Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What is it about human existence that we seek alteration and influence?

Across so many different societies and cultures, there are common threads of expressions in human behaviour.  An example that I observe in my life includes the sauna.  Whether it is native American ceremony, or Asian ritual, Australian steam hut, Scandinavian hot house or any other variation - the principles are similar, and adapted for local or regional differences in availability of materials and climate.  A healing, healthy activity that people have enjoyed for centuries.

Another example is the use of various drugs and natural substances with many deep cultural connections and much history - good and not so good.  Chinese were smoking marijuana 3000 yrs ago.  Natives of the SW and peyote had a relationship.  Pirates drank rum - or so they do in the movies.  Andean people chew cocoa leaves.  Mongols ferment goat's milk into something rather disgusting to my palate with the goat's kick to add the punch.  The residents of the Amazon have ritual Ayahuasca ceremonies that are nothing short of time travel.Significant claims have been made of traveling across a time dimension, or was that merely poisoning yourself almost to death but then still recovering (in some 'controlled manner' by an experienced Shaman)

The reality is that these substances alter our perception of .... well, our reality - the image in front of us does not change - our perception of the image changes.  Whether synthetic, or organic, the chemical reactions and the minds/body's response make for some more than a little interesting experiences in 'perspective'.

So why have centuries of human advancement and evolution retained the apparent 'need' for some alteration and influence of our realities?  Whether its smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, alcohol, or prescribing medicinal marijuana, or a whole host of other substances like coke, magic mushrooms, heroin, ecstasy, what have you, these all present different levels of health risk in association with their (ab)use.  No one needs to remind me that I lost my sister to a drunk driver.  I'm not sure of the stats but smoking and alcohol with heart disease and cancer probably rank fairly high on the risk of death in our modern society.  So whether it's ceremony, or social, or addiction, we seek alteration and influence to our pysche.  I suppose it is nothing more than the constant desire to reach further, faster, harder, better?  Or is that also just a perception?

Qat is a small evergreen shrub, widely cultivated in Yemen and generally used for chewing, with stimulant drug effect. Chewing also part of the Yemeni business culture to promote decision-making.

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