Portrait by Arjun Panday
This interview was conducted over the course of a few weeks via email. Initially one of the main premises, or talking points of the conversation was about Soy’s artwork and interests outside of skateboarding. During the course of our interaction he visited a shaman in the Peruvian Amazon rain-forest. Soy’s words are probably some of the most profound insights about life ever discussed in a skate interview. Please enjoy the mind of Soy Panday:
So let’s jump straight into it: primarily I’ve seen your artwork as predominantly fine illustration and painting – have you ever explored other mediums, like sculpture or photography?
Not really, a tiny bit of painting, and that’s it; quite a shame really. But they seem like a very different process, and illustration/paintings is what catches my eyes first. I don’t really have a photographic eye, and illustration was my point of entry in the arts, and I sure don’t feel like I’m close to having mastered this medium at all, so it’s tough for me to even think of trying another one. It’s hard also for me to find the time. Since we started Magenta I am now working with Photoshop, that I use to edit black and white handmade illustrations and arrange them as colour skateboard graphics. Which doesn’t make for a very profound exploration of artistic mediums, haha. Basically illustration only.
(Pretty much my only painting)
Have you trained or studied art and if so what did you do?
I have not studied art, no, but obviously I have “trained” a bit. I used to draw in the margins of my notebooks at school. That’s when I originally trained the most. Just cartoon kind of stuff and jokes. Then I realised I was not gonna do art school because I hadn’t prepared anything, and I pretty much gave up drawing. I pursued Economics, studied at University and just skated every day, until my next move was either to pursue a doctorate or get a real job. I couldn’t bring myself to do either, so I just skated to forget I had a serious decision to make. Which was at the same time amazing, and quite worrisome, because every now and then you feel like you are running straight into a wall with your life. Along the line I started drawing a little bit again, portraits of people around me, my friends, people on the Metro, stuff like that. This was my second phase of training.
(some old sketchbook illustrations)
Around that time, 2008 maybe, I got to illustrate a couple articles I had written for skate magazines, and I started to think that drawing was maybe something I should look into more to do something with my life, something that I could be happy with. In 2009 Vivien asked me to start a skateboard company with him and his brother Jean. I said “sure” and my illustrations turned into Magenta board graphics.
(magenta’s first board series, spring 2010)
There’s obviously a strong relationship between art and skating, a lot of skaters are musicians and artists, who are some of the skate artists you’ve been influenced by? I know you did a guest artist board with Brian Lotti, have you ever taken any inspiration from his work (or any skate artist) and adapted into your own work?
I’m not sure I could point to a direct inspiration from a skate artist in regards to my drawings. I have obviously been heavily influenced by a lot of skaters over the years, by skate music too, and obviously, seeing so many board graphics over the course of 28 years of skating, I have been heavily influenced by skate art. I love Evan Hecox board graphics and his art in general, but who doesn’t? Brian Lotti was an influence of mine far before I knew he painted. He was a heavy skate influence for me. I knew his Planet Earth “Now ‘n Later” part by heart! I could literally recite his part orally. Hahaha. I’ve been influenced by countless people really, but it is very hard for me to make direct connections. I couldn’t say “I started drawing animals because of this guy”, or “I started drawing geometric figures because of him”. I know the use of gold I took from Gustav Klimt, whose work has always fascinated me. For the rest I guess your brain picks stuff here and there and you incorporate stuff subconsciously mostly…
Of course Mark Gonzales has been a massive influence of mine as well, and we’re beyond stoked that he was hyped to do a collab with us. For me it’s almost unbelievable you know…
(Gonz collab boards, spring 2016)
I think as skateboarders we are extremely lucky to be so immersed in art. Every board has an artwork on its bottom, the creative work and personal thoughts of an artist; and a skater will change boards once a month on average. Which means that in addition to doing something creative with his feet, a skater will get to see every month or so one work of art. I know of no other field of activity where this is true. A tennis racket, a football, a basketball, a baseball bat, etc. bear no artwork. If you are not a museum person, then generally the only pieces of art form you get to see are mostly purely commercial work with no other message but to convince you to buy something. Skateboarding implicitly makes you develop a taste for art.
