“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.”
– From William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”
Most of my waking life my mind has been racing with the rest of me chasing behind trying to catch up. But at the end of a dirt road far out in the Arizona desert, I stopped one night and caught up with myself.
On that night, it was me alone under an infinite night sky – stripped naked without emails, TV, chatter and static – all the clutter and distractions that normally mask me from myself and the world around me. The peyote juice I drank before the sun melted away had seeped into my body and shed the skin between my soul and the universe around and within me. At this remote solitary place in the desert, I had come home to myself.
For the previous two years, I had zigg zagged through North America in my motor home - creating and absorbing a massive amount of experiences, beauty, conversations and stimulation. I had completely looped the United States from Key West to Maine, over to Seattle, down to San Diego, through the Rockies, up into the heartland and down along the Gulf. But eventually the great long winding road took me right back to myself.
That night, as I watched each log in my campfire burn and smoke up into the infinite black sky, I felt that my journey, no matter how intense and hot, would ultimately smoke up and dissipate into the infinite unknown Universe. But yet, while I still exist, I felt the passionate need to burn bright and warm before turning to cold ashes.
If you journey long enough you will come to the “end of the road”. All souls who take the journey of discovery eventually find that the road leads back to themselves – if they follow the road long enough. After thousands of turns, stops and encounters – I’ve finally come to realize that the ultimate trip is the journey within.
It had been a long winding road to this place in the desert and in my heart and soul. I had sought this place in books, exotic locations, in people and in religion. But I never really found it.
I thought of the old man, half Apache Indian and half French but raised as a Catholic, who along with two other seekers – Anne and Mathew – founded the Peyote Way Church in this remote Arizona desert. There were no steeples, altars or dogma in this church. In this religion of peyotism the natural universe was the church and peyote was the sacrament of choice.
This man, I learned from those who cared for him, had seen his share of death and dying in Europe during World War II and killed plenty of Germans. At age 17, he grew old well before his time. After the war he became a well regarded artist and potter, a major advocate and figure in the psychedelic spiritual awakening of the 60’s and 70’s and a great student of history. But beyond all this, he was a seeker of wisdom and spiritual awareness.
While fasting during the past two days, free from all food and alcohol, I could hear the sound of this man’s breathing machine slowly pumping air in heavy deep breaths through an air tube that went up into a wall. But I never saw him come out of this room.
The home I was staying in was rustic and warm and the walls were covered with pottery, paintings and books. There was no TV in this home. Colorful birds fluttered outside the windows and drank sweet water and ate seeds from the feeders. A pot of organic beans simmered in the kitchen.
This homey church was kept alive and tended to by a small and loving family who lived in harmony with their affectionate cats, dogs and horses. This family began when Matt and Anne happened upon this man and this place after driving the back roads of the Arizona Desert during the mid seventies. They grew to respect, love and depend upon each other. The old man taught Matt and Anne the art of making beautiful pottery and growing peyote, while they all taught each other lessons of love and spirituality. During that time Matt and Anne raised three very independent and unique children.
On the grounds were two greenhouses where the peyote plants grew under the intense sun and affectionate care of Anne, Matt and their two boys. A couple of horses roamed the yard and the two big dogs greeted all visitors with sloppy kisses like they were long lost friends. In an America polluted by consumerism, virtual realities provided by commercial sponsors, propaganda, fear, competition and urban blight – this family had a purity and spirit that made this church a true oasis for the body and spirit.
Earlier in the day, I had sat in a rocking chair and browsed some of the books, such as “Cleansing the Door of Perception”, the “I Ching” and various history books. I had lost interest in food and focused on feeding my heart, mind and soul. I thought of the old man in the room behind the door now breathing his last breaths of oxygen through a tube. I knew from the fascinating books in the home that he was a true student of world history and wisdom.
I was told that he had come to realize that the fascism he and his dead comrades defeated was reanimating in the America he thought he had saved. He had survived the nightmare of war, with a steel plate in his head and a metal rod in his leg, and for what?
Yet in his final decades he had devoted his life to the Peyote Way Church that he, Anne and Mathew had founded in the late 1970’s. He and his family had fought their share of legal battles with the Feds and locals. But his church and the right of its members to use peyote as a religious sacrament remained intact under Arizona law.
I knew that I needed to meet this man and discover the man behind the door. But it was not until the night of my spirit walk under the night desert sky, under the loving guidance and inspiration of peyote, that I walked up to the house from my campfire and knocked on his door.
A soft but firm voice guided me to open the door and enter. What I saw was as an old white bearded man with crazy frizzy white hair. He was seated up and surrounded by books and relics. His eyes were fully alive, bright and curious.
