Creativity, Cosmology, and Communion: A Buddhist View of Psychedelics – Austin Hill Shaw

Creativity, Cosmology, and Communion: A Buddhist View of Psychedelics – Austin Hill Shaw


Thank you so much for coming here. It’s really an honor that people after a really long and intenstive and jam-packed experience of being at this conference full of information, that you have decided to come into this somewhat of an awful room. And I’m an architectural designer and I can say that this is kind of an awful room. [laughs] That you’re willing to pack yourselves in here like sardines in order to come. And my intent is that I can deliver in some way. And the wonderful thing about talking about creativity is its creativity and it has this universal appeal. The difficulty about talking about creativity is you have to be creative in some sort of way. Otherwise it just doesn’t quite work. I had prepared a powerpoint presentation earlier and I recognized that it’s such a linear mode, it just doesn’t quite fit with creativity. But I do have one video that I wanted to show you later on that is awesome. Just going to put it like that right now, okay? So, my name is Austin Hill Shaw. I’m an architectural designer. I’m a teacher and a speaker and a writer on creativity and innovation. And I also do healing work. And I’m also a practicing Vajrayana Buddhist of 10 years. And this path of 1) creativity through architecture and 2) the work that I do studying creativity, and the healing work have all sort of gone together. I graduated from architecture school in 2001. I took refuge in the Buddhist path in 2002. And then doing a 3-month meditation retreat in early 2004 I got insight into the nature of creativity which I’ve been trying to unpack and continue to unpack to this day. But I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned and I’d also like to recommend a book that I finished which was an 8-year project called The Shoreline of Wonder. And this is based on the view of creativity. So if anything that’s missed here, this is available in the bookstore. And please buy it from the bookstore because you’re going to benefit MAPS in doing so, they get half the proceeds. So, first question – How many of you feel creative in this room? Let’s go to the low end of the spectrum, like the 0 to 1, 2, 3. How about that level of creativity? What’s the highest? 10, thank you. 10 is the highest. Maybe 11 okay? How about in the mid-range, who feels that they are creative in sort of the mid-range? Okay. Now, who sees themselves to be really creative? Okay. So, the thing is, is that the most important thing that I have to say to you is that basically creativity is not a gift of certain individuals and not others, it’s a defining trait of what it means to be human. And in this crowd I see a lot of creative people and I think I can attribute that to your love of psychedelics and your love of information and understanding and experience in general. Other crowds that I talk to, when you get to the top end, very few hands go up. And that’s true even among young people too. People in schools, their hands don’t go up either. And there’s lots of reasons for that but my goal, my mission in life is to empower others as creators. Young and old, whatever profession you’re in, creativity is basically the defining feature of what it means to be human. And the reason it feels so good to create is because when we are creating, everything is online. Everything that makes us human is online, okay. So, the first thing I wanted to do is basically -if you could leave me a little bit of room right here, thank you- the first thing I wanted to do is basically I want to just create in what in Buddhism they call the Vajra Spot. The Vajra Spot is the place where Heaven and Earth are joined. And I want to put it right there, okay. And I need your help in doing that. I need you all to basically say “Okay here I am over here with my sort of ego-identity, separate from you all. Here I am with maybe all my hopes and fears about what may happen with this presentation. Here I am in this god-awful room, being like ‘ugh’. And take all these sort of mini complaints and sense of separation and abandon them all in here when I step into this place of wholeness in the center. Are you all ready? Okay, so hold that intention for me. We ready? So, now I’m in the Vajra Spot. The Vajra Spot comes from the, “Vajra” basically means lightning bolt. The Vajrayana lineage is the culmination of the Hinayana and Mahayana lineages in Tibetan Buddhism. And it’s known as a non-dual lineage, which is basically about connecting Heaven and Earth. And we’re going to try to unpack what that actually means, how that relates to creativity, cosmology, communion and psychedelics in about 20 minutes. Alright. So, first of all – what is creativity? What is creativity? Just take a moment in your mind to picture what this thing is. I mean it’s huge. Okay. So, the first definition I want to offer of creativity is what I call the ground of creativity. And that is that whatever it is that organizing force that has taken our universe from 14 billion years ago, which as a singularity, and converted it to this, somehow. And we’ve only been on the scene for about 150,000 years and that’s kind of miraculous, okay. So, the Buddhist would call that, they would call that causality. That there’s things that are just sort of working and shaping themselves according to laws of nature, alright. Now, the ground of creativity as I