Do you enjoy doing graphics or do you find it can be hard to come up with something under deadline pressure, or do you have a continually expanding portfolio you can choose from? Do you ever find it repetitive?
I love it! Also, I don’t find it repetitive, but that would be of little importance anyway. What I should be concerned about is that people who look at it don’t find it too repetitive.
It’s not easy to always find ideas to illustrate, or to find a way to illustrate them within the boundaries of your abilities, and I sometimes do feel the pressure of the deadlines; but a deadline also pushes you to think quicker. Usually a vague idea is sleeping somewhere in your head, and sometimes it won’t come out by fear of judgement/ridicule. When the deadline is getting close, you either accept to expose your dormant ideas, or you’re quicker to find a new one, because there is no other choice.
I don’t really have an expanding portfolio at hand. I hardly even have a portfolio actually – shamefully – and that’s sometimes a problem, in that it prevents me from stepping into a few open doors. I draw pretty much exclusively under deadline pressure, be it for a board series or for a show. It’s pretty strange, really. I’ll draw in cycles. When it’s time to draw a board series I’ll draw that, on scattered sheets of paper which are useless for any other purpose, then for a while what I’ll have to do is ‘exclusively’ Photoshop stuff, to build a clothing template, design clothing, prepare files for the printer, make a catalogue.. And for this whole time I’ll hardly draw, because I won’t have much time for it. And then I also have a second job in which I don’t draw, and also other endeavours that I want to dip into every now and then.
(Scientists x Artists, Spring 2016)
I know you said in the Caste clip that you can hopefully learn something from the individual/pro from the graphics, is this something you’re still aspiring to convey?
Yes, it is still there, but it’s always a bit hidden. Also, maybe, I’m the only one to see it, haha. At the forefront there is usually an idea that I or we want Magenta as a whole to convey – this will be readable when looking at the whole series – then this idea will be carried differently by the different riders, according to their own personalities. So this second part is usually more subtle.
To decipher the whole I guess you have to learn the language of my drawings, which I am myself learning to read along the way. Looking into it I see that recurrent symbols always express the same family of concepts. 3D geometric forms usually seem to refer to consciousness and divine spirit, which exist in a dimension that is external to the 3 that we know, a dimension of immateriality, thoughts, dreams, visions and spirits. Transparency or wood knock-off seem to imply a notion of multiple dimensions organized in layers, that you have to see through -to read between the lines- if you don’t want to get stuck to only the surface of things. Society and those who rule it look after their own survival/well-being, not yours, so it’s dangerous to get stuck to the surface of things. You have to know how to read between the lies, past the marketing of things that prevails. The “swirls” that I draw coming out of music, animals, people, materialises diverse forms of the energy we each radiate, be it through our creativity, or our thoughts. It’s globally a representation of the various expressions of the vital energy that we possess. Then the choice of a particular animal for example, or a colour, will tell you about the riders’ personality…
(Spring 2013, Mankind Series)
(Winter 2015, Energy Series)
Your latest video offering ‘Just Cruise’ is a fantastic example of how Magenta can still come up with new things visually. There was a clip of yours from a few years back called ‘PARISien’ which I feel was definitely quite influential for a lot of people as quite a lot of other ‘cruising clips’ came out around that time too, how did you go about doing that piece?
I didn’t. That video was entirely my friend Sylvain Robineau’s idea – I just skated and chose the music. It’s the first video we did together – before he moved to Paris, and at the time we hardly knew each other. Since then we’ve become like brothers and have made a bunch of short movies together, at first skate related, then more fictions. Anyway, with Parisien, he wanted to make a skate clip about how beautiful Paris was, and the feeling you get when cruising this city in the Summer. Anyone who is not from here and ends up cruising our sidewalks will know what I’m talking about. My only role was to illustrate, or embody, this idea. I’m happy that so many people have told me they loved it; whether they were skaters or not. I guess it showed them that sensation of freedom which regular skate parts don’t convey much, my own parts included. But I can’t take any credit for it, it’s Sylvain we have to thank for it. He has a very interesting eye on things.