But beyond what I saw, I felt the instant recognition that I had stepped into the presence of a wise man. I realized as we spoke that I’d been seeking this door and a wise presence on the other side for all of my adult life.
I instinctively asked if I could take his portrait with the camera that was always strapped to my side like a side arm. He told me that such photos would be pointless and unnecessary. As we spoke I came to realize that attempting to capture his essence in a pale two dimensional reflection would have been futile.
I also came to know, that as one of the founders of Peyote Way Church, he had no time for any priestly garments or silly sanctimonious pretensions. After I thanked him for providing such a beautiful place and experience, we wasted no time and spoke soul to soul beyond our years and experiences. I felt like we were old knowing souls from a similar time or place. It was clear that this man, wise far beyond his years, had no breath to waste on small talk or nonsense.
He had turned over his life work and property many years ago to his loving adopted family tribe. He was now focusing his waning last moments on the life of the soul beyond all worldly preoccupations.
During our conversation he suggested that no matter where I was that I leave the city every 90 days and find a remote place away from all people and light a fire under the stars. Then during that evening he suggested I reflect upon what I had done during the previous 90 days and on what I proposed to do over then next 90 days. There was no need to plan the “rest of my life” only then next 90 days. But he encouraged me to think big and only add what was worth of doing if it was my last 90 days.
This man with only an 8th grade education had never stopped learning and seeking knowledge because he knew he was not educated. His wisdom was like flowing spring water for my thirsty soul.
He told me that he had maintained a vow of celibacy for 30 plus years, if for no other reason than to avoid distractions and complications. Perhaps he had realized that once you stop fucking others you can focus on really knowing them. It dawned on me how liberating celibacy could be.
I thought of all the many seekers who must have visited the Peyote Way Church. Did they find what they were seeking? Or did most come as for the trill of the drug and then merely pass through? What was I really seeking?
The old sage said that he could only suggest directions. Then he suggested that the wisdom I was seeking was not at the end of his white beard but within myself and out under the desert sky.
This old sage had been generous in giving me so many of his last breathes. I thanked him from my heart for the privilege of meeting him. I left the room feeling that I should never waste any words or breath on what didn’t matter. From here on out I needed to live like I had rounded the last corner on my final dash.
Although, ironically, the sage had reminded me that in the end the road stops and that I would be wise to slow down and not be in such a hurry to get to the end of it. Yes, slow down, drive safely and see everything along the way. What other way would a sensible person ever choose?
Note - I learned later, that the family, out of concern for this man’s waning health, did not want visitors to the church to enter this man’s private space. I apologized for the intrusion and suggest that those who visit the Peyote Way Church respect his privacy.
I walked outside under the infinite stars and through the trees back to my dying campfire. I came to realize that I would like to be the soft reassuring voice on the other side of the door that encourages others to turn the knob and push on through. I was beginning to realize that it was time for me to leave the pretense of youth behind and aspire to become the old sage with a white beard and crazy wisps of hair.
I came back to my campfire alone and stoked the embers to stave off the cold cloudless night sky. I put more logs on the embers and watched them burn. I imagined my ego burning up and peeling away like the layers of wood ringing each log. Against the infinite desert night sky, my ego and writing aspirations seemed fleeting and destined to smoke up and dissipate into the infinite sky.
I stepped away from the campfire and stood out in the desert and slowly turned 360 degrees beneath the stars. The star speckled sky turned like a gigantic planetarium rotating on the horizon. Under the infinite night sky with my back against the black cold night air, l felt my place in the universe without gadgets, toys or role playing.
Fasting had cleared away my bloated contentment and left me with the clear realization that, when life is stripped bare beneath the cold night sky, we hunger for our tribe far more than food. Under the vast night sky and infinite time that swallows us all, we are all just little Indians huddling by our campfires.
So we tend our fires to protect and care for those we love and for those we invite to come and find comfort. And hopefully that love extends beyond our small circle and ripples outward until it washes over this tiny fragile globe that is spinning some where in infinity.
I stayed up all night tending my fire. I thought of all my friends and family and what I would say to each of them if they were alone with me by the fire.
For most I would start by apologizing for not expressing my appreciation for them. I would tell them how much they meant to me and let them know that wherever my campfire burned they would always be welcome. I felt profound gratitude for them and for life in this amazing world.
I also I felt connected to the Indian spirit that lives deep in the soul of all men and women, no matter what our color. This earth spirit is one with the world and all living beings. But this spirit is endangered.
This spirit is being smothered by booze, suffocated by smoke, buried under materialism, separated by division, driven to exhaustion and wounded by man made ugliness. This spirit within all of us is tainted by a greed that does not respect nature or honor the soul.
