Psychonaut + Literary

Three words that describe you?

Courageous, visionary and cute. 

Do you have a daily spiritual practice?

Writing, and thinking and integrating ideas, I consider that my main spiritual practice. 

What’s your definition of God?

One consciousness, that we’re all aspects of.

How do you describe your purpose in life? How has this shifted throughout over the years?

I’m seeking to assist humanity in making a positive evolutionary jump and avert a potentially catastrophic approach.

Who has been the least expected teacher or guide that has had a major influence in your life?

My daughter.

You’ve mentioned that an element of sacrifice is needed in today’s society - how do you incorporate sacrifice in your life and how do you see this materialized for people today? 

That’s something that’s evolved... Previously I got very invested in an ideal, something... I mean I am very concerned with the fact that the lifestyle everyone has is totally beyond what the planet can actually support. And you know there’s so much self-gratification, narcissism, hypocrisy… and I see that in my own life.  I just traveled to Mykonos for this event and people wrote snarky comments on my Facebook and I can’t disagree with them. 

I think more and more I’m inspired by organized rebellion and that the only way we’re going to make corporations and governments move fast enough is if large number of people are willing to get arrested, go to prison, really risk their personal freedom as a symbol of resistance to a destructive system. 

We resonate with your statement that artists are the modern day shamans. Which contemporary artists do you feel are fulfilling this role? 

That’s a bit of simplification. I would say there’s a deep relationship between the shamanic role and the artist. For me, someone like Marina Abromovic or Ai Wei Wei, they really combine a very clear spiritual vision with a social conscious - they’re some of our best visionaries. 

But Shaman is a term that means different things in various cultures. Some are very esoteric and mystical and others are very pragmatic and organized around healing different conditions. For me, Shaman is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of practices. 

The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck, 2012

Can you speak to us about the role of women in Shamanism? 

As explored in my book “Breaking Open the Head”, in indigenous culture, it’s more rare for women to be shamans but when they are, they are particularly powerful. A famous example of that being Maria Sabina or some of the women of the Santo Daime tradition in Brazil. 

You’ve noted social media’s potential for transformation - how do you feel these tools could be leveraged for a shift in consciousness? Who’s currently using them in that way?

We really are in a global ecological emergency / tragedy and one of the only ways we can address it at the speed of the scale that’s necessary is if we were able to use these global communication platforms to give people the authentic information on what’s happening, along with a sense of solution that can scale up from the local and regional to the planetary. For instance, Facebook and Google show us the capacity to connect with billions of people all over the planet but unfortunately because they’re locked into the profit-making orientation of capitalism, they’re not focused on bringing the type of knowledge and awareness we desperately need to secure our own survival. I think things are going to get a lot more extreme in the next 5 to 10 years and these heads of corporations are going to realize they have the tools and need to use them in a much more purposeful and transformative way. 

In the process of researching and writing for your upcoming book, When Plants Dream: Ayahuasca, Amazonian Shamanism and the Global Psychedelic Renaissance, has your perspective on Ayahuasca shifted? If so, in what ways?

After my first book “Breaking Open the Head” in 2002, I would go around and give talks and most people at the time had never heard of Ayahuasca. And in that book I had a foreshadowing sense that Ayahuasca would become a big deal, but of course I’ve been totally shocked and surprised by the speed at which it’s become a global phenomenon – which has had many positive consequences but also negative consequences. This new book, which I wrote with my friend Sophia Rokhlin, is a very balanced book, because you have to reckon with, for instance that Ayahuasca is now becoming scarce in the Amazon, as the desire from Westerners for healing is striping all the vines; and you have to reckon with immoral shamans that cause all kinds of problems. But I think more consciousness is still growing in this field and we’re learning so much more and there’s a lot more research on the effects that these plants can have...This book is kind of a compendium of all kinds of research - for example the fact that Ayahuasca can regrow our brain cells, so there’s a lot of facets to this medicine that make it incredibly promising for the future of humanity.

Breaking Open the Head (left) and When Plants Dream: Ayahuasca, Amazonian Shamanism and the Global Psychedelic Renaissance by Daniel Pinchbeck

Do you have a ritual or process to integrate insights from your journeys?

Not as much as I should… Actually, I’ve personally taken a step back from doing a lot of journeying: other stuff erupted in my life (long story), so I’m not quite sure what the future will hold for me with that. But I definitely want to work in more structured scenarios. It’s been healthy for me to take a step back. I am really happy to see that this whole culture around integrating psychedelic insight has become a professional field, which definitely wasn’t the case when I was doing the research 10-15 years ago.

Alan Watts has been quoted by saying, “If you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes." We’ve noticed a shift in our communities of people who previously worked with plant medicine now moving into breathwork. Do you foresee a movement from psychedelics to more somatic practices?

I think we’re becoming more cognizant. And often with people who had a big breakthrough with psychedelics, they’re then able to access those kinds of states with less extreme and chemically mediated means. We’re in a growth process and discovering there’s a range with mind-body states of consciousness. And it’s going to be a process as we become more sophisticated. I’m trying to understand what social value they have. For me that’s a big issue: I see a certain level or narcissism in the post-new age spiritual culture and for me that culture will only become fully alive once it integrates with the various movements, as we need to protect Indigenous rights and stop the destruction of our planet which is happening right now. 

We recently read about Dr. Monnica Williams leading the first-ever study on MDMA and its effects on people of color. She notes that African Americans face a lot of danger when it comes to using drugs or even talking about them in a way that isn’t true for white people. Have you seen a shift in the demographic of plant medicine users and how do we open more doors for these opportunities for people of color?

Don’t know her work but that sounds like a very valuable avenue. I think on the one hand you have legal jurisdiction and how unfair the laws are for minorities for these types of experiences as we know they’re more likely to face jail sentences etc. On the other hand, if you have people who come from very disadvantaged communities, it can be more difficult to have an experience that’s incredibly sensitizing to your environment, unless you have support structures. There’s some big hurdles there but that definitely has to be a major direction for future research and implementation. 

What is the most important thing you discovered or learned this year?

I’ve been on an inner journey around sexuality and healing my own wounds with the feminine. I most recently did a tantra training with a group called ISTA at the School of Temple Arts and one of the main focuses of that was integrating the masculine and feminine polarities in yourself; and that felt like something really profound for me and a journey I want to keep going deeper into. I definitely feel it’s going to be the growth fairy of the near future because there’s obviously a huge disconnection between men and women and to go into that more intentionally and with more awareness is going to change the game on every level. It’s really exciting that’s growing right now. 

What would you imagine your last words to be? 

Ok, I’m ready!

Daniel Pinchbeck is based in New York City. 

For more info: http://www.pinchbeck.io/