The idea behind Magenta “Just Cruise” was pretty similar, only not centred on Paris or on a single skater, and with a bit more tricks. But the idea was to try and convey what sessions between friends in a city could feel like. The summer when most of the video was filmed was rather magical. It was at the time of our “Meeting of Minds” art show in Bordeaux, to which -somehow – friends from all over the world came to. In the span of a couple months, we had Carlos Young, Zach Chamberlin, Ben Gore and photographer Richard Hart coming from SF, Jimmy Lannon from Florida, Zach Lyons from DC, Connor Kammerrer and Josh Stewart from NY, Koichiro Uehara and Takahiro Morita from Japan, Glen Fox from Jersey island, who came and never left… Add to this lots of friends from all over the country and the Bordeaux locals, all this for a small show improvised at the last minute in a 30 square meters room in a small city, and some friendly summer skate sessions.. It was amazing. The aim of the video was simply to convey the vibe of what that summer had been for us.
You used to be quite tech, late 90’s early 00’s ledge skating, did you make a conscious decision to refine and simplify your skating or was it a natural transfer?
There is a bit of both I guess…I’ve been skating for over 25 years and my ankles are in pretty terrible conditions. I’m nearly 40, I’ve had a lot of injuries, and I’ve never been too good at taking the time to heal them. Every now and then I’ll still do some tech tricks when I play a game, but the days without pain get fewer and farther between. Parallel to this, I remember that when watching Nate Jones, or Kenny Reed, or a bunch of others, I didn’t really care what they were actually doing, I just enjoyed watching them cruise or ollie or do basic tricks. I’ve always preferred to watch good skaters do simple tricks, watch the way they would do something that I could do as well, and how magical it is when they do it. There’s some people you watch for the tricks, some for the creativity, some for gnar level, some for the spots, some for the balance, some for the style… I enjoy all kinds. But what I really enjoy the most is to appreciate the style on basic tricks.
Are you still living in Paris?
I still do. I moved to Bordeaux in January of last year and “lived” there for 11 months. Really I only spent 4 days a month there, as I was always either on a trip, or on my second job in Paris, or I had to be in Paris for one reason or another – the Magenta 5 year show, some friends visiting, visiting my family close by, etc. In retrospect I rented a place in Bordeaux and slept on a couch in Paris the whole time, and was always in between trains, so I came back. Also, I love Bordeaux, but Paris has my heart.
In Magenta’s first collab video with Caste there’s a line that you do at the now world famous Republique spot when it was still fairly new, do you feel that it’s now almost like Europe’s EMB that it can be hard to skate there? Would you film there?
It does get crowded for sure. There are skaters from everywhere, but also lots of pedestrians. It’s funny because the spot in itself is not crazy, there’s flat ground with a million pedestrians walking by, and a few ledges. But it is a the heart of Paris, and summer in Paris is pretty amazing. I would still love to film something there, actually, yes. It’s a fun spot, I like it a lot.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I remember reading somewhere you said that you work at Paris fashion week, as a courier skating in between shows to get things delivered, is this true? And if it is do you still do it?
Haha. My second job is on Paris Fashion Week indeed, but I am not a delivery courier skating in between shows. That’s pretty funny though. I’m a photographers’ assistant, I help them on the podium and make sure they shoot in the best conditions.
Ahaha whoops, don’t know where I got that from! I mentioned earlier about Republique, which seems to be the stomping ground of one of your dudes Joffery Morel, is there any plans to put him, and also Willem Van Dyk on the team proper? Magenta seems to organise its team differently to the conventional way: there’s a lot of dudes being hooked up via flow and then only pros, which is really cool, could you maybe explain why you choose to do it this way rather than the conventional model?
