Wednesday, April 30, 2008


[UPDATE: Albert Hoffmann, the father of LSD, died yesterday at age 102. Here is the obituary in the NY Times.]

Can you imagine that the History Channel has aired a new documentary for mainstream television called
"Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey"?

Can you imagine that it is narrated by my all-time favorite anthropologist-storyteller Wade Davis (books and talks)?

Can you imagine that it has commentary by Dr. Andrew Weil, Bob Weir and other luminaries?

Can you imagine music by the Grateful Dead?

Can you imagine that it travels deep into Amazônia with the historical Richard Evans Schultze to find ayahuasca?

Can can imagine that the material is presented in a thoughtful, balanced and respectful way?

The entire psychedelic movement was pinned with extremely negative views as a result of the excesses and recklessness of the 1960's. I feel gratified that now, nearly 50 years later, the media doors of perception are being opened to reveal the insights of indigenous peoples, disciplined religious movements and serious scientific research into the the visionary and therapeutic uses of sacred substances.

The History Channel's "Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey" is superb and will probably soon be known as an "instant classic." It has been placed onto YouTube in 12 parts. I don't know how long these clips will remain online but for now at least I have assembled them here for convenient viewing. You might want to consider them.

[UPDATE -- 09 May -- YouTube has removed the videos saying "This video has been removed due to terms of use violation." I imagine that means they were in copyright violation.]


Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (part 1 of 12)

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (part 2 of 12)

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (part 3 of 12)

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (part 4 of 12)

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (part 5 of 12)

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (part 6 of 12)

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (part 7 of 12)

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (part 8 of 12)

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (part 9 of 12)

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (part 10 of 12)

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey (part 11 of 12)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Flor do Ceu
Santa Luzia, MG
February 2008

Luíz Mendes do Nascimento
Mestre Conselheiro Luíz Mendes do Nascimento

I've been thinking about how to name my experiences on the path of Santo Daime -- with the Luíz Mendes family and friends at Vila Fortaleza in Acre, during my journeys across Brazil, and even nowadays, in my mind, as I sit in front of a computer composing these blog posts far from the forest in the middle the giant metropolis of São Paulo.

For me it's been both a journey into the heart and a discipline of learning how to hold that space.

Despite the fact that I like to portray the festive and joyous aspects of the spiritual work of Santo Daime, I want to emphasize that these results occur only because of ritual and a strong "current" of experienced participants. There is a lot of self-discipline that must be learned and sometimes difficult "passages" to move through. As Padrinho Luiz Mendes likes to say, "the gift is earned."

Perhaps some video clips from the Carnival time gathering at Flor do Ceu can give a little sense of this disciplined journey into an open and loving heart. On the first night of ceremony at Flor do Ceu we sang the hymns of the New Horizon of Padrinho Luiz Mendes.

Three of the hymns follow.

The first, Enterei Numa Batalha (Enter into the Battle), sings of the struggle to master one's self -- to not lose heart and of receiving a vision of God's mercy and the miracle of Saint Francis.

These "battle hymns" -- directed at self-mastery and firmness -- often have the flavor of a military march and are accompanied by fireworks. There is not a definitive explanation for the fireworks that I am aware of but one story that is told is that they reference the lonely times of the serringeiros (rubber tappers) on their solo journeys through the great forest. They all carried shotguns which they would occasionally fire off to "scare away the demons."

As is said on all spiritual paths, "the first enemy of a person seeking knowledge is fear." I can imagine Mestre Irineu in his early studies with ayahuasca striving to receive messages from the Queen while having to watch out for the dangers of the Amazon forest and having to conquer the fears that emerge from the "jungle of the mind." Perhaps that's why he called for fireworks during certain hymns, and why the tradition has continued.

The next hymn, Ouvi o Som das Águas, sings of seeing and praising the crowning work of receiving the highest messages and guidance in the "shaking" or "quaking" (balançando) of a strong spiritual ritual and hoping to be able to "get it."

The struggle is not only to reach up into the astral heights but also to deal with the challenges of life on earth, such as the destruction of the forest. The next video shows Padrinho Luíz Mendes presenting a dramatization of the spirit of Casmerim, a female entity who protects the forest and with whom the Mendes family has a special connection.

The video (below) begins with the last part of the hymn that sings of the longing for this spirit, of how she comes and goes returning to the Father's house, and how she will always be remembered. After the hymn is sung, Seu Luíz offers a "dramatization" bringing the energies of Casmerim into the ceremony.

