This article is the prologue to The Electric Jesus: The Healing Journey of a Contemporary Gnostic, recently released by EVOLVER EDITIONS/North Atlantic Books.
January 17, 2011
“Had you told me a few years ago that I’d be here in Austin tonight talking with all of you about Jesus, aliens, and ayahuasca, I would have laughed my ass off. As a cynical secular materialist, I scoffed at anything mystical. I thought only direct political action made any real change in the world. As you may have guessed, that perspective has been turned on its head.”
Sixty-five people sat crammed on the shaggy beige carpet of the suburban, seventies-style living room that Monday night. They spilled into the hallway and dining area, leaning forward to hear from the back. Wide colorful tapestries of illuminated Buddhas, zodiac charts, and complex geometrical Shipibo patterns covered the dank wood paneled walls so indicative of the aesthetically challenged “Me Decade.” Ceramic manifestations of Shiva, Shakti, and Ganesh cluttered the fireplace mantle and plasma TV shelf.
I propped my back against the fireplace wall and fought against extreme fatigue. I had spent the weekend in ceremony with a Brazilian shaman, one of the heroic healing masters who travel the underground railroad of ayahuasca scenes sprouting up across America. I doubt I’ll ever understand why the DEA regards the most powerful medicine I’ve encountered, the sacred brew of the Amazon, as a Schedule-1 substance worth banning. Wearing a vest of seashells and a leather headband with yellow feathers sticking up from the back, the short, prune-faced shaman had me gulp down several viscid cups of the nasty tasting hallucinogenic drink the two previous afternoons. I hardly slept that weekend and considered calling off tonight’s talk.
But now, several years into an often sloppy and sometimes dangerous spiritual initiation, I was accustomed to ego dismemberment. Although exhausted, my body felt clear and light from having transmuted so many heavy vibrations over the weekend. And besides, I lived for these talks; these were stories I loved to tell, especially since I forged through so many challenges to accumulate these experiences.
The crowd had the familiar look that my presentations tended to attract. Most were 20 to 40 years old with salon-sculpted haircuts accented by highlights, wearing horned rim glasses, skinny black jeans, vintage printed Tees, and American Apparel cotton hoodies. You could easily mistake them for Pabst-chugging hipsters if not for their accessories – spiral plug earrings based on the golden ratio, mandala-shaped necklaces, Peruvian indigenous bracelets, and bright shawls designed using Mandelbrot mathematics. And I fit right in with my tan furry-lined faux-suede jacket, blue jeans, Burning Man multicolor necklace and turquoise Yawanawá beaded bracelet. I regretted not bringing the black Australian cowboy hat that I usually broke out when I left New York City, a way to reconnect with my Colorado roots. This was Texas after all.
During the earlier meet-and-greet over carrots and humus, attendees shared their passion for sustainable aquaponic food systems, non-debt-based complimentary currencies, and the politics of local rain harvesting – visionary, but practical approaches to social change. They were far more grounded and engaged than the angel-and-fairy-obsessed New Age flock, the sort of self-involved meditators that I studiously avoided during my life as a political activist.
This group resembled others I had encountered over the last year. But with a twist. Ten months ago, I would have been lucky to attract a dozen people to the corner of a coffee shop or vegan restaurant for these talks, which I playfully and presumptuously titled, “Opening the World’s Heart Chakra.” But now they were packing out. We even had to stop promoting them too early in order not to overrun the free, borrowed spaces I used. Still, my dream of a solar-powered, permaculture-loving Austin was kept in check. The array of consumers purchasing cheap Chinese and Ecuadorian produced clothes and electronics at all the Targets, Kmarts, and Wal-marts strewn across town vastly outnumbered our crew. Radical mystics and spiritual activists like us were the foolhardy underdogs throwing compostable paper wrenches into the gears of the massive consumer machine.
“Before we start, let me ask everyone a question,” I said to the group. “How many of you feel that you are personally experiencing some type of initiatory or healing process?” A number of hands languidly raised in the air, half bent at the elbows. “No, really. Raise your hand high so we can all see.” Sixty-three arms stretched firmly upwards, leaving only two people with hands in their laps. “Look around at your brothers and sisters in the room.” I had never said the phrase “brothers and sisters” before, not with a straight face, but there was something about the brutal cleansing of the weekend’s ceremony that led me to add some sermon-like flair.
“How many places in the country would you see this many hands raised for that question?” I said to them. “Something is going on here, something powerful.”
As if we had just chanted an ancient incantation, the room suddenly buzzed with with an unseen but visceral energy that brought smiles and sparkly eyes to the crowd. They gazed at each other, sensing the potential that comes from manifesting change together. As the only one standing up, I acted as an antennae or lightning rod for the whole group. A warm energetic vibration rose up my spine and spread across my shoulder blades, expanding my heart center. I couldn’t help but laugh with gratitude at the continually astonishing absurd life I had stumbled into. After a long, formidable journey, I encountered a touch of the mystical almost every day.
“Okay, everybody. Put down your hands and let’s get on with this story.”