I guess the conventional way makes sense when you have money, and you can pay pros a certain fee, amateurs another fee, and flow just receive products. It works for most US brands because they sell to big distros/mail-orders and are thus present in every mall across the country or planet, they do very big numbers and make more money. Some of them belong to a bigger company, which funds all that and turns everyone’s position into a job. Which I’m not criticising, it’s good to be able to get paid to do what you love, obviously. But for an independent brand, this is very hard to achieve. Magenta is only present in core shops, which means small numbers, it’s incomparable – everything we give away is out of our own pockets. Our own retribution comes last, and whether it’s Vivien, Jean, me or Gaetan Salvignol – who works with us for sales on top of being flow – we all need a second job so we can do this one out of passion, and at times for free. For me the team is all our friends. Unfortunately we can’t give stuff to all of our friends, and fortunately most are just happy to support us.
But to answer your question, Joffrey is proper on the team – with us there is just no real frontiers between am and flow. To be honest even the concept of pro is strange to me, it’s simply a way to pay people what we can. Despite the visible hype, we are just a small and independent company. We have no money. So what’s the difference then between am and flow if you can’t pay either one or the other?
As for Willem we are going to visit him this Summer. He’s a really rad skater, his style and trick selection is really sick. I still haven’t had the chance to meet him, neither has Vivien, so that will be a perfect occasion to get to know him and skate with him. That’s the most important thing really. Above all else, it’s friendship, because that’s one of the most important things in life. A company is interesting when it becomes a family, when the bonds are real. Not when people are here because they get paid this much, then leave to get more somewhere else. Loyalty is one of the most precious, poetic and beautiful qualities. Also to be very honest, I don’t really know what it implies to be “proper” on a team. It’s a game of give and take. To me it’s the rider who puts himself proper on the team, not the brand. The more help you bring to the company – and this can take many forms – the more you get.
Well put. Talking about the team, could you tell us a bit more about Koichiro recently leaving the ranks?
After we started Magenta, a few friends from different countries told us we had inspired them to start a company as well. Among these friends was Katsumi Minami in Japan, who started Evisen. As Evisen started to establish itself on the Japanese market I knew that it would be a question of time for Koichiro to join the ranks. Katsumi is also his Etnies team manager, and Shinpei Ueno, the boss of TBPR, also skates for Evisen. All these guys are childhood friends and they skate together every day, even for us it only made sense that he should skate for them. Of course you would want to skate for your friends’ company, I would have done the same in a heartbeat, no matter what your relationship with your current sponsor is. Koichiro will always be a good friend, he’s part of the family, and really that’s the only important thing. Business is far less important. I’m super happy that he is skating for his friend’s company.
So maybe now we could talk about self-healing, are there certain things in your life (bad or otherwise) that you’ve felt you need to heal yourself for? Can you tell us a bit more about what self-healing is?
I have felt I needed healing and I still do, yes. I think to a certain extend we all do but don’t acknowledge it. A little over a year ago I’ve had to accept that maybe I needed it more than I was realising.
I believe we all carry our own “emotional backpack” that gets heavier with time whether we realise it or not. The people we’ve hurt, the things unsaid, the relationships and their break up, childhood events we hardly remember and which have nonetheless left a trace on us, things we keep inside voluntarily or not. Like the air we breathe which constantly goes in and out in a perpetual exchange, so must do all energies. The reality we each experience is a constant exchange between what we think is inside us and what we think is outside : heat, light, sound, movement. Whatever we start keeping inside for whatever reason, becomes stagnant energy and makes us prey to weaknesses. It impacts our actions, our personality, the way we see things – or the way we don’t see things. I believe it impacts even our luck, our entire reality so to speak. The same way drinking stagnant water is not good for health, stagnant energies are also not good for health, and they should be dealt with before they cause harm. Self-healing is a bit of a broad term, it’s something that takes time to learn, and I cannot say I have learned anything yet – all I’ve experienced was a mere introduction.
A bit like with psychoanalysis, the idea is to use your dreams to heal yourself. The difference is that in shaman ceremonies, you do more than just recollecting dreams – dreams which you were navigating unconsciously during the altered state of consciousness that we call sleep. This time you navigate your visions – which are much like dreams – but consciously. You are conscious in front of images emanating from your subconscious, and take conscious decisions that shape the dream. Well, the idea is to learn to do that, to dream lucidly, but that obviously takes time and practice. This lucid dream is what people have called ‘the enlightened state’, a state in which it is possible to explore one’s own subconscious – which, among other things, allow us to heal certain wounds that are buried deep inside – by confronting them. That’s the rough idea, as I understand it, behind self-healing and traditional shamanistic healing ceremonies, which aims at healing the cause of illnesses – “healing the soul“ as they say – rather than fixing the consequences, which is what modern medicine specialises in.
