Book excerpt: Tripping on Mayan ruins in the Yucatan
"There’s a quiet revolution underway in our understanding of how psychedelic drugs work and how they can be used to treat depression, addiction and other disease," states the introduction to noted author Don Lattin's new book.
"Meanwhile, from shamanic circles in the Amazon to underground tribes in cities across the U.S., a new generation of consciousness explorers have embraced sacred plant medicines as a means to promote psychological and spiritual growth.
"The stories behind this cutting‐edge medical research and religious exploration reveal the human side of a psychedelic renaissance. In his new book, Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy, veteran journalist Don Lattin offers an engaging look at the recent history and credible prospects for using MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca to treat mood disorders and promote spiritual well‐being.
"Lattin profiles neuroscientists, psychotherapists, volunteer research subjects, and ordinary people looking for safe and sane ways to cultivate psychedelic insight. At the end of the book, Don recounts his own journey to find an alternative treatment for depression, a trip that took him from a Swiss neuroscience lab to the South American jungle."
Below, GreenState presents an excerpt from 'Changing Our Minds'. In it, Lattin describes how he ended up meeting up with psychedelic pioneers Terence and Dennis McKenna and Kathleen Harrison, and took his first trip as a young reporter.
"My first exposure to the psychedelic advocacy of Terence, Dennis and Kathleen came just a few years after the couple started living together. Like many recreational drug enthusiasts of my generation, I was enthralled by a series of books put out by Carlos Castaneda in the late 1960s and 1970s, starting with The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Castaneda, a UCLA anthropologist, begins the story by conceding that his tale was “both ethnography and allegory,” and it was never clear what percentage of his purported shamanic adventures were fact or fiction.
Nevertheless, it was a fun and inspiring enough read that it prompted my friend Mitch and me to travel down to the Mayan ruins at Palenque, on the Yucatan Peninsula, in search of magic mushrooms. It was the mid-1970s. I was in my twenties and had just started working as a newspaper reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. Neither Mitch nor I were real hippies, but we found ourselves on the hippie trail. A long-haired seeker sleeping in a hammock at a campground drew us a map about the best place to find magic mushrooms. We got up before sunrise to do our “ field work,” but there were already a dozen young Mayan kids heading out with big bags full of mushrooms.
Rather than pick our own, we decided to contribute to the local economy and handed over five bucks for a bag of pre-selected ‘shrooms. We gobbled some down, hid the rest in a tree trunk and headed for the Palenque archeological site, getting there early enough that the place was deserted. We were more interested in getting high than getting enlightened, and get high we did. We climbed to the top of one temple, convincing ourselves that we were the first archaeologists to discover the site. I think, for some reason, we started speaking with British accents, and then couldn’t stop.
We came across a long stone relief of a serpent that in my mind came alive, squirming its way along the wall. We wandered around for an hour, exploring like the first explorers. The steps to the top of temple were so steep, and we were so high, that it was impossible to climb down without risking life or limb. So we sat up on the top of the pyramid for hours, watching the early morning tour buses unload their human cargo to climb up to meet us — two obviously stoned gringos who could not stop laughing at the ridiculous looking tourists in freshly ironed shorts and polyester shirts, clutching their guidebooks. They steered their way around us as best they could.
If I wanted to, I could retell this story as a journey of self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment, and not be exactly lying. I could say that we spiraled down into the very molecular structures of our own DNA, that we traveled across time and space and discovered the secret of existence. But, to be honest, we were mostly just looking for kicks.
Returning home, I decided it would be a great idea to grow my own psilocybin mushrooms."
The 'Changing Our Minds' book tour starts in the Bay Area this weekend:
Saturday, April 22 from 1-1:30 p.m.; Author Don Lattin discusses Changing Our Minds at the MAPS Psychedelic Sciences 2017 Convention. Admission is free to the Psymposia Stage in the convention Marketplace, West Hall Oakland Marriott Convention Center, 1001 Broadway; psychedelicscienc.org
Saturday, May 6 at 4 p.m.; Don Lattin’s first bookstore reading from his new book, Changing Our Minds. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera; Book Passage Event
Tuesday, May 16 at 7 p.m.; Reading and discussion about Changing Our Minds. Books, Inc., 1491 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, booksinc.net.
Tuesday, May 30 at 7 p.m.; Telling Psychedelic Stories; Join Don Lattin for an evening of stories about his recent experiences as a psychedelic journalist and participant observer in a dizzying array of therapeutic treatments and shamanic circles— a journey that took him from a high-tech research lab in Switzerland to a mind-blowing encounter with the dried venom of a Sonoran desert toad. Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 at the door California Institute of Integral Studies 1453 Mission Street, San Francisco ciis.edu/public-programs