Some thoughts to share on Aristotle, the nature of friendship and its relationship to contemporary transformational culture.
But, before that, want to pour a metaphorical Forty on the curb for our homie James Oroc, whose body was just recovered after a high altitude paraglider flight in Nevada went pear shaped.
James was a pioneering extreme sports athlete, psychonaut and longtime member of the Burning Man community. He was part of the same Rocky Mountain adventure tribe that we came up in (he in Jackson, us in Telluride and Boulder) and he had the courage and foresight to lay that story out in what became MAPS's most downloaded article ever: Psychedelics and Extreme Sports
From afar, that lifestyle may sound debauched or reckless but the reality is, Big Nature, powerful entheogens, and bowing down to Kali, who will just as soon bury you in an avalanche as she might reward you with powder turns––there's no purer or more quintessentially American path to gnosis out there. Walt Whitman, John Muir, Ken Kesey, Gary Snyder, and good ol' Oroc––all following in the tradition of seeking the Mystery in the Big Wild Places and coming back to write about them.
And if you haven't read his Tryptamine Palace, a reflection on the most potent psychedelic ever discovered, it's worth the reflection.
We often talk about how ecstatic practices––ranging from martial arts to action sports to psychedelics and meditation––are all death practices, and that by engaging them, we learn, as Wendell Berry encourages, to “practice resurrection.” Oroc drank deeply from that well, and by the time he chose to prop himself up with his back to a tree and let that final transition come upon him, you can only think that he was ready, and better prepared than most.
Not sure if any of you have experienced this, but I've become increasingly and acutely aware of the gap between espoused friendship, and actual rubber meets the road brotherhood (or sisterhood). Especially in the groovy transformational scene, where folks are often juiced to the gills on empathy enhancing compounds, and talk about "soul tribes" and "star family" runs cheap and easy.
For a while I was bamboozled by the yawning gulf between what was espoused in the wee hours of revelry and what was embodied in the light of day. Everyone I experienced Kairos, or sacred timespace with, I assumed were fellow travelers, and that we shared an oath to walk each other home.
In mountaineering if you are "on belay" meaning tied into a rope to keep you safe, then you're yoked to that person until back down on solid ground. There's no untying because you got bored or cold, or preferred to play with someone else. Same thing (I assumed) in the burgeoning transformational scene.
But at the Party at the End of Time, that we seem to be so good at throwing these days––where sexuality, music, substances, and wild-ass neo shamanic spirituality seem to be all the rage… we're not all honoring our roles looking out for each other. And for ages I couldn't figure out why.
Then I came across something Aristotle wrote a while back on the three types of friendships, and it all made sense.
According to Aristotle, there are transactional friendships, hedonistic friendships and virtuous friendships. And mistaking one for another can cause a lot of confusion and grief.
And here's what I've noticed playing out in the festival scene, the Bali-Tulluminati world, hipster conferences, etc. The parties we're throwing these days are awesome, so awesome in fact, that we're all gathering there at the magnetic and hedonistic level of celebration.
But transactors are showing up there to––to gain access to drugs, sex, money, power, or the ever-present "influence" they so crave. Hedonists obviously are, because, in every generation that's what the beautiful people do. And finally, in far smaller numbers, are the virtuous folks, for whom the party is a high point but not The Point, who approach these celebrations more as a post-modern Dionysian ritual of some sort––to commune together in Kairos. And for those of you playing along at home, sometimes distracted by all the glam and the glitter, remember: Angels and moths are both drawn to the Light!
As long as the music's bumping and the neurochemicals are coursing, it's all good and everyone's united in the Groove. But what happens when it's time to clean up, or the cops show up, or someone cracks up or breaks up, or there's real work to be done in the world?
What happens when there's a margin call? When all of that synthesized love needs to demonstrate itself as the real thing or reveal itself as mere leprechaun gold?
The transactors slip out the back door, often grabbing your last beers from the salad crisper, the hedonists start checking their phone for the after party (there's always an after party somewhere) and the virtuous ones, who meant what they said and are in for the long haul, in sickness and in health––well look around and cherish them, however few they are in number.
Because if we're imagining that everyone who scored a ticket to the Party at the End of Time is there for the same reasons, we're going to be left holding the bag when we need help the most. At a minimum, that can be confusing or hurtful. At a maximum it can be dangerous to look down when you're a thousand feet off the deck, and your belayer isn't even tied into your rope any more.
So as techniques of ecstasy have become democratized, they've also become diluted and polluted. The Grail Castle, where we come to drink from the Loving Cup shares an inside wall with the Hotel California. Lizard Brain Fuck Monkeys dwell there and it leads to the hell realms of addiction, distraction and confusion.
This matters more and more. Things are unraveling at a brisk clip, and the ratio of hedonistic revelry to heroic action is tilting fast. You might have noticed this already during quarantine where the lifestyle coaches and neoshamans flatfuck disappeared––they had nothing to say or contribute––while other bands of folks self-assembled to be of service in their communities and around the world.
So take stock if you can, and sort your social graph into those three buckets. Who in your life is there because they get something from it––the Transactors. Who is there for as long as there's good times to be had, but rarely any longer––the Hedonists. And who's there for you, with you, and through you, through the shit and the Shine? Your Virtuous Friends. And while you're at it, reverse the inquiry––who do you show up for, how and why, in each of those categories and how does it feel to acknowledge that?
As Peter Gabriel sang, "Find your brothers and sisters who can hear all the truth in what you say, they can support you, when you're on your way."
If you feel like an end of the week rockout, here's Gabriel's Shaking the Tree.
It's time to shake that tree and find those few, those happy few, our band of brothers and sisters