(Yataragasu, Soy Panday)
Would you say the spiritual healing process is something that is best achieved in a remote setting, away from the bustling city life that you must experience in a metropolis such as Paris? Would the same process work if it were done exactly the same but in someone’s living room?
Well, I haven’t tried the experience in an urban environment, so it’s hard to judge, but I definitely believe it works best in a natural environment. In a city, the only form of energy you can tune in to is human. In a city, there are humans and blocks of concrete and that’s about all. Hardly representative of the animal or vegetal kingdoms. Certain plants, likewise certain actions and settings, can grant you access to what I would consider a 4th physical dimension: the realm of visions – the “conscious dreams” I am mentioning above – a dimension of the immaterial, of things we can’t really place in the 3 dimensions we know, like our thoughts for example, our dreams, or consciousness. I personally find it likely that this dimension is one of spirits – human, animal and vegetal alike – which our eyes can only process under altered states of consciousness. And the idea is to get knowledge, and thus healing, from non-human energies – to get enriched from the knowledge accumulated by other kingdoms.
The vegetal kingdom is also populated by ‘divine’ beings; they are alive, they drink water and reproduce, and they have been around for longer than humans. They come up with strategies against attacks, strategies and techniques for reproduction, they grow, they expand, they share and communicate. Anyone who has plants at home will know they react to music for example, they react to vibrations, they communicate with you and they feel your love. A human being lives on average for 80 years, some trees live for 900 years. We measure less than 2 meters tall, some trees reach 100 meters above ground. If the equation is true, E=MC2 means that the energy you contain (and so what you can possibly radiate/shine outwards in ways that are for the most part invisible) is relative to your mass. The most influential person you know most probably doesn’t weigh more than 100kg. Trees weight up to several tons. The energy they possess is gigantic compared to ours. We’re the equivalent to a fly to them, in terms of size, life span, everything. Wouldn’t it be very arrogant to think that we are the intelligent beings here, just because we’ve invented sliced bread and they haven’t? We destroy more species than we help, they do the exact opposite. We need them around us, they are our big brothers. We breathe the oxygen they produce. All of our pharmacopeia comes from plants, some of which have been called since times immemorial “sacred pants” for this very reason.
So, what I’m trying to say, is, in order to heal your spirit, I would say it is better to be immersed in nature and tune in to energies bigger than your own species’. In your living room, the only spirits you will encounter are the echo of your own, and possibly that of dead spirits who have lived and left their imprints there. The connection with the elements of nature and the realisation that we all are part of the same global consciousness is an important part of the spiritual healing process, and this can favourably be achieved in certain settings, i.e. close to nature and not away from it.
Now I realise that in this day and age – wherever western culture has laid its authority – it is often ridiculed to believe in the existence of “spirits”, the way I am talking about animal or plant spirits, or the spirit of the dead. Now I don’t claim to hold any truth on the matter, but the way I personally see it, it is as absurd to deny the existence of the spirit realm as it would be to deny the existence of thoughts. You know they exist because you have them. They travel with you, they are contagious, they reach other people, they can change the lives of people around you. Your thoughts don’t die with you. They live their own life, have an energy of their own, they can travel from you to inhabit other people, they perpetuate through time. They strive for their survival, they use strategy, they aim at reproducing and expanding – much like any life form we know of. This too is not a very common point of view I guess. But it does make it much easier to understand ailments such as paranoia or depression – addictions too. The dark thoughts that inhabit you – which can be seen as a kind of parasite – feel good where they are, they want to stay where they are within you. They will attract similar thoughts and repulse thoughts that can be dangerous to their own survival. If you let them settle and grow and attract more of their own, this can lead to the vicious cycle of depression, from where it becomes very hard to extract yourself. Controlling your emotions means nothing more than to tame your thoughts.
