4/29 – The Society For The Anthropology of Consciousness

April- June 2014 / Notes from the Field

34th Annual Conference – From Margins to Center: Bringing Consciousness Forward

Tom Christensen

Tom Christiansen

Tom Christiansen

From Wednesday until late on Saturday, 27-30 March, 2014, at a beautiful, bucolic, and art filled setting in Portland, Oregon a group of 60-80 people gathered to share an inquiry into the nature of human consciousness. Some of these folk have been attending for over 13 years and the ties that bind all the returning participants were almost visible and were extended warmly and without hesitation to the newcomers.   While the preponderance of the group was academic scholars and researchers, there was an explicit and executed promise to make this annual event open to anyone who might have a contribution.   In the spirit that the conference embodied the following report of the event is offered.

Within the body/heart/mind of All, there are many little body/heart/minds. These beings are seen to collect around songs, both ancient and created in the moment. Often such gatherings unfold into dance, ancient and spontaneous ritual, and artworks, all offering doorways into deeper, even sometimes, novel, exciting and fearful depths of the present. Poetry, fiction, and stories leave behind hints of what was experienced, and point the way back into the once found.

Sometimes the little body/heart/minds move into abstraction, analysis, study, even experiments, in attempts to ferret out the values of our forays into what is just beyond the normal. From these voices we are left wondering how much alike we are in the most fundamental ways; do we all have the same ground of being? Do we arise up out of some common human nature? Or are we of many different tribes, speaking, believing, experiencing, our portion of the mystery, and never able to share it fully with the “others”?   Did Tim Leary leave us with any treasures of value today? Does the H/mong Shaman bring a message that sings in hearts rooted in the European continent? Can one seek honestly, candidly, for the truth, where income, tenure, and life goals constrain that search?

In one moment we are sharing the research findings regarding consciousness impacts on random number generators scattered around the globe. Then next an elementary school librarian is opening the door to what is possible thru an ethnic story he liltingly reports taking us back to our 3d grade memories, and the magic we never thought to doubt back then.   After a break, and short exchanges that either leave the heart warmed, or the mind grown, and sometimes both, a shamanic poem is shared. The message lays out the path, the protocols, the measures, even the legal framework, for adventuring with the aid of what we here call entheogens, and what I have always thought of as psychedelics. We learn that the use of Ayahuasca with Shamans A , B, and C, always leads to either an A, B, or C kind of experience.   It’s still set, setting, and dosage.   Another report informs us of how these substances have been used in human collectives as far back as we can find, and that many of our monkey brothers and sisters , as well as reindeer, elephants, cats, and birds have found altering awareness an attractive experience.

What power does love have in caring for the homeless? Can consciousness be changed by an encounter with an open heart?   Does the revival of indigenous Greek religious practices open up possibilities for those of us beyond that territory?   Are Pagan practices taking us backward or forward; expanding or contracting our consciousness? Or both? How is the power of discourse, affect, and ritual balanced by whom, and to what effect on our being?   Many are here who have followed narrow, obscured paths into narrower and more obscured communities; have surrendered themselves into these world views, at least as much as is possible, and return here to tell their stories. Yes, love changes people. Yes, humanity is thriving at the local, ritual, bonding, survival, level, in many tiny collectives, unique and still of us. We are alive with passion, adventure, tradition, wonder, sharp minds, and sometimes very closed, and just as often on the other extreme, full of what we know and ready to embrace whatever else there is.

I learned of the heroes, modest and not assuming at all, who for 51 years have guided ocean going vessels across the killer abyss, The Bar, at the mouth of the powerful Columbia River, with never one lost life. These men are the guardians of the fate of a whole community, without them the goods that feed and employ their neighbors, would never arrive.   Shamans by another name perhaps, and danger is the entheogen.   Would these men tell of the numinous? Would they experience altered states when under unbelievable pressures, in inscrutable situations, where all must be comprehended regarding tides, winds, moving sand, prideful captains, and a ship that has never been tamed by this pilot before? Sometimes we find what is behind the veil of consciousness in a ritual refined over ages, and sometimes life simply requires it.

