Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I’m visiting Zanzibar, an autonomous (self-governing) region of Tanzania that’s comprised of a number of islands.
The largest island in size and population is Unguja, informally referred to as Zanzibar. This is where I’m at.
It’s home to the capital (Zanzibar City), the culturally significant Stone Town and spectacular beaches.
With more than 900,000 people, the island has felt far larger than I expected.
It was a new experience for me to be taxi’d for more than an hour from the airport while local buses (pictured below), cars, bicycles, mopeds, animals and people all intermingled on the narrow streets.
I learned that 99 percent of the people on this populous island are Muslim and as such, virtually every woman and girl outside of the tourist beaches wears a headscarf and traditional garb.
On the beaches (where the economically vital tourism sector thrives and the Muslim customs are not as universally upheld) I’ve met a number of people who came from the mainland and are not Muslim. However, since virtually everyone they know on the island is Muslim, they follow many of the customs. As it happens, the holy month of Ramadan recently began and so this is the most common word in conversation at the moment. The near-universal all-day fasting affects everyone.
When I first arrived (and before Ramadan), I was walking one morning and saw dozens of women out on Nungwi Beach at low tide … it turns out they were collecting seaweed and seafood.
I took the picture below of these young girls who were collecting as well. Their bucket was full of seafood!
(See also: Zanzibar’s Seaweed Farming Industry Provides Livelihood for Women.)
I’ve been blessed to eat the fresh foods here and oh, how glorious it’s been to see and receive the abundance that our Mother planet so lovingly gifts us. The bountiful tropical fruit, avocados and seafood… I can’t imagine a more tasty, nourishing and satisfying way to feed our bodies.
Here in Zanzibar, I’ve been able to experience what life is like when people haven’t given their power away to corporations and technocracy. When we simply live as humans in community, then our magnificent planet is able to sustain us sublimely and indefinitely.
In this moment here there is poverty. And I’ve seen issues with trash (especially endless plastic bottles) …
but these are problems that motivated humans can solve. Regarding trash, we can solve problems with recycling of plastic, education, supplying reusable containers, clean-up efforts, agreements with neighboring communities and so on.
In contrast, when our planet’s ecosystems are being destroyed by oil spills, toxic chemicals, deforestation, corporate agriculture and other consequences of inhumane big business, the results are so dramatic and dire that we can no longer turn to the Earth for her bounty and are instead at the mercy of big business for “food” and clean water… and we find ourselves feeling helpless, incapable of cleaning up the monumental problems the corporations leave in their wake.
Only from an empowered state for humanity (in contrast to corporate power), I believe, will be able to resolve poverty issues once and for all.
All it takes is seeing the richness of life in places such as this to know that poverty on an abundant planet makes no sense. We can choose to stop feeding corporate and technology machines, and feed each other instead. By taking our power back from corporations, we’ll have the energy to devote to our communities and the ability to re-create our societies in harmony with the planet and receive the abundance that is the birthright of every human.
I’ve been awed by nature here, shining in her original beauty.
That picture above is the sunset on Nungwi last night. Seeing such magnificence, it’s as if I’ve never seen a sunset before, you know?
This planet’s beauty just never gets old.
And I’ve been seeing many new sights. Even the starfish have been wildly different to me. Sure, I’ve seen cool starfish before, but these have been different. As I looked at this one up-close, the color and ornate artistry seemed unreal and I began to feel like I was in a dream.
And feeling like I’m in a dream seems to the theme of this trip. I’ll explain. : )
Can We Explain Altered States of Consciousness?
Another dream-like experience was during a brief encounter with a young Maasai man. I’ve had countless positive interactions with people here but this one was different in a way that will likely be hard to describe, but I’ll give it a go. It will require a lot of context…
With most of the men and boys* here, I’ve felt a sort of regal energy that I find extremely refreshing. Instinctively, I recognize this as the natural state of humans, and yet I’ve rarely encountered it. I feel more of it when I’m around people who’ve developed self-sufficiency through life skills such as food cultivation, and people who are connected to indigenous wisdom, cultural support, profound spiritual experience or Nature.
In the case of the Maasai people, the naturally powerful demeanor of the men in general here in Zanzibar is accompanied by their distinctive garb and spear as you see in the photo below. (I didn’t have a great photo of my own so I purchased this one from Shutterstock and it’s described as Maasai warriors in Kenya welcoming tourists.)
*Note: I’ve also loved my encounters with many local women… so beautiful, warm, hardworking and kind. I don’t want you to think that I’m not speaking of the women for some specific reason… this just happens to be a story involving a man so I wanted to give you some related context.