The poetry of the dramatization says:
(translated by Rodrigo Conti)

In the forest there is everything
It has everything and we appreciate
In the light of the sunshine
It is a verdant rose

The forest was created
And delivered into our hands
But many only destroy it
By pure and bloody ambition

The forest is beneficial
It helps to purify the air
So punished by mankind
It is ignorant to neglect it

The forest is a colossus
With all of its springs
So punished by mankind
My brothers and sisters you don't do that

The forest is a wealth
We can't say that it isn't
I offer to all of you
This slight and simple dramatization

Salve the green of the forest
Salve the great green of the sea
Hahaqua haquaquaca
My brothers and sisters let's stop with the babble

But now I bid farewell
Manifesting my greeting
Until whenever my day comes
Good-bye, good-bye, I'm going, my dear brothers and sisters

As a long-time forest defender myself, I must say that Casmerim reaches deeply into my heart.

Let us shift now to the final night of the retreat.

The Santo Daime philosophy holds that the Doctrine is collective, received by and belonging to the spiritual current, and so there are many streams of offerings from the past and from the present. The final night is a time of sharing when the brotherhood-sisterhood offers and shares these gifts. Perhaps these small fragments will be able to convey bits of the experience of making a journey with everyone into the Heart of All.

Joaquim's hymn sings of the great warrior of the heart, Mestre Irineu and his legacy to us from Amazônia. There is a moment at the table revealing a beautiful mother-daughter relationship between Débora and Carol which for me had a special poignancy.

This was Jacqueline's last spiritual work during her recent travels with the Luíz Mendes comitiva. Here is her offering.

The Carnival Retreat of 2008 at Flor do Ceu ended with the singing of the Prayer of St Francis.

Viva São Francisco! Viva Harmonia! Viva Alegria! Viva Amizade!

Finally, I would like to thank Débora and Eduardo Gabrish for maintaining the wonderful Flor do Ceu center, for their many contributions to the Santo Daime movement, for extending friendship and encouragement to many and for making me feel very much at home.


Viva Eduardo e Débora!

Viva Mestre Conselheiro Luíz Mendes!

Viva Mestre Irineu!

Saturday, April 26, 2008



This was my third visit with the Baiano. I found our old friend as always -- waiting to greet us with a smile, with great cheese and coffee, and with a delight in sharing his knowledge and good vibes with all who arrive at his humble abode.


Santa Luzia, MG
Feb 2008

The annual Carnival Retreat at Flor do Ceu in Santa Luzia, Minas Gerais (near Belo Horizonte) brings together many new and old friends. A great gathering, of course, begins with a great group of people. And that is surely what we had. Carol, bursting with the shine of sun is a great emblem.


But, being February, of course there also was some rain -- and some rather unque solutions.


The days were full of events:

Josémar led several exercise, meditation and energy workshops



Janaína provided daily body-work


and Geogette offered information on the line of herbal products from Vila Fortaleza


One day of the festival was devoted to Afro linkages which are central components of Brazilian culture and spiritual practices. Mestre João led a workshop in Capoeira which is an art-form that started up in 16th Century Brazil that was created and developed by both the native slave Indians and slaves brought from Africa.



And there was a marvelous pageant of African drumming and dance.



See the full Flor do Ceu Carnival Photo Collection.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Saturnino singing a hymn after a spiritual work in Vila Fortaleza

It is often said that the Santo Daime religion is based on a musical doctrine rather than a written text that is codified and frozen as a book. But what does it mean to have a musical doctrine?

That's a really difficult question to answer, so I won't even try. But I would like to share some glimpses that I captured with my camera
at Flor do Ceu during the February 2008 spiritual retreat in Santa Luzia, Minas Gerais.

My friend José Murilo has written a short treatise on the topic of a musical doctrine in which he points out that although receiving songs or musical calls is a common ayahuasca and shamanic experience, it has also acquired
in the Santo Daime the additional qualities of community-building -- moving level-by-level from an experience of great personal meaning into relationships, then into a broader sharing or learning from one another and finally into a ritualized ceremonial form. Thus, the hymns are often a vehicle for carrying the force of the forest from the hinterland to the cities and vice versa. Through sharing and performing music, relationships are built and harmonies are established that create a collective force or synergy that is much larger than any of the individuals involved and more than a mere "sum of the parts".

Here is Zuleide, who was in charge of the kitchen at this year's gathering, singing while she works. Indeed, it seems to me that Zuleide spends most of her awake hours, singing and working with indefatigable good energy. It was common to find her alone in the kitchen firm in her work while singing and perhaps floating through her own beautiful thoughts and memories. On this day, I asked if I could run some video while she worked. I later took the liberty of inserting a few images that "might have crossed her mind."