There are traditions, older than we can trace, holding knowledge hidden in songs, poetry, and three dimensional imagery. “Progress” is forgetting much of this, and some here are capturing this history. Maybe the children will want to know it later? Maybe we can distill from these disappearing treasures the medicine our times is searching for. Record it. Systematize it. Represent it. Save it. Above all, do not lose it. And it is being lost.

What is a human being? Are we animals, collections of evolved amoebas, constrained patterns of photons, or particularizations of potential residing in the field?   Each of these is given as an answer, and no time is wasted in refutation. These people are harvesting the jewels of inquiry. They are not warring for supremacy.   Looking deep, no, stepping deep, into the mystery of humanity, brings forth humility, and an easy comfort, safe from primitive impulses to win the high ground. Within each of us is the same inscrutable mystery found in others. We don’t know who we are any more than others do, not really. And we make up our stories. We tie them to numbers, events, ideas, and spin up a vision of what might be, a vision solid enough to lead us on, but not so solid we conclude our quest is done.

Can breathing change our body/heart/minds, our being? Can sounds create us anew? Can we dance all night around a fire, inventing together what the moment is inviting, and find this is a medicine for oft ignored pains in our soul? Could we paint upon the walls of tiny crowded enclaves, build a communal laundry, and find we have done something right and good? Can we shed the web of myth we grew up inside of, and without a god, or a belief, or a community, find our heart sings absorbed into this freedom? Or when we do find our way to the heart of our quest, deep within the labyrinth of our own consciousness, will the Minotaur devour us and extinguish our light forever? Is the quest to understand leading us to the realm of the living ancestors or truly turning us to dust?

Here we visit Lizzie Borden’s infamous home, and wonder how we cross the line from knowing no ghosts really exist, to never again hosting that belief.   Some make that transition in belief. Who is right?   Then we are in a nature setting in Costa Rica, and feeling the pulse of what is here. Then on to Neolithic caves and see the signs of discontinuous experience there. Suddenly we are on a hotel balcony in Las Vegas, seeing how violating cultural norms, affects the consciousness of those who are honoring them. Now we are in Hong Kong, adding novelty to the settings of college education, and drawing forth new possibilities in consciousness. Suddenly a screen of colorful, mood triggering images of artist Paul Klee is before us. What mind brought these forth? Where do they connect in us? We learn an adventurous Rabbi in New York is working out the same problem…where do we connect?

The young black men, honoring their recently deceased teacher, ended their artful, and often mesmerizing drumming, late on Saturday evening. Physicist, Amit Goswami had preceded them arguing that the theory of evolution was not quite right, and that we live our time bound lives in an unmeasurable context of the infinitely infinite domain of potential….consciousness.   Parting would take yet another half day, during which goodbyes would be prolonged, promises for the future made, and many almost hidden bows of gratitude exchanged.   Throughout this whole experience the spirit, body, mind, heart, movement and simply quiet presence of Dr. Stanley Krippner, the elder of elders in this world, infused, and not always subtly, invited care, rigor, love, politeness, and a quiet journeying forward that honored all of everything.

There was a magic at this conference. It might have been Stanley, so clearly being Stanley. Or it might have been Bryan and Diane, and the perfect design they built the conference around. It might have been the combination of brilliance and kindness that seemed the gifts everyone laid on this altar of shared time.   The woman who reported to me the huge black bat that emerged out of her chest, the bat she argued with for some time, and whose admonition she finally accepted, could not have told me this story so freely many other places. Whatever it was that undergirded, infused, and lifted all of us was deserving of all the homage one could muster. Yes, consciousness can be changed. And over a few days in Portland, in 2014, this change was good. What a fine experience. Thank you, everyone.

About the Author

Tom Christensen, is a Realtor and Writer in Madison, WI tomc@centralmadison.com . He guided a workshop at this conference, titled: “Who we have become when we weren’t looking: Created by context.” He is currently editing a new book of presentations on applications of Spiral Dynamics.

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