other ways to have this experience. I liked it when he said there certainly were. "You can get it through meditation, therapy, or work of all sorts. You could get it by walking across the street and being surprised by it."
In fact, this did prove to be true. As you will see, in the acute stage of my experience I did turn away--but not totally. And although I was unable to show full courage, I still think I got the main impact of my vision.
This was to be a groundless fear -- my physical body remained totally relaxed (discounting vomiting twice, which is the result of making sudden movements). To external appearances, I was sleeping lightly in bed throughout the trip.
On the afternoon of the second day, after the acute phase had worn off, John told me that Eric said I must have done a lot of personal work, and cleared out a lot of material prior to the ibogaine, because most people didn't have such mild reactions. When John recounted this to me, I responded, "I hope so," and began to sob because the vision had given me the near-certainty that I had not done been working hard enough on myself in life.
This detail interests me. What did people see who ingested ibogaine before the invention of movie theaters? An opening between trees in a forest? The mouth of a cave?
By "hell," I mean in the Buddhist sense of myself creating states of fear and anger that I would then carry with me into the next portion of my existence, as my psychic ground of being .
But this horrible dilemma has activated a meaningful question that demands personal work from me: "What psychic reality am I creating for myself to inhabit?"
Several days after the vision, I realized that I had been feeling intermittent but regular pain in this very same spot on my own physical chest. The pain was--and I choose the word deliberately--a stabbing pain. As more days passed, this pain subsided.
Eric told me later that I could not have gone to sleep because the drug doesn't allow that, but it felt like sleep to me. I feel like I may have been asleep for significant periods of time throughout the experience.
After the acute effects of the ibogaine trip wore off, this statement changed in my mind to a question that demanded research: "Is the Earth dying?" I have since come to the conclusion that whether you measure it in the unnecessary individual deaths or in the unnecessary death of whole species, the answer is "yes".
The closest I could come to reproducing this effect later, in ordinary reality, was to put my nose directly on the TV screen during a commercial and keep my eyes open without blinking. But consider doing this for hours, and imagine that the source of the advertising would be not a TV station broadcasting commercials to you, but rather you yourself producing an endless stream of advertising from within your own self.
Both of my parents were formed in the Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite culture.
Also known as "acts of god": the suffering that comes from growth, disease, accidents, natural disaster, and natural death.
Such as the destruction of individual animals (like killing another pig so that I can take more sausage from the breakfast buffet when I am already full). On a broader scale, it is also the suffering that The Monkey Tribe causes to entire natural ecological systems and whole species.
The 500,000 lives that were extinguished during the horrific civil war in Rwanda were replaced in two days by new births on planet Earth.
It has been estimated that primitive hunter-gatherers needed 2,500 calories a day to live. Modern-day Americans use about 75 times that (this figure also measures--in calories--the energy it takes to ship food to our table, drive ourselves back and forth to work, heat our homes, etc.). Is the average "modern" person ready to voluntarily undergo a dramatic lifestyle change and turn back the clock to 2,500 total calories a day? No, of course not.
"…the background rate (of extinction of species through the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection) claims only about one species in any major group every million years. At the background rate, extinction is infrequent enough to be counterbalanced by the evolution of new species … the consensus among conscientious biologists is that we're headed into another mass extinction, a vale of biological impoverishment commensurate with the big five." ("Planet of Weeds: Tallying the Losses of Earth's Animals and Plants," by David Quammen in Harper's Magazine, October 1998)
In 1962, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was addressing a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when a white supremacist jumped on stage and slugged him. After the man was subdued, Dr. King was asked if he wanted to press charges. "No," he said. "I want to change the system that produces such men in the first place."
The most basic aspects of my life depend on other lives beyond my own. Food to digest, air to breathe, water to drink--without these things I cease to be, and they are all living things or natural support systems outside of myself. If I see myself as somehow triumphant or dominant over the web of life, I am in a state of profound mental illness.
My eating habits changed dramatically after the experience. I no longer thought about food as a diversion, but as nutrition. I became intuitively sensitive to the level of processed or artificial content in any food. For the two days afterward, to eat an apple or a piece of dry toast was a meal all by itself, and was fully appreciated as such on a simple biological level.
This entire page © 1999 by Rob Conrad (contact Rob for reprint permission)
(1) During my preparation, I asked Eric if there were any other ways to have this experience. I liked it when he said there certainly were. "You can get it through meditation, therapy, or work of all sorts. You could get it by walking across the street and being surprised by it."
