Interview with entheogen writer Martin W. Ball
Martin W. Ball is an entheogen theorist and writer. He has been kind enough to answer some of PsypressUK’s questions ahead of a talk he is giving this month at the Hoxton Gallery, in London, concerning themes from his new book – All Is One: Understanding Entheogens and Nonduality. The talk is being putting on by the Psychedelia Railway Gathering.
Hi Martin, I’d like to start by asking you about your earliest experiences with entheogens. Did entheogenic experiences happen spontaneously while under the influence of a plant or chemical, or is it an experience you had to learn to cultivate?
To answer this, we’d have to first define what we mean by “entheogenic experience.” Literally, that would mean “experiencing God within,” and in its strongest form, could be taken to mean a full mystical/nondual experience of union with God or the Universe as a whole. In its weaker form, it could be taken to mean an experience of belonging in the universe, or an essential sense of connection to “the sacred.” Sort of in between we might say that this implies a more shamanic experience, or an experience of spirits and realms.
My earliest experiences with psychedelics were with psilocybin mushrooms during the summer between my first and second year of college, and then a couple times at the beginning of my second year as a philosophy student at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. My very first experiences made me feel that there was definitely something to what I understood as “spirituality,” and I had taken up Zen meditation even before then, so it felt like the introduction to something much more to me. However, very shortly after those first few experiences, I started having “flashbacks” or spontaneous experiences that were, for me, at the time, indistinguishable from my mushroom experiences. I was 18, and this was very disconcerting for me. Looking back now, I can see how that was the beginning of a process that culminated only a few years ago. At that time, I stayed away from any kind of mind-altering substances for about a year or more as I sorted out these spontaneous experiences. Even practicing Zen could be challenging for me as I would go so deep into it that everything would get geometric and fractal on me. It didn’t really fit with what I was learning about Zen meditation and what I thought I was “supposed” to be experiencing.
It was about four years later, after I started grad school, that I had an extremely powerful experience with mushrooms that, while I wouldn’t have claimed to have experienced God, I did feel as though I had undergone a profound gnostic revelation with the mushrooms where their manner of functioning and operation just seemed transparent to me. The experience was something of a culmination of currents in my life up until that time, and it made a very deep and lasting impression on me. From that point on, I felt as though I really understood what mushrooms were about and how they could help a person to come to a deep level of understanding of the nature of the self. That was a true turning point in my relationship to entheogens. It wasn’t until many years later, when I first experienced 5-MeO-DMT that things really shifted, however.
You received your Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in Religious Studies. For your research, Martin, you looked at medicine people and the Mescalero Mountain Spirit tradition, in the Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico. To what extent, if at all, had your earlier studies prepared you for your realization of the entheological paradigm in 2009?
In one sense, everything I had ever experienced played into what happened to me in 2009, so in that regard, Mescalero was influential. However, nothing really prepared me for what I went through, starting in late 2007, and came to an apex in the Spring of 2009. In that process, I found everything I had ever thought or believed challenged and shaken to the very core, and a great deal of illusion got stripped away, including most of what I had learned from my work as a student of religion and culture.
Mescalero culture is primarily a “shamanistic” culture in that they believe in spirits. When I was doing my research, it was a very open time for me. I had experienced some profound things on mushrooms, and was open to the possibility of spirits, but primarily my experience of mushrooms was that of a spiritual mirror where everything was a reflection of the self. Everyone at Mescalero took the idea of spirits very seriously, and literally, however. When I’d go out on one of the sacred mountains with a medicine man or woman, their families would always ask me if I saw or heard one of the Mountain Spirits when we got home. The answer was always no.
They’re also very ritualistic, as are most Native American cultures, and ritual is now something that I personally reject entirely, along with prayer and most of what people identify as “spiritual.” At the time, however, I was initiated by a couple of Mescalero medicine people and they were teaching me different prayers and ritual movements, gestures, and routines, and ways to interact with patients, etc. We’d go out and pick out herbs from the fields and make offerings and prayers to the spirits and all that.
After I got home from my field work, I tried incorporating all these elements into my own sense of entheogenic/spiritual practice, and for several years it all felt fairly central to my sense of spiritual identity. However, in going through my own profound process of self-
transformation and liberation, I’ve completely set aside any sense of a “spiritual” identity, or
any specific identity at all, for that matter. I’m not interested in those things anymore – just
the genuine energy of being.
