Reaching Into the Universe

7 differences between sacred tobacco work and smoking cigarettes: a 4 quadrant analysis

People from my culture who are new to shamanic work with tobacco are often unsure and concerned about this plant, given all of the negative messaging we receive about addiction and the harms of smoking. And friends and family unfamiliar with traditional tobacco work may mistake these practices as no different from the smoking habits they are familiar with.

However, when viewed through the lens of integral theory's 4 quadrants, we see that sacred tobacco work and cigarette smoking are actually completely different.

4 quadrants - differences between sacred tobacco work and cigarette smoking

1. Tobacco work is intentional, usually with a mindset of prayer or healing; cigarette smoking is habitual, usually with an unconscious or default mindset.

2. Tobacco is often of a different species (N. rustica, or mapacho) and free of additives; cigarettes contain highly processed tobacco laced with hundreds of different additives, many of which are particularly nasty and unhealthful.
3. Tobacco is usually not inhaled into the lungs but cheek-smoked. It's also worked with in other ways such as nasal snuffs and infusions such as singa. Cigarettes are smoked by inhaling the smoke into the lungs repeatedly.

4. Tobacco is held as a medicine and as a powerful, sacred ally. Cigarette smoking in our culture is held as an unhealthful, shameful addiction.
5. Tobacco is seen as a spirit with which one develops a relationship (an I-Thou relationship). Cigarettes are seen as a drug that one "uses" (an I-It relationship).

6. Tobacco is worked with mostly in ceremonies or during private prayer. Cigarettes are smoked casually at any time.
7. Tobacco is gathered or cultivated like any plant ally. Cigarettes are produced by corporations for profit and distributed as consumer commodities.

So what's the point of all of this?

Besides the bare differences, it's important to note that from a shamanic perspective, tobacco's function as a kind of "fertilizer" is going to magnify each of those differences.

From this understanding, we can see that:

  • Tobacco will reinforce your mindful intentions OR your inadvertent unconscious dynamics.
  • Tobacco will feed equally well either your growing conscious relationship with its spirit OR your culturally taught stories of addiction and powerlessness.
  • Tobacco will empower the intentions you consciously set OR the intentions of tobacco companies bent on getting you to give as much of your money to them as possible.
  • Tobacco will even empower your story that what you do with it is healing OR your story that what you do with it is harmful. The effects you receive depend more on the story you empower than anything objectively true about the chemical makeup of the plant or its smoke.

Currently, the stories about old ayahuasceros and tabaqueros who have worked with mapacho tobacco for a lifetime and are healthy and cancer free may only be anecdotal. But we would do well not to jump to conclusions about practices represented by the graph on the left based only on science done to date within the context of the graph on the right. Especially if there truly is more to tobacco than meets the eye.


Tarot spread: 4 Quadrant spread

1 | 2
3 | 4

Integral theory’s quadrants model readily lends itself to tarot. A lot has been written about the quadrants, so this will be a very brief overview.

What are the 4 Quadrants?

The quadrants are a way of looking at any person, event, or situation in terms of four key aspects:

• Individual & Collective — everything is both an individual and part of a group
• Interior & Exterior — everything has an inner, subjective aspect and an outer, objective aspect.

Putting these four together allows us to look at a comprehensive snapshot of any subject of a tarot reading:

4 quadrant integral tarot spread diagram

That's great, but how do I interpret the cards?

Here’s one way to describe the quadrants, in terms of reading this spread for a person:

  1. Upper Left: Individual Interior
    Keyword: Awareness
    The person’s subjective experience and development, including awareness, sense of self, consciousness, and psychological and spiritual development. How does this person feel? What does she value? What is he aware of?
  2. Upper Right: Individual Exterior
    Keyword: Behavior
    The person’s objective physicality and behavior. Anything that can be measured, cut open and observed, and seen by others directly. What does this person look like? How healthy is he? What is she doing, how does she behave?
  3. Lower Left: Collective Interior
    Keyword: Culture
    The person’s cultural situation, including interpersonal life, relationships in terms of group dynamics, shared values and meaning, conflicts. What culture does this person come from? How are his values shaped by those around him? What are  the power dynamics?
  4. Lower Right: Collective Exterior
    Keyword: Systems/Environment
    The person’s social and environmental situation, including home, neighborhood,  job, pollution, economy, etc. Where does this person live? In what type of society? Does he have a a suburban home or a grass hut? Does he drive a car on paved roads or ride pack animals on dirt roads? What is the government like that she lives under? What kinds of institutions does his society have?

