Men’s Retreat

I have used magic mushrooms (psilocybin) only once, but this one time changed the direction of my life.

People who use drugs for recreation usually just pop them into their mouth and wait to see what happens. It is a bit like going on a carnival ride at the amusement park. At the carnival ride the fireworks are outside and all around us. With drugs the fireworks are inside of us and absorb our consciousness.

This misses the bigger picture: some drugs can help guide the direction of our life.

The year was 1985. My friend and teacher David Kyle had invited me to join his local men’s group. We met weekly for a couple of months and then David told us about a weekend retreat that was going to be held in a rural area up in Marin County. We all agreed to join him.

When the day came, we met up in the morning, organized carpools, then drove up into San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Marin County. We continued driving north and then west towards the ocean. We had to go through several towns before the houses thinned out and we found ourselves out in the countryside. Finally, David directed us to park on the side of the road next to a bridge over a creek. We gathered up our gear and walked along the creek until we came to a wide clearing where we had room to build a fire, lay out our sleeping bags and get ready for the evening.

We were joined later in the day by a man I had never met before. His name was Tom Pinkston. David told us he was going to lead us in a special shamanic ceremony. (I learned later that Tom was on the staff of the Center for Attitudinal Healing in San Rafael. He was also in training to become a shamanic healer. He has written about his training experience in the book The Flowers for Wiricuta: A Journey to Shamanic Power with the Huichol Indians of Mexico.)

After dinner we sat around the fire and Tom invited us to join him in a special ceremony that he would lead. This ceremony was intended to help us focus the direction of our life. He talked about how the spirit world was always ready to give us support and guidance when we were ready to engage it. We would have to open ourselves fully so that the spirits could come into us. To aid in this opening, he offered us what he called a “sacrament”. The sacrament was hallucinogenic mushrooms (psilocybn) and Tom left it up to each of us to decide whether or not to partake in this sacrament. Those who did not could still partake in the ceremony.

The first part of the ritual was a mental focusing on why we were there. Tom handed out wooden arrows to each of us. He then passed around materials that could be used to decorate our arrows. We were given colored string, small pieces of leather, small swatches of fabric. As we worked, Tom encouraged us to focus on the future and what was important in our lives. Let the arrow be your symbol of your future life. Let its shape be a guide towards the direction you need to take. He said to think of this as being a form of prayer, a focusing of our intentions for the future.

I sat there holding my arrow, uncertain how to proceed. I looked around and saw the others busily applying string, cloth and leather to the shafts of their arrows. I followed their lead. When our arrows were decorated, Tom passed around the sacrament. He invoked the spirits to join us and bring to us what we need to see. Then we lay down on our sleeping bags and looked into the starry night overhead. We waited for whatever experience might come. I had no idea what to expect.

At first, I felt groggy. My thoughts could not focus. Eventually a very strange image appeared before me. It was unlike anything I had seen before. It reminded me a bit of a wall made out of poured concrete. But this wall was not straight up and down; it seemed to undulate and curl around. Then the wall come closer to me so that I could see more detail. On the surface of the wall I noticed large, irregular circles. Some of these circles slowly started to open and close. I understood that they were portals and that on the other side of the wall lay the future of my life.

One portal in particular caught my attention. As I looked it, it closed shut and I knew it would never reopen for me. I instantly understood that this portal represented the Creative Initiative Foundation, a spiritual cult that my wife and I belonged to for 9 years. I got the message: this portal offered me no future.

Then my attention was brought to another portal. As I looked at it, it slowly opened up. Again, I immediately understood: this is portal to a future that does not yet exist. But if I choose this portal, it will open up and allow me to enter through it. But what was this portal?

Slowly it came to me. It was my job. That’s crazy, I thought. How can my job be a portal to a spiritual opening? After all, I was working in the pharmaceutical industry. This was no spiritual environment.

Slowly the answer came me: yes, this was no spiritual environment. But this open portal was an invitation: if I would accept what was being offered, I would be able to find a way to bring the spiritual into the business world. The sacrament made it clear: this was not being forced upon me. It was truly an offer of what might be possible if I were to accept it.

Was I willing to go through the portal?

I was gob smacked. Could this be real? As unrealistic as it sounded, I was willing to give it a try. I accept the offer and then found myself being pulled through the portal to whatever lay beyond. Shortly afterwards I fell asleep.

In the morning, Tom Pinkston explained the last step of our ceremony. We were to take our arrows back home and in the next day or two to find a location that was special and—if possible—related to our vision; there we were to plant the head of our arrow deep into the ground.

Since my vision had to do with my place of work, it seemed like the logical location to plant the arrow. And I immediately knew where I would do that. Our corporate campus sat on the side of a hill. My building was on the uppermost part of the hill. The land behind our building was undeveloped. I would bury my arrow behind my office building.

On Sunday I took my dog and we drove to my office building. We walked up behind the building. I had never been back here before. The building was towards the top of the hill. On the very crest of the hill stood a majestic California Oak tree. I would plant my arrow at the base of this tree.

But when I tried, I found the ground as hard as a rock. My arrow would not penetrate the surface. I could not believe it; I had not thought to bring a shovel. And then unexpectedly my dog started to dig furiously at the spot where I wanted to plant my arrow. She kept digging until I was able to set the arrow into the soft dirt she had removed. My ceremony was now complete.

But how could I ever do what the vision foretold? My boss was quite controlling. He avoided risk-taking. He would never support anything I might do. I decided my vision was a nice fantasy but not very realistic.

Three months later my boss walked into my office, sat down, and asked me if I would consider taking a job across the street in our largest division. This division was already my major client and I knew them well. When I talked to their vice present of human resources—who would become my new boss—he told me that I already knew everything about the job I would need to know; he would leave it up to me to decide on a direction for my work. I was being given carte blanche to do whatever I wanted.

What emerged from this opportunity was my work with MindSet Mastery.

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