Geri and Gerismar are sons of Zuleide. They travel with the Luiz Mendes family as the musicians of the comitiva. Even though they know the hymns "backwards and inside out" they practice nearly every day, continuously perfectly their styles of working together. The occasion of the brothers practicing draws others to the area like bees to honey.

Often while traveling to other churches there will be a special rehearsal to share the local hymns with the visitors from the forest. In this way, the doctrine keeps evolving in all directions based on a sharing of music. Here is the comitiva gathered together to learn the hymns of Ademir who is a main musician at Flor do Ceu. It's a real treat hearing the way Jacequeline from Belgium, the comitiva from Amazônia and the folks from Minais Gerais, Europe and the USA are evolving the musical doctrine together. (There are two hymns pieced together in the video below and the words are about Fortaleza.)

In the end, all of this musical relationship-building will become a formalized ritual experience in which voices, bodies, musical instruments and teachings build a perfection of performance that transcends any individual.

The hymn, received by Saturnino, is about Pequenininho -- the tiny one -- and this is what it says.

Tiny One, Tiny One
Tiny One in order to follow the way

Great in joy
Great in truth
Great in harmony
Great in humility

Tiny One, Tiny One
Tiny One in order to follow the way

Great in firmness
Great in love
Great in certainty
Of our Father Creator

Tiny One, Tiny One
Tiny One in order to follow the way

NOTE: Perhaps you noticed some new techniques and an improved resolution in these videos? That's because my good friend Juba (Luis Eduardo Pomar) took time out of his busy schedule to teach me some tricks about video editing. Thank you Juba! Be sure to visit his visual blog. It's a real treat.


Michael Pollan - Salon Photo
Michael Pollan graphic from Salon.

"Why Bother" is the title of a brilliant article that appeared yesterday in the NY Times Magazine. In it Michael Pollan asked why, -- if half of the world is standing in line wanting to experience the American habits of material consumption [it used to be called the "American Standard of Living"] -- why on earth, should Americans bother trying to reduce their carbon footprint? He actually offers some very good reasons. I urge you to consider what he says. Read the article.

Meanwhile I am very pleased to report that Brazil is now the leader in public opinion considering global warming as a "very serious problem."

Concern about Global Warming

You may wonder why I am pleased? It is because Brazil is both a natural resource giant and a rapidly developing economy. The United States did not have much of an ecological consciousness as it bulldozed its development path through the destruction of 90% of its original forests. But Brazil, with 80% of its vast forests (an area the size of Western Europe) and a treasure trove of natural beauties still in a pristine state has an opportunity to choose more ecologically aware strategies. The already developed world can best "make up" for its own highly destructive ways of the past by supporting Brazil in its efforts to find better ways now.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ceu do Planalto is 25


Ceu do Planalto -- my first Brazilian home and still my home-away-from-home -- is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary tomorrow, 21 April 2008.

Here are a few past photos that are some of my fondest memories of dear friends and marvelous events in this Santo Daime community on the edge of Brasilia.




















I send love, hugs and a big PARABENS to all.

Tenham uma grande festa!

Here is the full photo set.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I've been wondering why I've somehow gotten into this talking about pain. The obvious general answer is that there truly is an incredible amount of pain and suffering going on in the world -- food riots in Hati, brutal suppression of Tibetans, tribal slaughter in Africa and, of course, the on-going wounds reported daily from the Middle East. The news is full of it. I don't think I need to provide any links.

Last night, at the end of a Santo Daime spiritual work here in São Paulo, I shared with my Brazilian brothers and sisters that the conservative press in the US is reporting the possibility of an impending attack on Iran here and here. What is significant to me is that this is not scare talk from the Left but news from within the Bush fold.

Is it true? I don't know. What I know is that the Middle East seems to me as a gigantic pain body carrying the wounds and sufferings and hatreds of centuries of ugly history. And it seems that anyone -- all sides included -- who tries to fix it or rescue it or rectify it only ends up making a difficult situation worse.

What to do? I'm not grandiose enough to think even for a moment that the big guys (I do mean "guys") care much about what I (you and I) think. They are going to do what they are going to do. But I do think that there is something that we might do.

In our minds, we can stop judging it or avoiding it or fixing it. Instead, we might just see it and feel it and hold it as a mother might cradle a child who is suffering terribly -- with all the care and calmness and compassion that we can muster.

Maybe, that can make some difference, like turning down the heat a bit. I don't know that it will. It's just the way that I think at the end of a Santo Daime ritual. Perhaps you'd like to check it out in your own heart.