The Maasai people are indigenous to Kenya and the Tanzania mainland but many young men come to Zanzibar for work during part of the year. The locals (with a gently satirical tone) call them “Maasai Beach Boys.”
I took the following picture on Nungwi Beach which captured just a bit of a typical evening there… Maasai Beach Boys along with other locals and tourists all enjoying themselves. Every night I’ve seen soccer games, tourists swimming in the crystal-clear, bath-temperature ocean, and boys and young men doing calisthenics and choreographed dance.
I’ve seen and greeted many Maasai and have had brief conversations now and again, but one particular encounter was unique.
I was walking out to a small boat for snorkeling and passed a group of three young Maasai men. As I greeted them, something strange happened.
I looked into the eyes of the man nearest to me and instantly dropped into what seems best described as a trance-like state, but could also be called an altered state of consciousness, a dream, or samadhi.
I presume nothing looked out of the ordinary as I kept walking but inside me, time stood still as I merged into something bigger than the material experience of space-time I’d been experiencing up to that moment.
Dream Yoga author Andrew Holocek helps to shed light on the vast subject of states of consciousness and what he refers to as “wake-centric” prejudice. But like shamanism and the Buddhist and yogic philosophy Holoceck is steeped in, the dream state they speak of does not only refer to times our eyes are closed.
The sinister discrimination I want to point out now is our extreme bias for waking consciousness and the limited reality it perceives. In other words, we’re all afflicted with an acute “wake-centric” prejudice. And like all closed-mindedness, wake-centricity is highly restricting, a total eclipse of the mind… Wake-centricity leaves out two other states of consciousness (or “two-thirds” of reality), and therefore a more complete understanding of mind and reality. The other two states, of course, are what we perceive in sleep and dream.– Andrew Holoceck,
Dreams of Light: The Profound Daytime Practice of Lucid Dreaming
A word sometimes used to describe such experiences is “portal” meaning that something serves as a portal or entryway to something greater — often a higher state of consciousness but it could also provide access to knowledge or healing. It seems to me that the man’s eyes served as a portal, transporting me to a higher-consciousness state where I was suddenly in the presence of a creator being who had imagined and participated in the creation of humans as glorious temples of the soul.
Near-death experiencers often express an absolute beauty in the higher realms and perhaps my experience was a tiny glimpse into those realms.
To have snapped into such a dramatically altered state while walking on a sunny morning was profound, and I’ve been reflecting on it ever since, trying to figure out what happened. I’ve come to think it had something to do with how our brains work, with frequency, vibration and transmission of energy, and with the relationship between consciousness and soul essence.
What We See is Definitely Not a Factual Recording of an Objective Reality
“The brain,” explains neurobiologist Semir Zeki of the University of London, “has to actively construct or invent our visual world.” In other words, our brains are an essential part of what we experience as seeing.
I’ve heard a story of indigenous North American people being LITERALLY incapable of seeing ships on the horizon that were the first to visit their land. Why? Because their brains had no conceptual program to interpret the appearance of a large transport vehicle floating on the ocean. I’ve not found the originating source for this story but recently I heard Gregg Braden recount it in one of his lectures which makes me more inclined to believe it. (Braden is a scientist I trust. He is careful to clarify what has been shown or found and how. He has also worked for many decades directly withindigenous peoples and artifacts.)
But whether or not it’s true, we can presume it’s possible because we know for sure that seeing is an activity of the brain as opposed to a factual recording of an objective material reality.
The eye and brain work in a partnership…– Discover Magazine
Ultimately, we see whatever our brains think we should.
Since sight depends on our brain, since our brain hemispheres provide us two completely different perspectives on everything we encounter, and since our brain is programmed by our experiences and beliefs, we are faced with the fact that what we see is reflecting something that’s far more creative and complex than a factual recording of something objective located out there.
(It’s greatly beneficial to continuously study and refresh our awareness of the underlying knowledge that helps us to fully accept such an understanding of how we actually interact with our world. It’s vital to know what consciousness is, how quantum physics has proven our old materialist worldview is wrong and to have a greater sense for the actual nature of reality. A related topic is found in this summary on truth.)
Have you noticed anything about how you feel when you experience something that you’ve only known of indirectly through story (books, theater, film, TV, Internet, etc)?
To see things for the first time in the material world that we’ve only encountered second-hand can feel dream-like… or at least that’s how it felt to me when I first saw Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Venice Beach, a Costa Rican jungle, gloriously colored birds in the Amazon, a woman carrying a basket atop her head… all things that prior to seeing them had seemed real but unreal, you know?
When I first experienced them as materially real, my perception felt altered and somewhat “dream-like.”
And what is a dream but an altered state of consciousness?
