My personal story about how I came to cannabis, and then ultimately to this book, is one of constant searching. For as long as I can remember, I’d been seeking something beyond “normal” reality. But, I had guilt about using cannabis for this purpose, along with many other intentions. I had inherited this long-held belief that we can’t be helped and that we have to enter understanding with purity, sterility, and piousness. The fact that ganja caused a rippling around my root was something I didn’t know how to work with. One can feel the mind’s ceiling lift off with something as simple as a plant, yet without honest cultural guidance or discussion, that opening can be misunderstood.
Embarrassingly, still a guilty smoker at age 42, I ordered: “Cannabis and Spirituality: An Explorer’s Guide to an Ancient Plant Spirit Ally” to find answers. I was stuck in an illusionary picture of what I had to be, what I had to achieve, and how I had to achieve it. These beliefs were as outworn as the widespread shaming around cannabis use. There had to be another way to meet cannabis for me, and I say, for humanity.
As Julie A. Holland, M.D.—psychiatrist, author, and cultural thought leader—mentions in her powerful introduction to this book, there have been ideological shifts around cannabis use in many areas like rules, regulations, acceptance from the medical field, etc. She acknowledges that although this is wonderful progress—”there’s been a dearth of discussion about all that cannabis can do for us spiritually: to feed our souls, to transcend and connect on a higher plane.”
And in this book, masterfully compiled by Stephen Gray, one can find discussion galore by Gray and 17 other influential voices in the modern cannabis movement. There’s a well-covered array of essays about historical uses of cannabis spanning cultures, countries, and eras. Scientific journeys visiting this ancient plant which has co-evolved with humanity. Love letters to the female spirit of the plant. Words and practical information from shamans and guides, growers, and mindfulness leaders. This book is such a rich celebration and treatise of the use of cannabis as a spiritual ally, guide, and friend.
Sections introduce historical and cultural evidence that man has used cannabis sativa in a sacramonial way for a very, very long time. “The ritual use of this ancient plant is a keystone in the archway of enlightenment for many indigenous tribes and collectives,” writes Stephen Gray. Writings from Chris Bennet, Jeff Brown, and Satya Raja take one through these cultures from all corners of the world and share findings of their use. All of these global accounts make you feel connected by this sacred herb to something much larger than yourself. You feel honored to be included in this multigenerational, multicultural, and unique tribe of seekers.
Before I dive into the many overlapping concepts woven throughout this book, I want to mention the “guidebook”ness of this collection that I found surprising and so appreciated. Stephen Gray introduces ten frequently used terms and explains how he and many others in this book see and use them. By reclaiming and refreshing such triggering concepts as “spiritual” and “spirit,” an open, fresh atmosphere is created to invite a new understanding beyond known religious and dogmatic usage.
Gray also includes two practical, helpful guides: “The Basics” and “Cannabis Spirituality in Practice.” In “The Basics,” Gray gives helpful tips on dosage, good strains for mindful/spiritual exploration, methods of intake, frequency of use, etc. In “Cannabis Spirituality in Practice(s),” he answers the question— where to start? He includes many amazing, direct suggestions for awakening practices, prayer techniques, breath practices, visualizations, and basics of mindfulness. As a teacher and writer who’s worked with Tibetan Buddhism, the Native American Church, and entheogenic medicines, his writing really shines when he discusses mindfulness and how to work the squirely mental energy cannabis can bring on.
There were certain themes that wove consistently through the book, like the idea of intention. We all have had a multitude of ways we’ve used cannabis. There’s a cultural bias against users— and we might have some ingrained idea of the “Lazy” stoner archetype. Dull, confused, cloudy. Escaping. But, we also have an understanding of this lift-off phenomenon, the experience of thoughts that feel sourced by something else. Kathleen Harrison calls it— entering liminal time. She presents the idea of entering the threshold, a place between time, where we’re invited to step off to the side to see things differently for a while, simply appreciating and contemplating.
Cannabis offers this “space”… the question is, what do you use it for?
There are many intentions mentioned and shared throughout the book, turning the one-dimensional cultural understanding of cannabis use on its head: communion—with others, the Earth, and oneself. Enhancing mindfulness practices, yoga, creative expression, spiritual healing, and growth. Use in ritual ceremonies and as companions to other entheogens. We’re invited to contemplate our intentions and get clear.
Set and setting are mentioned as probably the two most important components in how you approach the plant. As Stephen Gray states, “When a skillful, respectful, reciprocal relationship is established and people can meet the plant in the right internal and external conditions— what those who work with entheogens often call good set and setting— cannabis can be a powerful master plant and spiritual ally.”
Some things to consider: How is your intention reflected in the setting? Think of consuming in a comfortable, uplifted environment. Set is everything you bring to the encounter: your history, your personality, your psycho-spiritual makeup, your intention, and the preparation you undertake; treating intake like a ritual can be as simple as thanking the plant for its kindness and teaching, expressing an intention and dedicating your smoking to Spirit (Gray).
Balance is discussed by the shamen interviewed and included in this book. Mariano da Silva, a highly respected Brazilian elder ayahuasquero feels cannabis “is a very advanced teacher plant and must be used in a ceremonial or spiritual context, preferably led by a trained shaman.” Their sections detail how to work with cannabis in this context. Balance is key and fasts in-between sessions are suggested in using cannabis as a sacramental awakening ally. Discipline must be utilized, like any spiritual practice.
Another theme woven throughout the guide is the understanding of cannabis sativa as a female plant. As Julie A. Holland writes, “The burgeoning flower of this female plant unlocks the yin, the receptive energy in us all.” Her gifts stem from the qualities in which female energy is known— relief from suffering, a rush of joy, relaxing into ease, beautifying, love… ultimately, a catalyst to FEEL.
Kathleen Harrison, ethnobotanist, artist, teacher, and speaker on sacred plant knowledge, wrote my favorite part of this book, “Who is She?” In her beautiful, personal reflection on the many gifts of this plant, she gives ways to listen to her, share her song, and how to please the spirit of cannabis. Her gratitude and understanding inspired me to reflect on my own relationship with Her. She writes, “I am so grateful to have this beautiful, wise Big Sister in my life, she who helps me know what to take seriously and what to let go of. I feel so alive in every cell. She is a gift from nature to us, a gift from the mystery itself.”
Creative writers, yoga teachers, designers, and artists also offer personal accounts of how the spirit of cannabis comes to play in their lives.
The conclusion of this book makes a powerful case for this “humble and patient plant” being the teacher needed in these dire times of destruction, rebuilding, and healing. Jeff Brown states, “Cannabis has become the focal point in solving an urgent historical crisis. Man’s separation from his fellow man, and the separation from himself.” When used skillfully and consciously, a renaissance is underway… helping us wake up to who we truly are.
I had stopped listening and stopped receiving benevolent help from something greater than my small, silly self. My personal story concludes with returning to the garden and choosing to receive. Choosing me and what I find pleasurable, inspiring, and healing. I meet Her to know, to connect, and be free.
Boom Shiva! Aho, brothers and sisters, mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons. Y gracias a la Madre.