Sometimes I still go to church. When I do, I drink ayahuasca. Every single time, I emerge transformed. Medicines like ayahuasca led me to awaken to spirituality after I left religion, finding an aliveness and vitality that go beyond what the bible calls heaven or god. It turns out that something far more profound than the idea of god exists within us. From spirituality, we learn to access our vast inner resources, and find that what we have inside is the most potent wisdom we could ever want. While there is much wisdom to be found from outside sources, the answers to the deepest cravings of our hearts and solutions to our struggles are found most powerfully within.

Although the Santo Daime church (an ayahuasca church) blends in some Christian liturgical elements, the service I attended was not religious, focused mostly on a personal spiritual experience. Spirituality is about personal experience. The doctrine comes not from a book, but from the inside you in connection with reality itself. Entheogens (literally “experiencing the god within”) are plant and fungus medicines that facilitate spiritual growth. Entheogens help us connect with nature–with ourselves and all reality. They are part of the natural world, gifts of the planet. People say they feel spiritual when they are in nature. There’s a reason for that. We are nature. We are part of the natural world, connected literally to everything in the universe. Everything is in relationship with everything, and every movement impacts everything else. Reality is a unity. Separation is ultimately an illusion. By connecting us with nature (ourselves), these medicines restore harmony between species on the planet, between other people, and most importantly they re-align the self-relationship. The people I’ve met in the Santo Daime church are some of the kindest, most emotionally and intellectually mature people I’ve ever encountered, perhaps because they’ve spent so much time doing internal work and connecting. I now understand why the word “enlightened” exists.

Entheogens introduced me to what I consider genuine spirituality. People commonly experience things like a mystical union with all reality, transcendent consciousness, losing the boundaries of self, total love, experiencing evolution or even your own birth, viewing reality as a non-dual unity, communicating with “other beings,” leaving your body. We tend to come to the same conclusions (doctrines) without having to be taught by anyone but ourselves. How amazing! Just about everyone I know or have read about who engages in this kind of practice experiences the same things. The nature of the experiences, and the resulting conclusions about life, the universe, and everything, are remarkably consistent.

Spiritual experience can be accessed through many means including meditation, psychedelic medicines, shamanic journeys, and sex. Isn’t it interesting how religion tends to oppose these practices that induce spiritual experiences? Shouldn’t religion encourage spirituality? In fact, these spiritual practices and understandings existed for thousands of years before organized religion in many cultures around the world. You might say spirituality is far more innate and universal than any religious idea of a god. Non-ordinary states of consciousness seem to facilitate what we call spiritual experiences. Non-ordinary states aren’t “drugs”; they’re basic to our human experience. Certain medicines can help us access them. Christians often view non-ordinary states with suspicion (or judge them as demonic) because people experience “spirits” and realities that seem to contradict the Christian worldview. I guess you can view this as a demonic of you feel so inclined, and miss so much healing and beauty. Resist the programmed impulse to judge what you fear because you don’t understand it, or because you’ve been told something negative by people who have never experienced it and make claims based on ignorance. Christians can and do benefit from these medicines. If you believe in god, these medicines and states of consciousness are part of your god’s creation.

The entheogenic experience is nothing like religion or the rare religious “visions” and “dreams,” I once had, which felt more like imagination and “maybe this is just in my head.” It’s not like dreaming. It often feels more real than reality and you become more conscious. You experience genuine perception, a mixture of what you’re receiving and what your mind is generating. An entheogenic experience can be like a year of psychotherapy in a single session. Miracles, real miracles (so to speak), happen in an entheogenic context all the time. People break free of drug addictions, heal physically, and evolve and heal psychologically and spiritually. There are so many scientific studies going on about psychedelics and altered states of consciousness right now, and abundant evidence for their effectiveness treating drug addiction, mental health conditions, and facilitating spiritual experience and creative inspiration. However, this is still hard work. Unlike drugs or “miracles,” the miracle lies not in some magical force acting on you, but in having realizations and applying these realizations in your life. It is not easy and means facing yourself and facing your issues.

When I left the church, I went straight into an atheism that felt lifeless and pessimistic. I’m still very much an atheist, and I’m still no believer in a god or a supernatural order; I believe that what is thought of as spiritual is just currently beyond our scientific methods of measurement–although not beyond scientific observation. There are different aspects or “realms” of reality, and what we think of as immaterial is just more reality. I don’t have easy answers for how all this spirituality thing fits in with everything else, and I don’t need to. That’s the thing about spirituality; you don’t need to know it all. It’s the journey of becoming more fully alive, fully yourself, totally divine in your pure humanity.

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