Four aspects of one thing

All of these four aspects arise together and impact one another. Some examples:

  • Relationship trouble in the lower left (interior collective) might show up as unhappines in the upper left (my individual feelings), aggressiveness or withdrawal in the upper right (my behavior), and fights with my spouse in the lower right (my social reality).
  • A person undergoing psychotherapy and seeing positive results could be reflected as both forward movement in the upper left (my individual psychology) and smarter behavior in the upper right (what I do differently as a result of my upper left development).
  • Conflicts between two or more quadrants: if I'm an arrogant donkey, my upper left may look very positive (the way I see myself) but my lower left may look the opposite (others see me negatively and so my relationships are a mess).

What about subjects that aren't people?

It can be tricky when learning the quadrants to apply them to subjects other than people. For example, we're not used to thinking of  objects as having an interior.


  1. Upper left: from a shamanic or psychic perspective, the object's "spirit" or "identity". In aesthetics, the aspect of beauty that is "in" the object rather than culturally constructed.
  2. Upper right: the object's physical construction and condition. What is it made out of? What are its properties (physical, chemical, etc)? How old is it? Is it well kept or in disrepair?
  3. Lower left: what the object means in culture, either its culture of origin or the culture it's in now. Is it a sacred item? Was it a sacred item in the past, but now it's simply a cultural or scientific curiosity? Does it have sentimental value?
  4. Lower right: how and where the object is actually being used or disused. Where is the object? Who and what is around it? How is it used or not used? Is the environment or use appropriate to this object?

In the case of a stolen car, the right hand quadrants might be more helpful: upper right corresponds to the car's current condition, lower right corresponds to the car's environment and where it is right now.


  1. Upper left: what's the feel of the event (the "vibe" or energy of the occasion)? Full of positive feelings and life like a party? Serious and focused like a good business meeting? Chaotic and unproductive like a bad business meeting? Dour and emotional like a funeral?
  2. Upper right: what happened or is happening? If a scientist observed the event, what would she be able to see, detect, measure, or describe? Who is there? What do they do and not do?
  3. Lower left: what is the meaning of this event? How do the people, organizations, and events in relationship to this event feel about it? For example, while the upper left aspect of a political event might be very conservative, serious, and straightforward, the lower left might include controversy, protest, and some chaos.
  4. Lower right: what is the context of this event? Where does it occur? How does it fit into the social systems around it? What is its environment and how does it relate to its environment? If anthropologists from another planet observed this event what could they say about it in terms of the big picture of society?

What would you like to know now?

Thanks for reading! I know from my own experience learning the four quadrants model (and I'm still learning!) that it's not always easy. But this is a valuable spread, and worth the effort.

What questions are you left with? What parts of this post could be more clear? Please tell me below in the comments!

Did you try this spread? How did it work for you? When you try this spread, I would love to hear about it. Please feel free to post experiences/readings below as well.

Filed under: Integral, Tarot No Comments

Notes on a Holacracy strategy meeting

plane landing over simpson bayBay Area Integral's strategy meeting (a type of Holacracy meeting) was great to be part of. Of course I think it went better because I was doing it with other skillful, integral people. Perhaps a better test for Holacracy would be to take it offroading into the wilds of the typical workplace, working with a group of more diverse development levels. Even then, I suspect it would work well.

The meeting started with a check in by roles (everyone in a holacracy fills one or more roles). I'm always impressed with how people in the integral community hold sacred space, moving in and out of it as necessary, quickly, with a minimum of fuss.

The bulk of the meeting followed the standard diamond-shaped creative process: a period of divergent brainstorming followed by a focusing convergence toward our meeting outputs. Every Holacracy meeting has well defined, concrete outputs—in this case, a high level theme for the organization for the year, our core value proposition, and our strategic direction for the year.

The last part of the convergence phase involves a proposal being made based on everything that's been brought up at the meeting which is then run through Holacracy's Integrative Decision-Making™ (trademarked, really?) process. This is a highly structured process that seems to have a lot of power: all views get heard and integrated without having to struggle with consensus, and perfectionism never even makes it into the room—the Holacracy definition of an Objection is "a tangible reason why adopting the proposal is not workable… at least for now". When the proposal can make it through an objection round with no objections it is adopted. At which point there was much rejoicing.