define it is basically made up of dynamism – everything is always moving, interdependence – that everything is interrelated. Like, the best way of thinking of that is gravity and spacetime. That all matter is constantly affecting other matter. It’s incredible and there’s….anyways, could go on and on about that. And finally there’s mystery. We understand that the universe supposedly started with the Big Bang but what was beyond that? We have some ideas where this thing called life came from but we don’t really know on some levels. And if I were to have this thing that we rationalists as human beings which is conscious self awareness. That’s really the thing that makes us human, that’s really the thing we wrestle with. It’s both a tool and it can be a detriment, okay. So, that is the ground of creativity. Now, stepping outside here again, as human beings we are wrestling with this thing called ego. And in the modern world we’re wrestling with a particularly difficult and challenging version of ego, which is basically that it’s inflated, it’s ramped up. Thanks to things like facebook where paste all these photos of ourselves doing awesome things. Thanks to advertisements that say “Hey! Do this. If you buy this you’ll be this cool.” And all sorts of other things. We’re basically wrestling with ourselves on that level. And creativity is a way by which we get out of that. So, once we start to talk about human creativity I have a very simple definition for it. Human creativity is 1) connecting with the world, 2) affecting the world in a meaningful way, and the third aspect is kind of in the space in between. So let’s explore those different places. Now, remember here’s the Vajra Spot, the place of wholeness, okay. I’m going to step over here for a second. This is connecting with the world, this is connecting with the world, okay. In creativity this is the experience of insight. This is the experience of a light going off on top of your head. It’s an experience of something coming to you. The way that I define this came from William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. Actually, looking at the section on mysticism. That experience of like “aha” no matter what it is, that quasi religious experience is the experience of insight, okay. It’s about opening up. It’s actually about dying, something in the ego dies for a moment so that something new can come in, okay. This is the experience of insight. This is the passive aspect of creativity. And there’s language for all these things. In science this is called divergent thinking, a type of thought that diverges from normal thought patterns. In art you could call this artistic inspiration. And at the level of religion, and specifically to Buddhism, they call this wisdom. Wisdom is an uncovering of your natural awareness that is always already available. Does that make sense? Okay good. Now, let’s go to the opposite over here. Over here this is called manifestation. This is the world we’re living in right now where we’re mostly relating with our phenomenal ego, our sense of who we are. We have moments of opening but basically see ourselves as over here and the world out there. Now, the benefit of this in terms of creativity, if you don’t have the ability to do this we’re technically schizophrenic. So, over here in order to manifest anything we need to be able to say “I’m over here. My resources are over there. This person knows that thing about that and then I can ask them.” and we start to get into the realm of interdependence. This over here is the realm of the arhat, a person who basically leaves their ego in order to attain nirvana. This is the archetype of the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva who is basically forgoing their enlightenment, they’re not doing those experiences all the time for the benefit of all sentient beings. Does that make sense? Okay. Now, the Vajrayana, back to the Vajra Spot, this place in between. This is a word, what I call this is very simple on some levels. First let me go over here one second just to give you one scientific word for this is convergent thinking. This is what coffee does, it focuses your attention on something. Caffeine right? Next, at the level of art, this is craft. This is all the work you’ve put into whatever it is you do so that you can do it well. And at the level of religion this is the realm of compassion. This is doing things for the benefit of other. That’s the proper spirit for creativity, really. Okay. Now, into the Vajra Spot. This is the culmination of creativity. In this place we’re drawing upon both of these worlds, these very different worlds, okay. This is why I call my book The Shoreline of Wonder because you’re drawing upon the ineffable experience of the ocean on some level – shapeshifting, deep, incredibly vast, changing everyday. And over here this sense of knowing what you’re doing. That sense of continuity that defines you as different from other people. Does that make sense? So, in here between the ineffable experiences of insight and the things we need to find to do the project, we find imagination. In the Sufi tradition they talk about imagination being like the isthmus that connects the known and unknown worlds. We discover wonder between this sense of absolute truth over here and this flexibility that we need in order to actually get it into the world. That make sense? Okay. Next thing that we have is that we basically have a sense over here, these tend to be short