Reaching Into the Universe

Stop buying sickness

If we look, all around we find example after example of sickness being sold to us for profit.

We eat it in restaurants and grocery stores, rub it on our skin, pump it in and out of our cars, install it in our homes and institutions... and pay for the "privilege" all along the way...

So many of us are complacent and complicit. And really fixing it means completely changing almost everything about life as we currently know it.

Ready? Set. Go!

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Identity & the jaw bone

Jaw BoneToday I experienced one of the ways in which the jaw bone, or mandible, is connected to identity. As I walked in the neighborhood, I watched the feelings around a small experience that conflicted with my identity land in my jaw.

As Hugh Milne writes in The Heart of Listening, the mandible "is the bone most associated with the individual's sense of who he is. Since the head itself is the very totem of selfhood, all cranial bones are associated with identity, but the mandible personifies it."

How much jaw tension, teeth grinding, TMJ, and headache is about affronts to our identity, dissonances between sense of self and the world around us, or bound up in the oppression felt by many minority groups?


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

Gratitude for life

Gift BoxOver fall equinox, huachuma helped me confront and deal with the powerlessness I felt during my grandma's dying process. In that, I recognized that the powerlessness we feel over someone's death is not different than the powerlessness we have over their lives. This is the corollary to the idea that we die the same way we live. How we live is our choice, and in some senses how we die is, often, our choice as well.

If I value letting go of trying to control other people's lives then I get to let go of all of the regrets I've entertained thinking that if I had only done something different, pressed harder, helped more, she might have lived healthier and died later, or at least better. My grandma died the same way she lived; she lived "by the book" and she died by the book too. The helpful measures I suggested weren't in it.

Talking with a friend Saturday night, I found that those regrets, while false, turned upon something true. The wish for her to live longer was and is a true and good thing. It's when it becomes expectation or demand that it crosses the line. I came to the conclusion that it's best to think of a person's life at each moment as a gift.

When a person gives us a series of precious gifts, we don't balk when they spend some of their energy elsewhere. We don't harangue them to reorganize parts of their lives so that they may enable themselves to give us even more. Nor do we consider it proper to resent them when they stop giving.

That leads to the realization that if I looked in the mirror, it would be best to relate to my own life as a gift as well. This strikes me as the kind of "heart opening" effect the huachuma curandera said grief could have.

One day later and I'm talking with a different friend on Sunday night, who tells me about a dream he had about death, the punch-line of which is the appropriate response to having received a gift such as life : gratitude.

Next was my own dream, in which I felt a particular feeling, a feeling that I would soon read about in a blog post written by a cute bearish man in response to a question I asked him on Scruff (smartphone chat app for scruffy gay men). In my dream I remember thinking that if my life was a gift, being grateful for it would involve taking better care of myself. As his post says, "[G]ratitude is not just a mental exercise.  Gratitude is both attitude and action." He writes about the actions he takes in response to his gratitude for his car. What kinds of actions would most appropriately reflect your gratitude for your life? This 3-minute Uzazu practice video I received in my email recently might help you embody it.

I'm enjoying how these learnings are unfolding over a series of different conversations and synchronous events, across various relationships and media. It's like my life is a novel and the cosmos has introduced a new theme.


Good medicine: huachuma

Huachuam flowerI recently had the privilege of participating in some huachuma ceremonies. Huachuma is a cactus native to the Peruvian Andes that has been used for healing and spiritual purposes for thousands of years. After working with it, I can understand why. Among other things, huachuma is a master heart opener and emotional healer. I think I'd like to work with it for a couple thousand years myself.

The medicine is masculine, which we can compare to ayahuasca's feminine. Ayahuasca is often called Mother or Grandmother; huachuma is called Grandfather. I found huachuma to be very straightfoward; with ayahuasca the phrase "feminine wiles" is an understatement. Ayahuasca is a vine that grows with twisting, sensuous curves; huachuma is a columnar cactus that grows straight up toward the sun like an erect penis. As a gay man, I felt very at home with it.

Unlike ayahuasca, which is almost always used at night, huachuma can be used during the day. The ceremonies can start in the morning and stretch into the night. When done during the day, the ceremonies are about celebration, connection, and community. They have less structure than nighttime ceremonies and we were able to explore the natural environment, talk with each other, and partake in different types of Andean healing.

The ceremonies started with a tobacco medicine called singa. This is a tobacco juice mixture that is taken nasally. A small amount of the liquid is poured into a conch shell, the tip of which is inserted into the nose then tilted back to send the medicine down the nasal passages into the back of the throat where it is swallowed. Each nostril has a purpose in the ritual, with the left side used for releasing negative energy and the right for receiving goodness. The entire procedure looked more terrifying than it actually was. If you have any experience with neti pot practice singado is not much different. The medicine has a bit of a burn in the throat, but not bad. Singa clears the sinuses, gets you present, and opens up the way for the huachuma medicine.

After singa came the huachuma, which was served as liquid. It was basically cactus juice, although I don't know all the details that go into the shamanic preparation of it. The taste was mild with some bitterness, and much easier to get down than ayahuasca. The effects can take a long time to come on, although I found myself in slightly non-ordinary reality within an hour. My experiences were mild, with some difficulty walking at times, increased sensitivity, and a gentle opening of my emotional process.

