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Kenosis, or the emptying of the mind

With the influence of cannabis on the brain, the altering or emptying of the mind - Kenosis, the ancient Greeks called it - can take different forms. It can be experienced as a slight cerebral discomfort accompanied by a moment of disorientation, followed by feelings of contentment and happiness which give rise to an increased mental activity, to make sense of what is experienced in a new way.
On the other hand, it can also be experienced as a complete loss, as a slate wiped clean, leaving the person awestruck, wondering what's going on. Like what those lights are that grow ever bigger, before realizing that they become bigger because they come closer and happen to be the headlights of passing cars.
Or those letters on the front of a building, that all seem wonderful designs made for decoration, till it suddenly becomes clear that they form a word that reads ‘night store’.
The necessity to make sense of what is perceived forced the mind to come back. But immediately afterwards inside the store, a little box with colorful letters will carry the person again to unknown heights of esthetic joy, before the returning mind informs that it concerns a box holding a tube of toothpaste. Wonderful! 
Whatever the intensity of the emptying mind, with its disappearance we stop seeing the world and the people around us from behind blinkers and can experience the moment without the interference of our snotty ego. When that ego has disappeared, and we lose ourselves in the world around us and in the others in our presence, we become one with the world. Stated in mythological terminology: we enter heaven. Marihuana users normally just enter the first or second heaven, states of elation that are characterized by lots of laughter.
When that happens you know that the mind is returning and reflecting on the spiritual moment just experienced, trying to capture it with words as it fleets away. Then, as the mind empties itself again, the feeling of total belonging returns, again followed by a happy resurgence of the mind. Everything is seen anew, with brilliance, rejuvenated, again and again, till the stimulating effect of the herb has run its course and a final shudder might indicate that the self-conscious mind is completely in control again.

In a recent study reporting on images taken from the brain under the influence of LSD, scientists found a relaxation, or decreased connectivity in a circuit of cerebral organisms responsible for the functioning of the self-conscious mind. This finding translates in psychological terms in “'ego-dissolution' and 'altered meaning,' implying the importance of this particular circuit for the maintenance of 'self' or 'ego' and its processing of 'meaning.'"¹ With these images of the brain our contemporary scientists have graphically been able to illustrate the self-emptying of the mind which the Greeks had already acknowledged thousands of years ago. Even though the marihuana experience normally is nowhere as mind-emptying as the LSD one, the images of the LSD experience confirm what marihuana consumers have known all along to apply to the marihuana high: the loss of self-centeredness with the resulting re-discovery of the brilliance of once's surroundings and the possibility of uninhibited engagement with the people encountered.  
There is, moreover, another aspect of the marihuana high illustrated by the LSD experiment. The researchers found that increased cerebral blood flow influenced "visual processing in the psychedelic state"². While under the influence of marihuana this increase in blood flow normally won't be of "hallucinatory quality", but it certainly does grant the cannabis consumer intensified vision, resulting in the above mentioned brilliant quality of whatever is perceived, something already mentioned with the term "melammu" by the ancient Mesopotamians at the beginning of civilization.

With this understanding of the spirituality of the cannabis experience we can juxtapose it with twentieth century Christian doctrine regarding the self-emptying experience. Our interest in the Christian view on this issue stems from the fact that it informs the ideology that undergirds prohibition. It is most forcefully stated by the theologian Paul Tillich, who dominated protestant theology in the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century.

"Spiritual Presence creates an ecstasy .... which drives the spirit of man beyond itself, without destroying its essential, i.e., rational structure. Ecstasy does not destroy the centeredness of the integrated self. Should it do so, demonic possession would replace the creative presence of the Spirit."³

For Tillich, the rational structure of the spirit, which in ordinary language we call 'mind', must remain unimpaired for there to be a genuine spiritual experience. If the mind disappears, according to his systematic way of reaching for his god, then it is not the spirit that manifests itself, but the devil. So as not to leave any room for doubt, Tillich specifies that

"Intoxication is an attempt to escape from the dimension of spirit with its burden of personal centeredness and responsibility and cultural rationality. ... Its (here he refers to intoxication) main distinguishing feature is that it lacks both spiritual productivity and Spiritual creativity. ... It makes the self a vacuum."

Here we like to remind the reader that the cannabis induced "Spiritual Presence", as Tillich likes to call it, helps us to accept the burden that cultural rationality bestows upon us, and far from wanting to escape ourselves, the experience inspires us to happily carry on.
As for the self becoming a vacuum, that certainly holds true at the moment of ecstatic bliss. We have the example of the apostle Paul, whom it took three days to come back to his senses. The emptying of the mind, the vacuum in Tillich's words, has to occur for the mind to be enlightened upon coming back. Without the kenotic emptying of the mind there is no spiritual experience; hence the theologian might be voicing what he thinks his god is telling him, but that god is bereft of the spirit, a mere mental construction, not meant to empty the ego of the participant, but to strenghten his or her religious identity. Tillich's spiritual presence, far from bringing the person closer to his or her fellow humans and the surrounding world, sets that person more apart and all but eliminates the possibility to enjoy a living spiritual experience.


Based on Tillich's systematic notions for the attainment of spiritual enlightenment, notions which "the church can employ in 'judging the Spirit'", it is no wonder that in the name of the highest ideals the most heinous crimes are being committed to stamp out "the evil of intoxication". The judging of the devilish practice of intoxication and the persecution of its practitioners in the streets of Manilla are but two hands on one and the same belly.

¹ Neural correlates of the LSD experience revealed by multimodal neuroimaging, p 1
² Ibid, p 1
³ Tillich, Paul, Systematic Theology, Vol.III, p 112
Ibid, p 119
Ibid, p 120