We had just made it through 4.5 hours of strategy meeting, finished early, and smoothly landed a plane that looked, for a while, like it had no engines, mangled landing gear, and only one wing. We were excited by the outputs we had developed, and grateful to, and appreciative of, our circle members for being along for the ride together.


Learning more about Holacracy

Fractal For K & K Challenge #7After sitting in on more holacracy meetings and reading the introductory PDF, I'm beginning to get the hang of it. And in just under 2 hours I'll be attending my first strategy meeting for Bay Area Integral.

The introduction provides the big picture overview of holacracy, which is a bit breathtaking. Holacracy aims to liberate organizations from human egos and ownership, which if successful would have the effect of giving them even more of a life of their own than they already have. And its fractal design could scale from local communities all the way to a global government, all while linking each level to the next.

I'm not sure if I love the idea or want to kill it before it breeds. On the one hand, we have enough problems with organizations that live forever and corporations being treated as people. If corporations already cause too much injustice and environmental damage do we really want to "liberate" them into further autonomy? On the other hand, it seems that human ego and limitation are exactly the things holding us back from significantly shifting humanity's course toward a less perilous future. If Holacracy delivers on its promise to turn corporations into more direct tools of evolution, perhaps it's exactly the kind of thing we need to save us from ourselves.

As for the implications for government, well… I think the biggest obstacle to global governance is that our current forms of government are barely sufficient for running nation-states, let alone a planet. Of course people are terrified at the concept of One World Government—we have enough tyranny and corruption without giving politicians and bankers even more power. But Holacracy distributes power through the structure rather than allowing it to concentrate at the top. Whether or not it could work as a political structure is an open question, but it's much more intriguing than trying to mindlessly spread democracy everywhere.


Why integral people need more green

Mean GreenThe phrase "non-marginalizing awareness" was uttered onstage at ISE2, by Ken Wilber himself I believe, to describe the integral mindset. But I do not find that people in the integral community are somehow automatically non-marginalizing. In fact, I find a lot of work still to be done in this area, even among integral folk, and I wonder how much of this has to do with underdevelopment at the postmodern level, the level integral calls the Green meme.

The issue is that marginalization is not simply a function of our individual awareness but also of our socialization into the culture we find ourselves embedded in and the systems and institutions created by that culture. Certain assumptions from our families and culture become invisible to us, as do the systems built from those assumptions. For instance, someone raised with the assumption that everyone is either "male" or "female" may experience no particular reaction to filling out forms with the question like "Sex: ☐ Male ☐ Female". Perhaps it comes time for that person to design a form at work, and the cultural norm of asking for sex on everything from credit card applications to customer satisfaction surveys gets copied without a second thought.

To be non-marginalizing an awareness is going to have to do the work of bringing such unexamined assumptions and hidden power structures into the light of day. This is exactly the work of the Green meme, the postmodern level of development that brought with it the tools to do just that, from critical theory to deconstruction.

When I'm around the groups of relatively privileged people who tend to populate integral events—mostly straight, white, older, and relatively affluent—I often find myself wondering how much of that work they've done. It's often not readily apparent in their language or behavior. And while there's plenty of focus on weeding out the "mean" aspect of the Green level (the unchecked narcissism that can grow in the space carved out by Green's pluralistic tolerance), and always the attitude that "everybody who's anybody" in integral of course wants to transcend Green (or better yet, already has), I find myself wondering, "Where is the inclusion of it?" Where is the horizontal development at Green that takes you not only out of your narcissism but into ever growing consciousness of your privilege?

I know, I know. "But if I make my privilege more conscious I'll have to exercise more responsibility in how I wield my power that I don't want to know or admit that I have." Exactly.

Solving the problems presented by prejudices such as sexism, racism, homophobia, and cissexism requires that you do this. Find your resistances, deal with them using the tools of your choice, and get on with deconstructing yourself. This is the only way you will become part of the solution rather than part of the problem in culture and society. Integral doesn't explicitly provide tools to do this—because Green already has and integral includes them—any more than it provides tools for you to carry out scientific experiments without using the rational tools of Orange.

So while we watch Green expressions carefully for problems, let's also watch for insufficient Green as well. And let's not forget to celebrate what's so powerful and still very much needed in this world about Green while we're at it. After all, you wouldn't want to go back to living in the 50s would you?