experiences, brief moments like micro-instances up to few minutes, maybe hours, sometimes days. But in order to bring things into the world it takes time, as you know. You get the idea but to realize it, this is the enduring portion. So, in the middle here we have patience. Patience. If you’re impatient when you’re trying to create you run up against all sorts of obstacles. And the trick is – some of those obstacles are actually there to help you with your project. Does that make sense? Ego hates that. It hates that! Okay. So next, between the passive experience of something coming to us and the active portion of bringing it into the world we discover flow. Which Doug talked so beautifully about in his talk about climbers. I was a climber too. My book opens up in Yosemite way high in the mountain because that’s a place where people have a lot of flow. You’re using your body and concentrating in an incredible way. In Taoism they call this wu wei – actionless non-doing. You’re not quite sure if you’re spending energy or gaining energy. It’s an amazing place to be and you all know it, you’ve all been there. Okay. And finally, and finally between the individual and the collective we have something that’s incredibly important for you in order to create. And that is love, okay. Love is basically this thing that we practice. We practice entering back into the world seeing it as miraculous and appreciating it for as it is. It doesn’t mean we like the world all the time. I do not like this room! I don’t like it. But I love that I have the opportunity to be with you all in here. That, that’s the attitude of love. It doesn’t mean repressing things and being like “I can’t say that.” If anyone was at the Gabor Maté talk he said don’t suppress things. You may feel hatred, you may feel rage, do it in the space of love. Frame it within the context of love, okay. So, this is creativity. And the language of this here in science it’s called paradox. What’s happening when something is converging and diverging at the same time? It’s a paradox. In, I’m going to go through the religious portion of it, here we have non-duality. Okay, non-duality is basically, or we could call it wisdom and compassion inseparable, they’re happening at the same time. And the love of art which is in the convergence of everything, of Heaven and Earth, passive and active, and there’s a way of life full of imagination, flow, wonder, patience, all these elements we find self expression, artistic expression. You see? So, this is creativity. Alright. Let me go check in with my time piece here. Okay good. Now…we want to bring in cosmology into all this, okay. Again, here’s the Vajra Spot over here. In the Vajra Spot spot everything is happening. This is one view of reality, which is the current prevailing view of reality which all of us have adopted. Most of us, I should say. If you’ve gone to the educational system of the United States you’ve been trained in this method. And that is basically that the world consists, and the universe is basically come into being by more and more complex orderings of inanimate things. That led to life billions of years ago on our planet. And then finally, to conscious self-awareness, somewhere. So basically, consciousness within the scientific paradigm is a teeny, tiny thing resting on a pyramid of basically inanimate stuff. Alright – scientific paradigm. Over here is the traditional paradigm, alright. The traditional paradigm is basically that actually the entire universe is consciouss and out of that is precipitated a teeny, weenie, tiny bit of matter. And if you look at space, I mean it doesn’t make sense to us here, we fill the room, there’s body odor, there’s heat rising, we’re in the phenomenal world. But if you look at our universe it’s mostly black empty space. Beyond that the physics don’t actually describe totally what’s going on there. Does that make sense? Like, scientists can account for like 1% of that matter and then the physics say like well there’s actually about 99% more we just can’t see it right now. Okay, so that’s also true. This is also a true paradigm, okay. Now, in the Vajra Space both are honored. Both are honored, okay. Now, let me step off here for again. We want to talk briefly about communion. And communion as you know in the Christian tradition it’s basically taking the blood and body of Christ. Taking bread and wine. Which is an incredibly radical idea. I love that as a Vajrayana Buddhist. I like the idea of taking in like a perfect being into my body and saying “Yes! I am Christ too.” That is a really valuable way of looking at our life. There’s also communion with nature, where we go in and we settle into places. And we allow nature, the more you settle in, you know you start getting these dialogues with nature. You know what that’s like, don’t you? Yeah. Anyway, so that’s communion. But what we’re here for, why we’re here at this conference is that particular amazing experience of psychedelic communion. That act of taking something into us, that 1) is a chemical working within the scientific milieu. Did I say that right? May-loo. Did I do that? Mil-yoo, thank you! It felt off when it came out of my mouth. [laughter] Okay, here we are. So, scientific, this is, so I want to use the ayahuasca ceremony to talk about this. So, ayahuasca as you know it has this thing called DMT from one plant. It has MAO inhibitors from another plant. And they’re combined, who came up with that – incredible. Okay, so there