Can you feel it? If you can’t, step away from all the distractions, thoughts and noise and listen carefully to what you really hunger for. Feel the beauty around and within you. When one finds true peace within there is no need to escape into distractions or run from ourselves.
Is it any wonder that every city needs a park where people can return to nature and escape the urban insanity to reconnect with themselves?
The white man killed the Indians because they could not be enslaved. The Indians had no concept of owning the land and enslaving others and so they could not fathom the madness of the white man and his ways. The Indians had to be cleared from the land so the land could be conquered, fenced, plowed, stripped and paved.
But now we’ve contaminated the world with our madness. If it continues, very soon, the world will run a fever and the waters will rise and wash and dry away the sickness. But the earth will remain long after us. Mother earth has seen her share of children come and go extinct over the past billion or so years. Do you know it’s true?
In any case, none of us have forever. At best we are just brief shooting stars that only a few will ever notice. We have only a flicker of time left to live brightly, to love and to share. From now until the end, it’s time to make every last word and breath count. The old man on the end of his lifeline is all of us, if we’re lucky.
Life beyond the other side of the door is to live in a world too rich for words or photos to capture. I now understood why this wise old man had told me that taking his photo was pointless. His true essence would have eluded any photo, no matter the photographer or camera.
With each dying log gone up in smoke and up into the infinite sky I knew it was time to dance and burn while the fire was still burning. I hope to God and my place in this universe that I never forget the feeling of tending a campfire alone against a cold night sky.
When the cold night gives way to the gentle warmth of the rising sun and the sound of chirping birds, I will get up and welcome the gift of a new day. I will get busy calling those I love to tell them how lucky I am to have them and to let them know that they are welcome at my campfire any where I lay my head down under the infinite night sky. We are all we have beneath the infinite sky in the face of the great unknown.
“The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.”
– Excerpted from the book “The Doors of Perception” (1954) by Aldous Huxley
“The Spirit Walk is a time of introspection and examination of conscience. It gives the individual a chance to re-evaluate their priorities. Through the Holy Sacrament Peyote, the communicant experiences a loss of selfishness and becomes aware of the god within. This heightened awareness gives the communicant a new perspective of the world and their part in it. Petty squabbles and daily strife become unimportant. The communicant may experience regret for past actions and thoughts and come to a firm purpose of amendment not to do them again. Peyote often leaves the communicant glad to be alive and more in touch with the Earth and their deity. The Holy Sacrament Peyote, taken in the spirit Walk structure, leads one to an orientation towards peaceful resolution of conflicts, empathy towards others, and environmental conscience.”
– Excerpted from the Peyote Way Church’s Website
Other Peoples Peyote Accounts –
To read the experiences of other Spirit Walkers, visit the Peyote Way Church’s testimonial page. There are some amazing accounts that are thoughtfully presented.
Information about Peyote and its usage:
The bona fide religious use of Peyote by non-Indians is protected in only five states: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon.
Since Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, Peyote was listed with heroine, cocaine and LSD, as a dangerous drug. However, those who are 25% or more American Indian or members of a church using peyote as a sacrament could still partake.
Learn more about Peyote and Peyotism visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peyote
From wikipedia – Peyote, (from the Nahuatl word peyotl), is a small, spineless cactus. It is native to southwestern Texas and through central Mexico. It is found primarily in the Chihuahuan desert and in the states of Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi among scrub, especially where there is limestone.
It is well known for its psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline. It is currently used world wide as a recreational drug, an entheogen, and supplement to various transcendence practices including meditation, psychonautics, and psychedelic psychotherapy. Peyote has a long history of ritual religious and medicinal use by indigenous Americans. It flowers from March through May, and sometimes as late as September. The flowers are pink, with thigmotactic anthers (like Opuntia).
The effective dose for mescaline is about 300 to 500 mg (equivalent to roughly 5 grams of dried peyote) and the effects last about 10 to 12 hours. When combined with appropriate set and setting, peyote is reported to trigger states of deep introspection and insight that have been described as being of a metaphysical or spiritual nature. At times, these can be accompanied by rich visual or auditory effects (see synesthesia).
Effects of Long Term Use
A 2005 paper published in Biological Psychiatry outlines research conducted by Dr. John Halpern into peyote. “Psychological and Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Peyote Use Among Native Americans” found that Peyote users scored significantly better than non-users on the “general positive affect” and “psychological well-being” measures of the Rand Mental Health Inventory (RMHI), a standard instrument used to diagnose psychological problems and determine overall mental health. By contrast, alcohol abusers did significantly worse than the comparison group (non-users) in all measures of the RMHI.