On ayahuasca and spiritual bypassing

Ayahuasca necklaceISE2 only touched on the issue of spiritual bypassing briefly, but that was enough to remind me that I've been meaning to write about some issues in modern ayahuasca use. In short, spiritual bypassing is the use of spiritual concepts to avoid dealing with your shit. Examples include rationalizing issues away with ideas such as "it's all an illusion anyway" or ignoring things by telling yourself, "God will handle the details." Similarly, it is dangerous to believe that ayahuasca practice alone will cover all your bases. This also applies to work with other plant medicines such as mushrooms.

Ayahuasca is powerful in so many ways—from physical and psychological healing to spiritual development and more—that it can be tempting to think of it as all-powerful, or at least close to it. When I first saw Ken Wilber categorize ayahuasca as an Upper Left quadrant practice I resisted at first—after all, ayahuasca is a powerful practice that has positive impacts in all four quadrants. But then again, so does meditation.

The parallel extends into, for example, the criticism that UL practice alone is not enough to address injustice in the Lower Left quadrant: all the meditation in the world doesn't wake an ancient Chinese monk up to the fact that his culture is horribly sexist. Similarly, years or decades into ayahuasca practice, curanderos regularly get into trouble with scandal around sexual misconduct and ego issues around money, power, and fame. Just like the eastern gurus we've read about in the papers for decades.

So I had to accept that, in this respect, ayahuasca is more similar than not to meditation practice. Something I hear from people who work with plant medicine is, "The plant takes me right where I need to go, even if it's not where I want to go," but I think this is a function not just of the plant but of the individual working with it and that person's willingness to go where they need to go. The people who say things like that tend to have some experience (often plenty) delving into their uncomfortable places; some have even reached an attitude of fearlessness and eagerness toward shadow work. Of course plant medicine takes them to these places when they need to. But not everyone shares these experiences. Many find their resistance to doing their work still intact even after multiple ceremonies. Sometimes the plant tries to take them where they need to go but all they get is a tummy ache from resisting and they wonder why the plant didn't work for them.

This is why it can be so valuable to work with ayahuasca within a traditional lineage, such as the Shipibo or other tribes, or a community such as the Santo Daime. A teacher or community that has been there before can guide you around and through such traps. Often they are also better able to see our shit than we are. If working with a group is not feasible, supplement your ayahuasca practice with regular shadow work: engage with a psychotherapist, trusted spiritual teacher, integral life practice group, whatever works. But do it, and do it with a guide or teacher at least until you have enough experience under your belt to continue on your own.

As a nondual practice, ayahuasca will not solve your shadow problems unless you take it there intentionally. Ayahuasca seems quite comfortable with shadow and darkness. It is a common mistake, especially among a certain kind of California New Ager, to assume that "there's nothing but the light."

As an UL practice, ayahuasca will not solve your LL cultural problems, although it can help if you are able to help yourself, if you direct it there and have LL tools under your belt to help you.

As a spiritual practice, ayahuasca will not solve your psychological and other problems unless you are ready and able to go there. The more skillful you are with your own psyche outside of ayahuasca, the more you will get out of your ayahuasca experiences.

In the words of my grandma, a woman who trusted God deeply but never forgot her own responsibility, "God helps those who help themselves."


10 things to bring to ISE next year

Integral Spiritual Experience is pretty great, but things can always be improved. Here are my notes for next year. What do you wish you'd brought?

  1. PureAyre enzyme deodorizer
    Useful when sharing one hotel toilet among four roommates.
  2. Room decor
    Candles, cloths, altar items will make your otherwise plain room a nicer place to return to after a long day of practice and networking.
  3. Flashlight/headlamp
    Good for finding your way to morning practice in the dark or trying to read/write in bed while your roommates are (attempting to be) asleep.
  4. Water bottle
    More convenient, more eco-friendly.
  5. Messenger bag
    Easier to carry materials in all day long. Make sure you have room for #4 in it.
  6. Gloves
    It gets cold near the ocean in the winter. If you're not from California do not be fooled by our Hollywood image! Pack warmly.
  7. Extra shoes
    This should go without saying, but instead I managed to only pack one pair of shoes AND get them wet on the beach.
  8. Calling cards
    I also managed to forget my business cards. Next year I'd prefer to bring personal calling cards. Put your Facebook URL on there. If you don't have Facebook, you have approximately 12 months to get over it and sign up before you meet me.
  9. Champagne
    What's New Year's without champagne? ISE ain't providin' it, so if you want it, bring it yourself.
  10. Champagne GLASSES
    Neglected to pack these. Champagne is only 40% as good served in a plastic cup. Bring extras for the new friends you'll invite back to your room to share the bottles.
  11. Bonus: Ayahuasca necklace
    Ok this won't apply to all, or even most, of you. But I met a lot more folks who have worked with the vine at ISE this year than last, and I bet I'd meet even more of them wearing my handcrafted ayahuasca necklace made from a disc of real B. caapi vine. Want one? Email me.
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Back from ISE2

Pacific GroveWow. What else can you say after attending the most well designed event you've ever been to? And a sequal to boot. Integral Spiritual Experience 2 was even better than last year's.

