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NUMINOUS adj. /ˈnuːmɪnəs/ A term derived from the Latin numen, meaning "arousing spiritual emotion; mysterious or awe-inspiring."

Reflections by the Water: Prelude to a Transformative Journey

In this reflective account, Sam, one of the lead facilitators of the Numinous Ways retreat, shares his insightful journey and observations on the eve of a transformative retreat near Amsterdam. Sam reflects on the significance of the setting, the anticipation of the retreat, and his role in facilitating the participants’ journey. He contemplates the power of psychedelics to expand human consciousness, connecting us to the vast universe within and the natural world around us. 

Sam muses on the mysteries of the human mind, the potential of psychedelics to transcend the materialistic view of existence, and the profound impact of these experiences on understanding our interconnectedness with nature and each other. This narrative delves into the essence of the psychedelic experience as a catalyst for exploring the vast universe within, questioning materialistic perspectives, and fostering a profound sense of interconnectedness with all beings. 

As an introduction to the reflections of a thoughtful facilitator, this account invites readers into a contemplative space where the boundaries between self and other, internal exploration, and external reality blur, setting the stage for a retreat that promises to be as illuminating as it is grounding.

Settling In and Gazing Out

 I have arrived at Pension Homeland. It’s early evening, still two days before the retreat starts, but I like to settle in when travelling to a foreign country. Also I believe I have found the sweet spot to stay in Amsterdam. I have a waterfront room, and time for a lying down meditation, just kidding, I really wanted a nap but instead went into a spontaneous mediation, finding a deep sense of rest and relaxation but not sleep. 

I set myself an alarm for what is supposed to be two small sleep cycles, so 40 minutes later I am up and splashing cold water on my face. I wind my way down to the restaurant from the second floor, past the lift, which actually does work, as the tall elegant and bespectacled man said at the front desk, despite going at a snail’s pace. It really is so slow that you feel like you need to check its still moving and ambling up or down is much faster. I find the restaurant, lit with candles on each table and two walls of glass overlooking the water. Amsterdam is glittering before me, the masts of ships, reflected light rippling on the calm waters, while inside in the burgundy warmth of the restaurant friendly servers offer creative and delicious food.

Reflections and Realizations

The Pension Homeland is a former navy officer quarters and retains much of the original features, while turned into a truly relaxing experience with cubist and abstract art on the walls, dressed down staff and funky music. I start to think about the psychedelic trips I have supported and been on. The mystery to me is how much of the world we have explored, that we have even been to the moon but how little we know about human consciousness and our relationships with each other and the natural world. Psychedelics appear to open our inner eyes and felt sense to a vast universe within us, and our connection to everything outside of us. How is that this small lump of flesh and bone can contain something as free ranging and vast as the human imagination? Dan Siegel the therapist and neuroscientist has an answer in that the human mind is actually hardly just within our skin sack, let alone the brain, but is intertwined with nature and each other. 

This is especially easy to grasp during a trip. Psychedelics appear to blow apart a materialist and reductive idea of human being. How high will these retreat participants go? What realms will they travel to? What depths of grief and suffering will they plumb as their hearts open to more love, more pleasure than they may hitherto have imagined is possible? Will they discover the numinous within themselves, discover the vastness outside of their socially constructed egos, and somehow all just by shutting their eyes and ingesting these little molecules?

As Within, So Without

The alternate or parallel reality that psychedelic compounds make real for us reminds me of the alchemical idea of ‘as within so without.’ Could it be that life is immeasurable? Just as space is too vast to ever contain or measure, can we travel to the infinitesimally small within, and then telescope outwards and just keep going, for there too we find ourselves as part of the living universe? The author and scientist Jeremy Narby believes that ancient shamanic cultures had actually already discovered the underlying structure to all living beings. They represented it as intertwined serpents. We call it DNA. 

People come with personal difficulties, with wounds, grappling with what has happened to them in their pasts. They may be tightly wound within themselves, their family history and the shit that has happened in their lives. Life is nothing if not intensely personal. People come having struggled with addiction, perhaps having poisoned themselves with alcohol and may feel that they are running out of road to keep going as they are, living in our materialistic and dumbed down cultural norms. Is it a false hope, or is the numinous just a molecule away? 