There’s been a steady stream of books over the last five years from you Martin, including The Entheogenic Evolution, Being Human and The Entheological Paradigm. And they explore a wide range of topics like evolution, God, energetic systems and fractals. One element I found particularly interesting, in The Entheogenic Evolution especially, was the need for experiential spirituality to become an important part in society. What changes have you seen in this over the last few years, and what do you envision for the future?
Something I’d comment on first is that The Entheogenic Evolution was written on the cusp of my own transformation, so I do write a lot in that book about “spirituality,” as I was really trying to understand what I was going through at the time, and the best way I could describe it was to say I was having some kind of radical spiritual epiphany. These days I prefer to talk about energy and energetics, rather than spirituality – it’s more neutral and more directly to the point when looking at the ego as an energetic problem, not a spiritual one.
But to the question of the need for direct experience, yes, I stress that very heavily, and everything I put out there publically is with the intention of helping people to maximize their experiences and really benefit from a genuine understanding of what’s going on. To that end, I’m fairly prolific and vocal about using entheogens to make the world a better place.
It’s really just a practical issue: the majority of the problems faced by people in the world today are the by-products of confused egos – war, poverty, religious discord, culture clashes, money, exploitation, violence, greed, projection, attachment, illusion, etc. – addressing the ego and its confused sense of self is the most direct way to make real change in the world. We’re at a time when we literally don’t have much time to get this whole thing figured out, and anything that can relieve the distortions caused by the ego is a tool that society can only be served by embracing. And, given that the ego is primarily an energetic issue, working on the ego with energetic tools seems only logical to me.
For me, entheogens are the primary energetic tools that humanity has available to it. They provide a guaranteed energetic experience and therefore have the capacity to act directly and immediately on the ego and its limited energetic patterns of identification and sense of self. When these limited patterns are transcended in entheogenic states of awareness, the individual can come to a deeper, more genuine understanding of the nature of the self and of reality. This leads to the possibility of true liberation and transformation in a way that requires no “middle man” of belief, religion, or tradition. It’s direct and immediate experience, and as such, it is invaluable to humanity.
I think it is inevitable that the future will be more amenable to these kinds of approaches to dealing with the distortions of the ego with entheogens. Every day, more and more data is publicly available discussing the therapeutic, psychological, and spiritual uses of entheogens. Certainly it seems like more people are talking about entheogens than ever before, and one might say that we’re currently undergoing something of a psychedelic
renaissance. However, I’d caution that I also see a lot of people getting fascinated by ideas of “entities” and “realms” with entheogens, especially DMT. I take a very radically nondual approach to entheogens, which doesn’t sit well with many psychedelic enthusiasts, as I basically take fundamental issue with the “shamanic” way of looking at psychedelic experience. I think that entheogens are the most profound tools available for helping people reach genuine enlightenment, but entities and such are only distractions along the way.
Your forthcoming talk is going to be touching on some of the areas in your new book All is One: Understanding Entheogens and Nonduality. Could you tell is a little more about the book and what areas you’ll be exploring at the Hoxton Gallery in relation to it?
The talk will be along the lines of what I’ve hinted at above: the nature of the ego as an energetic construct; how it works to create a false sense of self and divides experience into subject and object; how entheogens function energetically; how to understand nondual or mystical experiences from an energetic perspective, etc. In short, I go directly to the heart of the matter: All of reality is one, unified energetic system that is conscious and alive, and therefore can reasonably be called “God.” This unitary consciousness is the fundamental nature of all things, including each and every individual. The ego, as a function of self-aware consciousness, creates a unique sense of self that is believed to be separate. This is an illusion. Entheogens help to break the power of this fundamental illusion and reveal the true, infinite nature of being.
The book addresses this issue from a variety of angles and is part of my ongoing lucidation of the “entheological paradigm.” This is a phrase I coined to give a name to what I was learning about the nature of being and reality through my own awakening and transformation. In this process, I found that nothing I had ever encountered or studied adequately communicated or described what I had come to know, and thus set out to systematize and detail this perspective for others. I did this first through lectures on my podcast, and then through the books Being Human and The Entheological Paradigm. This latest book, All Is One, is offered as a “mini” ebook and is a collection of different writings on the topic of the nondual nature of reality and the role of entheogens in generating not only mystical experience, but also in liberating individuals from the ego-generated traps of illusion and projection.
Martin W. Ball will be talking at the Hoxton Gallery, London on August 18, 2012 – as part of the Psychedelia Railway Gathering. Martin’s new book All Is One is available now as an e-book.