Fuck, did I drift away ?
(Communication Sheep, Soy Panday)
Your concept of Shamans and artists having healing powers is interesting indeed!
Just going to drop a definition here: “A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing”. Would you say that in relation to artists, the pop phrase ‘tortured soul’ might be an apt one in relation to this?
I could but I’m not sure I take the word ‘tortured’ in the same way that it’s meant in pop culture. I think you can be very happy and appear absolutely ‘normal’ and still be a ‘tortured soul’ – tortured in the sense that you need to let something out: you need to draw or paint or sing or write or make films, and you will choose to do that at the risk of being an outcast or being poor your whole life. You need to materialise the creations of your mind. This I guess is what an artist is, someone who feels he has no choice but to practice his art, much like a skater needs to go out and skate, you have to be possessed somehow. To describe this possession of the soul I could use the term “tortured soul”.
But what I meant by “it is possible that artists have healing powers” stem from my observation that shamans are artists of medicine, they cure you with songs that guide you in your dreams and help you exorcise the negative energies stagnating around your soul. It’s poetic and it is beautiful and it is a form of art that heals you. Ultimately, songs and visions are sound and light vibrations. I am of the opinion of Tesla when he says energy, frequency and vibrations are the real keys to the secrets of the universe. Vibrations have a curing effect. Music has always been part of every religious ceremony, which I believe were originally spiritual healing ceremonies.
Music does have an effect on us, on our mood, on our spirit, and thus on our consciousness. Some music makes us melancholic, others give us energy, others soothe us. We tune in to their vibration, much like a plant does to classical music, and it heals us in ways almost invisible, but nonetheless effective. To be invisible and keep you healthy and happy without you having to even think about it, that to me is the ultimate medicine. Colour is light, and light is a vibration too. A painting is an arrangement of colours. It reaches you by way of light vibration.
A piece of art talks to your subconscious, it talks to your emotions. Some lines and colours, or shapes and symbols, will appear harmonious to you and disharmonious to others. Some will be universal. Some pieces you will love for their global harmony, a harmony that somehow soothes you, or triggers your creativity, or does something else for you. That, to me, is curing your soul without you realising it already. Some other will make you uncomfortable, and that can mean that it talks to something buried within you that needs to be “digested”, processed, and healed.
(Winter 2014, Geometry series detail)
Also, I think art is first and foremost a medicine for oneself, as the artist first needs to release some energies that are trapped inside of him. I’ve used the word “stagnant” a few times already, because stagnation is a source of illness. Life is synonymous with motion, movement. Everything that goes in, has to come out somehow. Art is one way of letting some out. It is also a re-transcription of something that comes from your subconscious, which is trying to tell you something. To look at your own art and try to understand it, much like to remember and understand your dreams, is a dialogue of sorts with your subconscious mind. Once you start to understand the language of your own subconscious, you can progress in your art, explore it, and this process might well have healing properties in itself. The simple fact of making art I believe has probably healing properties.
This is what the shamans do with their music. They first live a hermit life of several years during which they eat almost nothing and “diet a plant” (drink a specific plant concentrate every day, to receive knowledge from it). This is how they learn their icaros, their medicinal songs, which are revealed to them by the plant spirits to cure their emotional traumas and soul stains – which are then guided out of the body by the sound vibration that goes from inside to outside as the shaman sings his icaros (and eventually vomits stuff out). It is only once this process is fully completed, after years of training and healing, that they can start helping others in their healing process. So, the song, their art, first appears to cure themselves. Then they know it can cure similar illnesses in the soul of other people.
In my craziest dreams, this is what I would love for my art to one day achieve: to have a medicinal value, to help heal the viewer’s soul without him realizing it, by presenting light vibrations in the form of artworks charged with positivity and poetry that soothe and cure the mind. It’s a pretty crazy idea maybe, but I find it poetic.
(Gifts to Friends & Family)
If a shaman’s day to day life can be just the same as anyone else’s yet they can access darker spiritual influences than most people, do you think they need to access the bad to gain some good?
