“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one's actions.”
~Abraham Joshua Heschel
Writing feels like a chore after the escapades of this past weekend. The nearly two marathons worth of walking and dancing tossed with an aggressive pursuit of mind expansion all within a forty-six hour window makes for quite the challenging resumption into life’s regularly scheduled practices. Though, here I am slogging through yet another attempt at purging my mind of its contents in order to humbly offer tidbits of insight or even inspiration. Recognizing this slow and slurry state in which I find myself, the inevitable aftermath of rapacious celebration, I’m left pondering a single question: Is it worth it?
Let’s put aside my own foibles for now and look at our history as humans. Judging by the ancient art and writings we’ve uncovered from our ancestors, it seems that celebration has been an integral aspect of the lives of all peoples in all times. Coinciding with these celebrations is, more often than not, a practice of altering one’s consciousness. What’s that about?
Going by the currently held historical record, the proverbial seeds of civilization were sown with the advent of the neolithic agrarian revolution roughly 12,000 years ago. It is widely held that the vast majority of humanity lived in small bands of nomadic hunter-gatherer societies right up until they decided to stop wandering and start cultivating plants and practicing animal husbandry. What compelled this drastic shift in living conditions? Some scholars say beer. That’s right, beer.
As the story goes, some folks were out and about collecting grains in a vessel of sorts. It started to rain and they dropped the vessel to find shelter. The wet grains sat out there attracting some airborne wild yeasts. Over the course of a couple weeks, the yeast eats the natural sugars in the grains released by the water, creating alcohol. Some lucky bastard comes upon this vessel of infinite delight, slurps it down, and (like that oddly persuasive college friend during last call) convincingly compels everyone to stay right where they are to keep producing this titillating brew. Hey, it’s not not unrealistic, right?
Whether or not that “beer made humans sedentary” story is the accurate one, we know from scraping the insides of gourds found at ancient Sumerian archeological sites, that these peoples, widely credited as developing the first civilization, were, in fact, making beer. Party on En-men-lu-ana? Party on Nangishlishma.
If imbibing booze isn’t quite your thing, then how about something a bit older and less drunky? The first records of human creativity that we have on the planet (as far as we know) were left for us by the San bushmen of southern Africa. Depicted in the fabulous rock art they produced some 60,000 years ago are images of what most scholars believe to be shamans engaged in ecstatic dance. Yes, dancing with incredible fervor can also induce an altered state. You may have heard of such a thing as “runner’s high?” It’s pretty close to the same thing, minus the intention of mingling with discarnate, inter-dimensional beings.
Alright, so far we have ancient accidental fermentation and antediluvian trance dance. Let us not forget the curious ubiquity of mind-altering plants across the globe and our well documented proclivity toward ingesting such flora. Also, the myriad of cross-cultural breathing techniques which are designed to hyperventilate consciousness into other realms. And, of course, we can’t leave out the first altered state that many of us discovered as children: spinning around in circles, falling over and watching the world whirl uncontrollably before our eyes.
Then there’s folks who love to flaunt their spiritual prowess by refusing to ingest any kind of mind-altering substance what-so-ever. These amusingly self-righteous individuals crack me up. They claim they “don’t need drugs because they can reach the same states with mediation or yoga.” Oh yea? Same states? Awesome. Guess what, you’re still getting high dude, just like the rest of us heathens.
What do we make of this preponderant penchant for altering perception? Was this one long justification for the multi-day hangover I’m currently experiencing? Perhaps. However, it is also a quick peek behind the thin veil of illusion that separates sobriety from intoxication. Be it cloaked by prescription pain relief, sex induced oxytocin dumps, Facebook alert dopamine hits, rising kundalini in tantric practice, or the morning latte to get you going, we’re all, essentially, spending most of our lives seeking out that next buzz. Even more to the point, can anyone accurately say with any certainty what sobriety actually feels like with the plethora of neurochemicals working their psychological magic on a moment to moment basis? Doubtful.
So, is it worth it? Hell yeah. I’m feeling better already. Let’s celebrate our rich tradition of intemperance. Let’s celebrate our humanity in all the endogenous and exogenous ways we soever desire. Let’s celebrate the gift of sovereign consciousness and the profusion of worldly alteration options at our disposal. Let’s do it together because that’s how our ancestors did it and together we can accomplish so much more. Besides, you might need someone to carry your drunk ass home.