I just finished reading “The journey to Ixtlan”, the third book by Carlos Castaneda which speaks about his alleged apprenticeship to the Yaqui “shaman”, Don Juan. Castaneda was described as the “Godfather of New Age” by the Times magazine which they repudiated later as they believed his purported spiritualist was fictitious.Whether the author actually met the Indian Shaman or was he under the influence of a psychedelic drug (when he wrote the Don Juan series), which the traditional people used for healing and attaining the state of altered consciousness, is questionable. Despite these oddities, the book is a revelation. It is a great piece of literature, something to be devoured slowly and has a tremendous impact on the way we see this world.
Ayahuasca ….the magical elixir.
Ayahuasca is a strong foul tasting hallucinogenic brew from the Amazon forests used by the Shamans of South America for healing, personal growth and expanding their consciousness. It is prepared using 2 plants native to South America – Psychotria viridis (packed with mind-altering Dimethyltryptamine DMT) and Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) which stops DMT from being broken down before it crosses the gut and reaches the brain. A perfect mix powerful enough to concoct a cognitive delirium and altered consciousness. The Ayahuasca ceremony is still practiced in certain parts of South America. It involves drinking the hallucinatory plant/vine tea blend under the guidance of a respected Shaman, for a long night spent in deep connection to a higher intelligence and an understanding of one’s true self. People who have experienced it say that it is truly a life changing and transformative experience.
So yes, there is a possibility that the American author Carlos Castaneda might have been subjected to (maybe without his knowledge) something similar like the ayahuasca while he penned down the famous Don Juan series because he keeps mentioning about a power food which Don Juan ( shaman ) used to feed him with, time and again.
The creative brew….
This got me thinking. Do we need an extraneous substance to be creative, to enable us to think beyond the realms of our consciousness and come up with something pristine and novel?
If we browse through the annals of history, we can see that many of the artists and painters used drugs or mood enhancers as a medium to spur their creative instincts. Leonardo Da Vinci supposedly used opium, Vincent Van Gogh was a chronic alcoholic, Mozart was on alcohol and tobacco, Stravinsky was on behaviour modification drugs, writers like Charles Dickens used opium, Edgar Allan Poe and Ernest Hemingway were alcohol addicts, Sigmund Freud used to be addicted to morphine and cocaine, Stephen King used cocaine, Xanax and Valium and the literary list goes on.
If we take contemporary geniuses – Francis Crick was on LSD, Thomas Edison was on cocaine, Paul Erdos was on amphetamines, Steve Jobs and Bill gates supposedly used LSD and Carl Sagan used Marijuana. A majority of trend setters and thinkers who has shaped the world in ways beyond our imagination has been on some kind of mood enhancement drugs which spurred their creativity and thinking prowess to higher echelons.
But that does not mean that everyone used it. There were creative geniuses like Salvador Dali who painted psychedelic pictures which people wrongly connoted as an end result of drug intake. But he never used any sort of drugs. He had his own methods and tricks to trigger his creativity. For example, Dali would sit in a chair holding the spoon above the plate and doze off. As he fell asleep, the spoon would drop onto the plate, making a noise that woke him in time to jot down the surreal images he saw in his dreams. Other times, Dali would stand on his head until he almost passed out, allowing him to become semi-lucid. Ingenious methods to shake the brain out of its stupor! But it worked for him and he has produced some of the greatest works the world has ever seen.
Further there are reported cases of people who, after major brain surgeries, have resorted to writing feverishly in their mental delirium. There have also been cases of people who after injuries to their head have vehemently started taking up various creative pursuits. Sometimes all you need is just a whack on the side of the head to get that jolt of creative energy coursing through your veins.
So are we at our creative best when we are delusional, disoriented and delirious?
Or can we be creative by just being open-minded and inquisitive?
If the answer to the second question is in the negative, then Ayahuasca ..here i come !