Well, first of all, I wouldn’t say a shaman’s day to day life is the same as anyone else’s. Here’s my rough understanding. To become a shaman you have to exclude yourself from physical contact with other human beings for long periods of time and learn to navigate your own subconscious so as to make complete peace with everything you have ever gone through. You have to heal yourself extensively, from every wrongdoing you have done others, or received from others. For that period you have to live exclusively with the plants, drink/eat almost only them and learn from their energy. Altered states of consciousness can bring you to the brink of madness. It is at times painful, scary, tormentful, enchanting, dangerous. All that, a shaman has to know. He has to be able to navigate through paradise and through hell alike. A shaman will navigate near death experiences, possibly several times, with no one to pull him out if it fails. They have had to explore consciousness to its darkest corners, to confront their worst fears and mental torments, to be face to face with themselves, with their past, with everything. In there, you are more alone than ever. It’s you, the plant that you are drinking and learning from, and the spirits of plants, animals, insects & dead people – benevolent & malevolent – that appear to you in your visions and communicate with you. Alone in another world that is very foreign to us. To be able to guide people in the spirit world – in that 4th dimension – you have to know it by heart, it has to be your second home. Not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. Only after years and years of training can they start holding ceremonies and help other people, guide them in their journey and prevent attacks from malevolent spirits. For as much as I’ve read on the subject, it is less of a path you really choose for yourself, and more of a path that is bestowed unto you, like a divine mission of sort, that you receive in a dream and accept it or not. So, yes, you can say they’ve had to access the bad to get some good –if that’s what you meant.
What’s your take on modern medicine and pharmaceuticals?
Like I said above, modern medicine specializes in dealing with the consequences of illnesses, where traditional medicine heals the causes, the deeply buried emotional wounds that are usually found at the root of the illness. Western medicine can be very effective at this, but I think both should be complementary and I don’t really see that this is the case in our societies. The way I see it, modern medicine should come as a last resort, as it is a pretty violent form of medicine: it basically waits till it’s too late and then tries to ‘remove’ the illness from the body. Everything is seen as being material only, pretty much, and I really do not think that this is the case. I think quite the opposite in fact.
The placebo effect is very interesting to study, because it shows that the mind can cure the body if the subconscious has been ‘tricked’ to believe that the medicine will be effective. The white blouse of the doctor, the diplomas on the wall, the hour long wait in the waiting room, all these can be seen as signals sent to the subconscious mind to start convincing it that whatever pill the doctor will give will be effective, and it works. To me, all takes place in the subconscious, the illness and the cure, which is precisely why shamans cure you by provoking dreams and helping you navigate and analyse them while in the dream.
The notion of dreams itself is the most fascinating of all. I am deeply convinced that dreams are a natural healer that we just haven’t mastered. Psychoanalysis uses them, traditional shaman medicine uses a form of them –the visions, and to me, there lies the deep key to healing, and to ‘mastering’ life. What’s interesting is that we all dream, from the age we become conscious, to our death bed. I’ve been wondering why in the western school model –which has by now pretty much covered the entire planet- there is not a Dream class to teach kids to dream better, to learn to remember them, to learn to navigate them consciously the way we consciously navigate life (which I believe to also be a kind of lucid dream itself, a dream which contains signs you can decipher and follow. On the subject, in his excellent book “Psychomagic: the transformative power of shamanic psychotherapy”, Alejandro Jodorowsky goes as far as suggesting to try and review your previous 24h in the evening the same way you try to remember your dreams in the morning, and look for symbols the way you would try and analyse a dream -in other words to consider memories from your real life as a dream you were navigating lucidly and that is filled with signs and symbolic events). Humans can become amazingly good at everything they practice –running, jumping, skating, swimming, climbing, etc.- we surely can become better dreamers, and i frankly do believe we would greatly benefit from it.
I don’t think that humanity has reached its full potential, I think there is incredibly more that we can be and achieve. Consciousness is still a vast mystery.
(Collective Dream Board + Illustration, Summer 2015)
I saw on your Instagram a picture of you and your brother together in Peru, how was the experience and trip together? Did you have similar feelings after the ritual and were you looking for similar results from visiting the Shaman?