What’s Happening Inside Us When Something “Unreal” is Happening Outside Us?
All this brain stuff had me thinking about what might have been happening in me last month when my friend and I were driving through a wildlife reserve in the South African Eastern Cape.
It was shortly before sunset and we were stunned to happen upon a massive group of elephants (I counted a minimum of 30).
As we pulled over and parked, we noticed that more elephants (of all ages and sizes, individually and in different-sized groups) were coming from every direction to join the group… it was like all the elephants far and wide had been called to a meeting. I wondered if there was a feeding program we didn’t know about, but no, the elephants live there naturally and this was not that. It wasn’t a waterhole, or anything obvious except a meeting of many elephants.
The quality of my photos isn’t the greatest, but please zoom in.
As I reflect on how my physiology was registering this extraordinary experience, I felt a sort of shock and, yup, I began to feel like this was a dream. I began looking around me for I don’t know what — something familiar, I suppose, a landmark from my old reality, or someone to explain what was happening.
And then… I kid you not…. the giants began what appeared to be a mating ritual, one elephant mounted another while the rest of group stood surrounding them. Some of the elephants walking up to the group were displaying massive erect penises, but no other mating occurred; rather, the group seemed to be present as in a ceremony where there is shared energy.
There were so many loud sounds that my brain didn’t know how to interpret them so I can’t tell you what I was hearing, just that sound permeated the air and my chest was thumping.
The following photo is so apropos… it’s kinda tippy which is just how I felt as I leaned out the car window to capture a photo that might prove that this really was happening right in front of me.
I can infer that seeing something that had previously been “real but unreal” to my brain causing it to react in a different way from usual so that I perceived my experience as “dream-like.”
Please note that I’m not implying my brain created something unreal, causing a psychosis as materialist mental health “professionals” used to insist. On the contrary, something real was happening but my brain in its current state didn’t have experience with it.
And so it seems to me that during those times when my brain can’t categorize what it’s registering, it starts acting a bit funny. It might in some cases act much like an overheated engine, causing a car to sputter and move jerkily instead of smoothly and quietly as it usually does. I think that’s what happened at the elephant ceremony.
And in some (so far, rare) cases such as with the Maasai man, I think my brain blessedly recedes and allows me to perceive directly without its typical story… and this is what wisdom-keepers have sometimes called a dream… something happening in a timeless space, more holistically and with direct knowing instead of narration.
I suppose I could simply call these experiences being in a meditative state, but that seems incomplete and since I’ve experienced meditation in so many ways and I presume you have too, I’m trying instead to express what I recall happening in the moment.
So, back to the beach… even more dramatic (in one way) than the elephant ceremony, looking into the eyes of that Maasai man opened a portal for me to dip into an altered state, also known as a dream.
Normal Waking Consciousness is But One Type
Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there.– William James, psychologist and philosopher
My brain apparently receded for a brief moment and I experienced time stopping and a direct knowing that is inaccessible to normal waking consciousness.
Presumably this man was holding a high state of consciousness that transmitted itself to me, the way people have reported experiences with “gurus” and “shaktipat” … My experience with that sort of thing is limited but I have a sense of it from the times I have “dropped into” a state of meditation with little effort… sound is my most efficient doorway to that state but two times I was transported there by being in the presence of a high-consciousness being… one was with Eckhart Tolle and the other was with Kriya Yoga International’s spiritual leader, Paramahamsa Prajnananda.
Our Normal State: The Restricted, Narrow False Experience of Reality
Some materialistic scientists believe that awakening experiences are caused by abnormal brain functioning. As a result, they claim they have no more validity than a hallucination or a dream and the vision of the world they give us is an illusion. But I believe that the reverse is true: these experiences are more real than our normal state. It’s more accurate to see them as a kind of ‘waking up’ from the sleep of our normal state. Our normal consciousness is narrow and restricted and gives us a false and limited experience of reality. That’s why, in awakening experiences, there is a sense that our consciousness has become wider and clearer and that we have gained access to a deeper and truer level of reality which is normally hidden from us.– Steve Taylor, Waking from Sleep
Okay, well that took a whole lot of effort and a gazillion words to attempt to share something that occurred in the blink of an eye.
My intention was to see if I could provide an accessible and practical description of what happened and put it in context so that we all might feel more confident in communicating our spiritual experiences and non-ordinary states of consciousness, experiences that the mainstream materialist world doesn’t even acknowledge or presents as inaccessible and irrelevant, when in fact these experiences are our birthright and offer us something profound that we can work with on our own and with each other.
I’ll leave you with this beautiful photo of traditional fishing boats on the beach last night.
- Altered States of Consciousness – DOC (Coming Soon)