ISE sets the tone for the entire year. I will certainly be integrating the experience and materials for a while. I received so much at ISE2 that I could probably blog about it for weeks. But in case you haven't been to an ISE yet, here is what this one was like.

This event will impact your life—as it is impacting the world—in all four quadrants. It takes you spiritually deeper, cognitively higher, physically shifted with embodied lessons all while it builds community and fosters structures for a truly integral world spirituality.

This being year 2, the focus was on the 2nd face of spirit, with a theme of The Future of Love. Divided into three stations, one for each of the three full days of the event, we moved from falling in love, to separation and conflict, to integration and sweetness. These corresponded to integral's three-stage identify/individuate/integrate model of vertical growth.

The event is half conference, half practice session. The schedule can be grueling. There's a lot of structure to the event, structure that I see as lovingly, painstakingly created to support everyone in getting the most out of the event possible. This is an event that delivers more value than you paid for and then some.

The big name speaker was Deepak Chopra; the big entertainment was Coleman Barks and David Darling doing an intimate and delightful Rumi reading + cello performance. Of course the event is anchored by Marc Gafni, Diane Hamilton, and Sally Kempton. Other teachers included Saniel Bonder & Linda Groves-Bonder, Dr. Warren Farrell, and Ken Wilber via phone. Lots of other fun stuff including breakout sessions, practice sessions (they had a practitioner of Core Shamanism there this year), and plenty of entertainment, networking, and community building.

This was number 2 in the arc of 5 ISEs, at which point I presume it loops back around somehow. Doesn't matter, they're all self-contained. Why not make sure we see you there next year?

Filed under: Integral 1 Comment

Out of town for Integral Spiritual Experience

ISE logoA good friend and I are headed to Pacific Grove for the Integral Spiritual Experience Year 2. Last year's daily schedule was a bit grueling, so I don't expect to be posting until the week after January 2nd.

Grueling or not, last year's first ISE was also the most well designed event I have ever attended. Ever. I'm told that's thanks to the work of Diane Hamilton. Leave it to a Zen master to get something organized.

Happy New Year to all, and see you in 2011!


Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream

When I first heard about the Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream Symposium, I went to the website, decided it didn't look integral enough, and forgot about it… until I heard Lynne Twist, co-founder of the Symposium's parent organization The Pachamama Alliance, speak at the Green Festival.

She inspired me to check it out, and after attending my first symposium I realized that it was good enough, being continually improved, and more importantly it is already here, now. I'm not aware of any fully integral programs for educating and mobilizing the public to solve global issues—yet!—but right now you can search for symposia to attend all over the world!

And while the Symposium is not explicitly integral, they've got the Big Three covered—the program focuses on the interconnections of three crises the globe now faces: spiritual fulfillment (I), economic and social justice (We), and environmental sustainability (It). Not only does the Symposium cover them, it gets that the three arise together and thus these issues are not actually separate issues.

The arc of the Symposium addresses all three as it covers

  1. Where we are now—what do these crises look like?
  2. How we got here—how did they happen?
  3. What's possible—can we change them?
  4. Where do we go from here—how do we make the change?

The intention is to awaken people to the global crisis we all find ourselves in, but more importantly to awaken a sense of themselves as an agent of change in resolving that crisis. In short, you have a role in the global crises that you may not have been aware of and thus a role you can take consciously in undoing them.

What I like most about the Symposium is its shamanic origin. This bears mentioning given recent discussions regarding the importance of shamanism in solving global problems. The Pachamama Alliance was created in response to a call from an indigenous, ayahuasca using tribe in the Amazon. Looking to protect their way of life, the shamans had seen that what needs to change is "the dream of the North", the cultural programming and assumptions that result in the erosion and destruction of our bodies, minds, spirits, communities, and planet. The biggest threat to indigenous populations is US and our unsustainable mindsets, beliefs, practices, and policies. The biggest threat to everybody on the planet, including ourselves, is us.

Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream is about changing that, starting with YOU when you sign up and attend a Symposium.