I discovered that my grieving process has been stuck as the huachuma released it; I had been stuck in the powerlessness I felt during my grandmother's dying. The second night I confronted the self-hatred I've been carrying around, traced its origins back to childhood, and left with some simple practices to begin shifting the patterns of fear and distrust that have kept me living as a smaller person than I know myself to be.

During the day we experienced flower baths, "the original aromatherapy", in which massive amounts of colorful petals are infused in a large tub of water with great joy and love and pints of this mixture are poured over participants' heads. I was skeptical of the ability of this simple rite to have any real effect, but the shift in my interior experience was immediate, unmistakable, and difficult to describe other than to call it delicious. It brought me up above the challenging aspects of the medicine so that I could enjoy the experience even as I faced some hard self-work.

I practiced some craniosacral therapy while in the medicine. It was amazing, much less subtle an experience than usual. And working with people when they are so open and more able to let go facilitates the work. I can't wait to do more.

At night we gathered around a campfire. Such joy, people singing songs, offering poetry, telling jokes. It was like ILALI's Metaphor*phosis event, an event I didn't realize could have been even better, but all you have to do is add a campfire and huachuma and you have a recipe for an experience that I would gladly welcome as the default for a good weekend the way some people go out on the town every week.

DespachoThe day after came the despacho, a closing ceremony and gift back to the earth. Led by the facilitator, the group created a mandala of flowers, candy, and symbols to express gratitude for what we had received. The despacho gets bundled up in gift wrap and then used in a final cleansing of each participant before being offered to the earth along with offerings of alcohol and food. The despacho is said to help restore the balance between humans and the planet by giving back some of all that we receive.

Receive we did. It's hard to quantify "how much" one receives from a particular plant medicine experience and so difficult to compare experiences. What I can say is that not only did I receive so much from working with this plant, I was also able to consciously understand what I was receiving which is not always the case in medicine work. Sometimes I don't know what I've received from ayahuasca until months later, so a lot depends on trusting the medicine. In this case though I left with immediate gratitude and gifts aplenty.

I'm left thinking that huachuma would be an excellent introduction to plant medicine work for the inexperienced. While some participants did have a more challenging time, overall it seems that its gentleness and straightforwardness makes it less overwhelming and confusing than other plants, and the freedom of the looser ceremony might be easier for a beginner to deal with than more structured traditions.

Filed under: Plant medicine 2 Comments

Class: The Magic of Touch

Come to my class, you'll like it!

Details and ticket purchase are at

Magic of Touch flyer


Rant: price of gas + crappy public transit

Muni/car crash"If the price of gas is hurting you, you are too dependent on driving." — yours truly

What started as a snarky but serious comment on Facebook inspired this rant not just on fossil fuel dependence but also the San Francisco public transit system (MUNI).

I have to admit, MUNI is inexorably making me hate it. I do not find it to be quick, easy, on time, useful, personable, or even reasonably priced anymore given the preceding. I do find it to be embarrassing (we're a tourist town), frustrating, underfunded, poorly managed, and frankly unacceptable anymore.

Apparently if you take exotic scenic bus routes it's fine. But try riding the underground out of Castro station... anymore the trains are so crowded that I don't want to ride them, assuming I can even push my way onto one. I've taken to driving to a twice-weekly appointment because it costs the same, takes less time, and is WAY better for my health and mood. Also, because I can no longer read on MUNI (because I can no longer get a seat), I don't feel like I'm losing out.

Nonetheless, if the price of gas is hurting you, you are too dependent on cars, whether directly in the case of pumping gas or indirectly in the rising price of food and goods.

If you choose to live in a sprawling city with even worse public transit than San Francisco's, you are still too dependent on cars. Doesn't matter the reason. Our entire country is.

Time to think about options: buy a Leaf, move closer to work, get a new job closer to home, or just threaten to quit as leverage to demand your company let you telecommute more often (why aren't you doing that anyway, unless the very nature of your job prevents it?), storm city hall and demand change, something, anything.

Anything except complain that gas should be cheaper. For gods sake let's not have any whining that a precious finite resource is "too expensive" when the truth is we're too wasteful and too resistant to change.


Peruvian bone throwing regarding 2012

Came across this video of a woman doing a form of Peruvian divination involving the throwing of bones across a symbolic image or map, and then interpreting the pattern that results. I'm not big on 2012 stuff, but was interested enough to watch. Of note to me, she talks about reaching into the universe for new ideas.


Our confusion of “less bad” with “good”

Jeffrey Hollender talks about the difference between "less bad" and "good" with brilliant clarity.


News: rainforest produced more CO2 than it absorbed

The Independent is reporting that drought in the Amazon rainforest may accelerate global climate change as catastrophic drought causes it to release more carbon dioxide than the total annual carbon emissions of the United States.

Meanwhile, some people remain in deep denial. You probably know some of them—I do! Despite the evidence that we have to change the ways that we live, some people resist.

What kind of rock bottom do we have to hit before we wake up and start the recovery process from our unsustainability addiction? Will we all die in a dirty gutter, or will we kick it and get clean together?