The following excerpt is taken from The Electric Jesus: The Healing Journey of a Contemporary Gnostic by Jonathan Talat Phillips
Prologue | January 17, 2011
Had you told me a few years ago that Iâ€™d be here in Austin tonight talking with you about Jesus, aliens, and ayahuasca, I would have laughed my ass off. As a cynical secular materialist, I scoffed at anything mystical. I thought only direct political action made any real change in the world. As you may have guessed, that perspective has been turned on its head.â€ť
The sixty-five people I was speaking to sat crammed on the shaggy beige carpet of the suburban, seventies-style living room that Monday night. They spilled into the hallway and dining area, those in the back leaning forward to hear. Wide colorful tapestries of illuminated Buddhas, zodiac charts, and complex geometrical Shipibo patterns covered the dank, wood-paneled walls so indicative of the aesthetically challenged Me Decade. Ceramic manifestations of Shiva, Shakti, and Ganesha cluttered the fireplace mantle and plasma-TV shelf.
I propped my back against the fireplace wall and fought extreme fatigue. I had spent the weekend in ceremony with a Brazilian shaman, one of the heroic healing masters who travel the underground railroad of ayahuasca scenes sprouting up across America. I doubt Iâ€™ll ever understand why the DEA regards the most powerful medicine Iâ€™ve encountered, the sacred brew of the Amazon, as a Schedule-one controlled substance worth banning. Wearing a vest of seashells and a leather headband with yellow feathers sticking up from the back, the short, prune-faced shaman had me gulp down several viscid cups of the nasty tasting hallucinogen the two previous afternoons. I hardly slept that weekend and considered calling off tonightâ€™s talk.
But now, several years into an often sloppy and sometimes dangerous spiritual initiation, I was accustomed to ego dismemberment. Although exhausted, my body felt clear and light from having transmuted so many heavy vibrations over the weekend. Besides, I lived for these talks. These were stories I loved to tell, especially since I had forged through so many challenges to accumulate the experiences.
The crowd had the familiar look that my presentations tended to attract. Most of the people spilling out of the room were twenty to forty years old with salon-sculpted hair accented by highlights and wearing horn-rimmed glasses, skinny black jeans, vintage printed tees, and American Apparel cotton hoodies. You could easily mistake them for Pabst-chugging hipsters if not for their accessoriesâ€”spiral plug earrings, mandalashaped necklaces, Peruvian indigenous bracelets, and bright shawls with designs based on Mandelbrot mathematics. I fit right in with my tan faux-suede jacket, blue jeans, Burning Man multicolor necklace, and turquoise YawanawĂˇ beaded bracelet. I regretted not bringing the black Australian cowboy hat that I usually broke out when I left New York City, a way to reconnect with my Colorado roots. This was Texas after all.
During the earlier meet-and-greet over carrots and hummus, the attendees had shared their passion for sustainable aquaponic food systems, non-debt-based complementary currencies, and the politics of local rain harvestingâ€”visionary, but practical approaches to social change. They were far more grounded and engaged than the angel-and-fairy-obsessed New Age flock, the sort of self-involved meditators that I studiously avoided during my life as a political activist.
This group resembled others I had encountered over the last yearâ€”but with a twist. Ten months ago, I would have been lucky to attract a dozen people to the corner of a coffee shop or vegan restaurant for these talks, which I playfully and presumptuously titled Opening the Worldâ€™s Heart Chakra. Now they were packed out. We even had to stop promoting them early so as not to overrun the spaces I borrowed. Despite the crowd tonight, I knew that my dream of a solar-powered, permaculture-loving Austin was still just a dream. The hordes gobbling up cheap Chinese- and Ecuadorian-produced clothes and electronics at all the Targets, Kmarts, and Walmarts across town vastly outnumbered our crew. Radical mystics and spiritual activists like us were the foolhardy underdogs throwing compostable paper wrenches into the gears of the massive consumer machine.
â€śBefore we start, let me ask everyone a question,â€ť I said to the group. â€śHow many of you feel that you are personally experiencing some type of initiatory or healing process?â€ť A number of hands languidly raised in the air, half bent at the elbow. â€śNo, really. Raise your hand high so we can all see.â€ť Sixty-three arms stretched firmly upwards, leaving only two people with their hands in their laps. â€śLook around at your brothers and sisters in the room.â€ť I had never said the phrase â€śbrothers and sistersâ€ť beforeâ€”not with a straight faceâ€”but there was something about the brutal cleansing of the weekendâ€™s ceremony that led me to add the sermon-like flair.
â€śHow many places in the country would you see this many hands raised in answer to that question?â€ť I said to them. â€śSomething is going on hereâ€”something powerful.â€ť
As if we had just chanted an ancient incantation, the room suddenly buzzed with an unseen but visceral energy that brought smiles and sparkly eyes to the crowd. They gazed at each other, sensing the potential that comes from manifesting change together. As the only one standing up, I acted as an antenna or lightning rod for the group. A warm energetic vibration rose up my spine and spread across my shoulder blades, expanding my heart center. I couldnâ€™t help but laugh with gratitude at the continually absurd life I had stumbled into. After a long, formidable journey, I encountered a touch of the mystical almost every day.
â€śOkay, everybody. Put down your hands, and letâ€™s get on with this story.â€ť