Thanks for considering it.

[UPDATE: 17 April -- it now appears that there are new diplomatic initiatives as well as new severe threats in the Iranian situation. The latest news is that Bush appears to be moving toward a multi-lateral diplomatic perspective together with the Europeans and that Iran is showing more constraint in regard to Iraq. So now is a very good time to be sending a calm vibration toward the situation which is obviously very delicate.]

Monday, April 14, 2008


Pain is a hard thing to talk about but somehow I'm feeling the need to do so. I've been discussing it more privately with friends -- my pain, their pain, the pain of all the beings in our difficult world, and of the earth herself. A few nights ago we discussed the notion that the pain might be released and that suffering might end. I wondered how to express it. I didn't want language that sounded like "pie-in-the-sky." The next morning a YouTube link to Oprah (of all sites) caught my attention because it had appeared surprisingly in the stream of my own videos. I had to check it out.

I was impressed because I had never really considered the notion of an energetic global pain body or what it would be like to take it on or, even more, what it might be like to be able to somehow become detached in the experience, to become free of all the karma of pain and suffering. And then the archetypal image of Christ on the Cross came into my imagination.

Christ - Pain Body

In truth, I was doubly surprised, because this is not a symbol that I could ever relate to, not having had a Christian up-bringing and even nowadays there is much that I don't understand. Indeed, the crucifixion symbol had baffled me -- I would think, "why would any one or any religion want to celebrate suffering like this?" And now an answer appeared -- not an institutional answer of a church or an organized religion but an answer that comes from within.

Somehow my understanding expanded to realize that suffering is not being celebrated. It is Christ's passion to transcend the pain body, to become free once and for all and, by example, to free everyone else as well that is being celebrated. I believe that Eckhart Tolle is correct in saying that everyone can release from the pain body and I feel grateful that he is one of many teachers who is now guiding folks in contemporary methods for doing it. But more than this I value this new understanding of the suffering of Christ.

And then yesterday another friend shared a story. It was set in Baghdad during the 11th Century when there was chaos and confusion and killing in the streets. On a particularly bloody day in the town square there was an old woman just standing simply and calmly in the midst of it all. She was holding a bowl of water in one hand and a torch in the other. When asked what they were for, she answered, "the water is to put out the fires of Hell and the torch is to burn down Heaven." Religious wars are among the most horrible things that occur on earth.

Letting go of mental constructs is the challenge. I know that there are "official theologies" that have distorted beautiful religious ideas for purposes of power and privilege and to promote thoughts of shame and guilt and control. But there are lots of "minority traditions" -- inner paths and folk religions -- that have emerged outside of the formal institutions, especially in a country as spirit-friendly as Brazil. There are sacred technologies for moving beyond the places where we get stuck, for finding out who we really are and for making a discipline of awareness.

I feel fortunate to be a guest in a country that is not merely tolerant of religion but welcoming to spirituality of all kinds. And I feel especially grateful to have been led to the path of a great teacher.

Mestre Irineu

Saturday, April 12, 2008


30 January 2008
Minas Gerais, Brazil

Going on the road with the Luiz Mendes family and friends is like being in a caravan of peace, joy and friendship -- both giving and receiving it. Our first spiritual work was at Flor Divina in Divinopolis (central Minas Gerais State). The church has a spectacular paradisaical motif portrayed in large murals.


There is the familiar painting of Mestre Irineu that also hangs on the wall of the church at Vila Fortaleza (it had been a gift from Pad Paulo to Pad Luiz) and the empty chair signifying the presence of the Master.


It was the night of the twice-a-month spiritual work of Concentração (meditation)


with the addition of a selection of hymns from Novo Horizonte (New Horizon is the ongoing and expanding collection of hymns received by Mestre Conselheiro Luíz Mendes).

Then the fun began as the two padrinhos (who had been friends for many years) started to trade stories. Pad Paulo (who Seu Luíz likes to call Dr Paulo because he heads a dental clinic) began by explaining that when they first met Pad Luíz didn't have any teeth.


Then Pad Luíz responded with, "yes, but you gave me back my smile."


The exchange was thoroughly enjoyed by all.



Then they paid a special homage to Mad Rizelda



And after the work, using their friendship as an example, Pad Luíz kept emphasizing the importance of maintaining good relations between the people, churches and lineages of the Santo Daime movement.


It certainly was evident here...




By the way, you might wonder how I came to know all this since I barely know Portuguese? The answer is that I had very special assistance from Marco Aurelio who speaks English quite well and loves to be helpful.


More photos here.