The numinous can be thought of as a way of describing the indescribable. Numinous means ‘having a spiritual quality’ and linking to the divine. Numinous points to a mystical consciousness, so hard to put into words, perhaps summed up by the lived experience that we are truly all interconnected, more related than centuries of western thought could have imagined. 

During a psychedelic trip the lonely self, the uncared for self that was not yet shown the majesty of its interwoven, undying, exquisite ‘Self’ can dissolve within half an hour of taking a box or two of truffles and be reborn. The tripper can go beyond the walls of their egoic paradigm of life and discover that the separate self was an illusion all along. This separate self is so strong that generations have believed in it, wars are fought because of it, in families and between nations. Rules and morals are created and demanded because of an unwavering belief in two generally upheld western core beliefs. The first of these is the idea that we all born and die alone, that death is an end, in other words confirming our loneliness. The second is that our life force, the libido, or our sex drive is dangerous or sinful. 


Psychedelics, Connection, and Transformation

Psychedelics can cut through perspectives so entrenched that we never even thought to check their veracity. In some indigenous American wisdom traditions loneliness is the very thing that we are learning to address here on earth by allowing ourselves to be profoundly touched by life. Sex as a connecting force is very much a part of this as desire and attraction may become too tightly channelled into tiny boxes of marriage, and of affairs as statistics show. Sexual energy becomes just a physical act, a sinful, perhaps dangerous act. The repression of feeling and the force of the creative abundance, that reveals the exquisite dynamic of nature, appears wide spread. Psychedelic experience of our inner sexuality, when in a safe and non-sexualised space, can move us towards an exquisite tenderness and sensitivity. At its depth the experience of libido can propel us into a spiritual/sensual connection with all living beings. 

But what are perhaps the biggest dangers of taking a psychedelic? We may shed so much jealousy, anxiety and suffering. The danger is that the pervasive loneliness and lack of meaning, the foundation for so many of our interactions, and our greed and fear driven intentions and sexual desires may lose their grip on our minds so powerfully, so fruitfully that we proclaim a new world, a parallel reality that is so bright it could make you want to giggle for hours, or make you or an uninitiated psychiatrist believe that you have lost your mind. 

There is also a danger that we are reborn, somehow without a skin. The discarded calluses of a mind used to defending itself from enemies within and without, served a purpose. Coming out of the ‘cave of shadows’ that we thought were real all of our lives leaves us sensitive to light and perhaps overwhelmed. And what is the light that burns us? It is the presence of unending love, and desire for the on-going act of creation that we also are. Creation isn’t something that has already happened, it is an on-going process. Yet how many of us feel that alive?


Preparing for Transformation and Reconnection

It takes time, support and carefully curated preparation and integration before we can embody our new found freedom. This freedom may include to love and be loved as an antidote to conditional self-acceptance. The burning is the healing of scars, it is our eyes learning how to see. This time not seeing separate objects, this time not believing in separate people, living separate lives. This is the delicate strands of a universal being somehow paradoxically both individual and communal, woven together with gossamer strands quivering with thought, feeling and aliveness. 

Normally coming close to the numinous would spell the birth of a new religion, and need a cult leader to explain it, a new messiah to proclaim this bright new world. Yet thankfully not this time. This is a human birth rite. There is no religious explanation needed, and neither can science measure the whole mystery of it, despite the practical nature of our interconnectedness. This is how forests grow, this is how soil comes to life, this is how water flows between sky and earth and it is also the path to a rejuvenation of the human spirit in the face of climate crisis, unjust wars and just plain old nuclear family suffering. 

I turn my attention to thinking about the flowers we will pick for the ‘altar’ how we will honour the spiritual in this retreat while keeping our feet on the ground. I wonder whether I have prepared good playlists for our morning dance sessions, and how each of the participants will show up. Which of them will cry tears of almost unending sadness? And which of them will just start laughing, or energetically orgasming with pleasure from anywhere in the body as ‘erogenous zone’ takes on a whole new meaning? It’s certainly not something to take too lightly, and the strength and robustness of our facilitation team comforts me. When the extraordinary delicacy and beauty of the human soul is about to be illuminated it feels like we need to be prepared for almost anything to happen. And with that thought, I take myself off early too bed and look forward to my morning dip in the February chill of the Amsterdam harbour.

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