(2) In fact, this did prove to be true. As you will see, in the acute stage of my experience I did turn away--but not totally. And although I was unable to show full courage, I still think I got the main impact of my vision.
(3) This was to be a groundless fear -- my physical body remained totally relaxed (discounting vomiting twice, which is the result of making sudden movements). To external appearances, I was sleeping lightly in bed throughout the trip.
(4) On the afternoon of the second day, after the acute phase had worn off, John told me that Eric said I must have done a lot of personal work, and cleared out a lot of material prior to the ibogaine, because most people didn't have such mild reactions. When John recounted this to me, I responded, "I hope so," and began to sob because the vision had given me the near-certainty that I had not done been working hard enough on myself in life.
(5) This detail interests me. What did people see who ingested ibogaine before the invention of movie theaters? An opening between trees in a forest? The mouth of a cave?
(6) By "hell," I mean in the Buddhist sense of myself creating states of fear and anger that I would then carry with me into the next portion of my existence, as my psychic ground of being .
(7) But this horrible dilemma has activated a meaningful question that demands personal work from me: "What psychic reality am I creating for myself to inhabit?"
(8) Several days after the vision, I realized that I had been feeling intermittent but regular pain in this very same spot on my own physical chest. The pain was--and I choose the word deliberately--a stabbing pain. As more days passed, this pain subsided.
(9) Eric told me later that I could not have gone to sleep because the drug doesn't allow that, but it felt like sleep to me. I feel like I may have been asleep for significant periods of time throughout the experience.
(10) After the acute effects of the ibogaine trip wore off, this statement changed in my mind to a question that demanded research: "Is the Earth dying?" I have since come to the conclusion that whether you measure it in the unnecessary individual deaths or in the unnecessary death of whole species, the answer is "yes".
(11) The closest I could come to reproducing this effect later, in ordinary reality, was to put my nose directly on the TV screen during a commercial and keep my eyes open without blinking. But consider doing this for hours, and imagine that the source of the advertising would be not a TV station broadcasting commercials to you, but rather you yourself producing an endless stream of advertising from within your own self.
(12) Both of my parents were formed in the Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite culture.
(13) Also known as "acts of god": the suffering that comes from growth, disease, accidents, natural disaster, and natural death.
(14) Such as the destruction of individual animals (like killing another pig so that I can take more sausage from the breakfast buffet when I am already full). On a broader scale, it is also the suffering that The Monkey Tribe causes to entire natural ecological systems and whole species.
(15) The 500,000 lives that were extinguished during the horrific civil war in Rwanda were replaced in two days by new births on planet Earth.
(16) It has been estimated that primitive hunter-gatherers needed 2,500 calories a day to live. Modern-day Americans use about 75 times that (this figure also measures--in calories--the energy it takes to ship food to our table, drive ourselves back and forth to work, heat our homes, etc.). Is the average "modern" person ready to voluntarily undergo a dramatic lifestyle change and turn back the clock to 2,500 total calories a day? No, of course not.
(17) "…the background rate (of extinction of species through the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection) claims only about one species in any major group every million years. At the background rate, extinction is infrequent enough to be counterbalanced by the evolution of new species … the consensus among conscientious biologists is that we're headed into another mass extinction, a vale of biological impoverishment commensurate with the big five." ("Planet of Weeds: Tallying the Losses of Earth's Animals and Plants," by David Quammen in Harper's Magazine, October 1998)
(18) In 1962, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was addressing a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when a white supremacist jumped on stage and slugged him. After the man was subdued, Dr. King was asked if he wanted to press charges. "No," he said. "I want to change the system that produces such men in the first place."
(19) The most basic aspects of my life depend on other lives beyond my own. Food to digest, air to breathe, water to drink--without these things I cease to be, and they are all living things or natural support systems outside of myself. If I see myself as somehow triumphant or dominant over the web of life, I am in a state of profound mental illness.
(20) My eating habits changed dramatically after the experience. I no longer thought about food as a diversion, but as nutrition. I became intuitively sensitive to the level of processed or artificial content in any food. For the two days afterward, to eat an apple or a piece of dry toast was a meal all by itself, and was fully appreciated as such on a simple biological level.
This entire page © 1999 by Rob Conrad (contact Rob for reprint permission)