The whole thing was definitely the most out of this world, uncomfortable, strange, profound, beautiful, mystical, and incredible experience of my entire life. To have been able to share this with my brother and his wife is a blessing, they are my family and some of my best friends. Then again, at times, to have someone as close as your brother near you during the experience can take a bit of your concentration and of the work you are here to do on yourself. My brother mostly just came to accompany me and share the experience that I was so intrigued about, and his wife grew curious about it after I’d talked about it so extensively. My brother has a very rational mind. In the way that he sees things, there isn’t much room for the “supernatural”, the “spirit world”, the “divine”, the “plants communicating with you”, and so on. But maybe the experience changed that a tiny bit.
Anyway, whenever I would hear him be unwell, moaning, fighting his own demons and vomiting during the ceremony, I would feel guilty and concerned, and at times I would end up navigating somewhere between both our trances instead of being focused on just mine. A part of me was judging the experience through his eyes because we hadn’t gone for the same reason. I had gone for healing purposes and out of curiosity for a long-standing interest in the deep nature of reality, while he had gone mainly because I had gone, and I felt a little responsible for his experience. And then again, everybody has traumas to heal, whether one knows it or not. So, obviously, too did my brother. And on a few occasions he had a hard time and I could hear that. He was happy he had done it though, but I’m not sure he feels he has learned something from it. I think the way it acts upon you is more subtle, it’s not like you do 4 ceremonies and that’s it, you’ve understood the universe and healed yourself.
Anyway, he saw it as an inner journey, a world tour of your own mind, the equivalent of a 10 year psychotherapy in the span of a few hours. I see it a bit differently, although my understanding is not really contradictory with his, in the end. It’s maybe just a different formulation and mind-set. To me, the 4th dimension you have access to in the altered state of consciousness is at the same time inward and outward. It’s a dimension of immateriality, so the concepts of inside and outside become obsolete. Every opposition of the kind that we know of –inside/outside, close/far, small/big, etc.- make sense only in 3 dimensions. Just like in 3 dimension, the 3 planes of directions (left-right, front-back and up-down) are at a 90° angle from each other, the 4th dimension is at 90° angle from all 3 others. It’s a dimension where the infinitely smalls and the infinitely big collide, where inward and outward becomes the same thing, a dimension where consciousness is neither your own, trapped in just your mind, nor that of an external ‘God’, but in a place that we cannot point to in 3 dimensions and that is all this at once. I don’t have a problem with the idea that a plant spirit will talk to me and make me look at some parts of my subconscious to help me heal some wounds. Basically I believe in magic and my brother, not so much, so the reason we went was different, the way we saw it all was different, and what we got out of it was different. A common thing was we both found the experience incredible. But, I plan on going back, and he probably won’t.
I know a lot of people like to write down or draw their experiences of Ayahuasca, did you manage to clarify any thoughts in a journal or notebook?
I wrote some, yes. A bit in a sketch book, along with a couple little drawings of bits of visions, but that, I found very difficult to do, as I don’t have a photographic memory. I have also felt compelled to share my experience with friends, over emails and texts, very soon after the experience -much too soon in fact. But that was my way to recollect everything and put my thoughts down. Trying to tell a dream -let alone the 4 most intense, long, profound and rich dreams you’ve had in your life- is quite a challenge. I think they must have all thought I had lost my mind. But then again I think most of them think I’m slightly crazy anyway, haha.
What was the actual ‘trip’ itself like? Have you done other hallucinogens before you partook in the ritual?
I had quickly tried LSD about a year or two ago, and it was a pretty mild trip – also an amazing experience though. Camping out with some Magenta heads in the woods by a lake, it made me realise I need to spend much more time close to nature. It’s an energy we need and that I overlooked for too long.
As to what the Ayahuasca visions ad experience were like, well, it would really be too long, too crazy, and quite possibly too useless to relate it here – we all see through our own glasses. If you are interested in those things – consciousness, dreams, shamanism, healing, etc.- well, I can only advise you to try it for yourself.
Words: Joe Coward
Images courtesy of Soy Panday