you are, there’s your brew. It’s got a taste to it as you know. You know it’s got a quality to it, you can hold it in your hand. And yet what it does is that it unlocks this…thing. You know, that’s kind of indescribable. It’s really, this is the ineffable right here, this sort of -woah- something comes in, alright. And in the ayahuasca ceremony there’s people that are doing different things on that, okay. So, first of all back over to here. This is the experience of insight. Remember this spot? This is the light-bulb going off in front of people’s heads. Or above people’s heads, right. How many of the participants are partaking of this experience? Most of them. Almost everybody in there is basically just having a continual stream of insights. And yet physically you’re incapacitated. I mean have you been in those positions where you have to go outside but you can’t get through a door, you just, you can’t figure it out. So, this is a type of awareness that is lopsided. It’s really powerful in a certain way, okay. Over here you have the minority, they might now even be in the room there. These are the space-holders, these are the sport outside, these are the people who are standing by, these are the bodhisattvas, these are the one willing to forgo their ayahuasca experience so that other people can have their experience. Got it? So here, these are the space-holders, minority within the psychedelic experience, the ayahuasca experience. Now we have a third entity which is in the room. In Buddhism we would call this the Vajra Master. In the ayahuasca cosmology this is the shaman. And I want to just, it’s time for a video, okay. I hope this works. So, first of all I don’t want to get this wrong, I don’t want to screw up the metaphor, if you get a video going and nobody knows it’s a metaphor for. So basically, there’s an ocean and in Buddhism the ocean represents the mind, okay. It’s symbolic of the mind, its got this depth. You know In Buddhism there’s body, there’s speech which I’m using right now, an energy, and then there’s mind, it’s the absolute. The other thing that we have in this video are waves. And waves are the arising of phenomena from mind, okay. Next we have a jet-skier and that represents the ayahuasca, okay. And finally we have a surfer. And the surfer represents the shaman, mediating between these two worlds, okay. So here we are, early in the ceremony. Taking the ayahuasca it’s pulling the person in. You’re still aware of the taste in your mouth. And then here’s the shaman moving along. Moving along, here comes the traditional cosmology. We are stating to see the amazing display of mind. Of this thing that is always already available. And the finite ego gets smaller, and smaller, and smaller. We’ve all been in that situation. Whether you take ayahuasca or not you know what that’s like. And then the role of the shaman is basically to smoke tobacco, to sing, to move their body, in order so that they can stay right in this spot in between being overwhelmed by the substances the participants are and continuing forward. I mean, is that incredible or what! So anyways, he actually does get overrun at some point. You know I picked it out, you know I mean look at that! It’s five stories high. It’s insane! Okay, just to conclude because I think I have, what’s my time there? One minute? Zero minutes. Just to conclude, to bring this back okay, because we’re not always big wave surfing are we, in our lives. Okay, I kind of alluded to it earlier – how to live a creative life. Alright, the daily practice, and I’m a religious fanatic. And when I say religion I mean keep rebinding yourself to the world in which you live. We’ve heard that theme throughout. The people from Johns Hopkins – amazing. Keep doing it. It’s not about dogma, it’s about rebinding. Over here, the experience of insight is about our daily practices. Whatever we do, a few moments a day, I call it the daily dose of death where you step outside the way you go about things habitually with your caffeinated self, with your facebook self. You meditate, you pray, you give thanks on some level. Over here, this is where you live the majority of our lives. This is where we’re working in the world in order to bring our gifts as creators, whatever that is for you, it might be scientific, it might technological, it might be any of those things, okay. And finally, as we move through the world this is the space that we’re aiming for, to be in the Vajra Space where we’re like the shaman mediating between the ineffable experience of insight and the rock-meets-bone effort, the precipitation we need in order to carry that out for the benefit of others. And trying to stand in here remembering to use our imagination -miraculous-, our ability to wonder -miraculous-, our ability to be patient which we don’t always do, our ability to flow, and most importantly which was the single greatest thing about Jesus Christ was it’s more important to love than to be right, more important to love than to be holy. We are trying to love. The more you love the more you will naturally be creative. I think I am out of time. Thank you. [applause] One last thing – I had a mailing list going around. If people want to sign up for anything you can go to austinhillshaw.com The other thing is, yeah there’s evaluations too. Evaluations and testimonials, feedback – those are really valuable to me, okay. So, thank you, thank you all for coming.

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