Monday, August 4, 2014

Freestyle:Gateway to the Beyond Within

Peace world.

After years of searching online, I found this piece I wrote in 2003 to begin to flesh out ideas that I desperately needed to get out of my head. Very neophyte, very brave. At the time, my primary motivations were Ken Wilber, perineal philosophy, integral spirituality, Hiphop and NTU psychotherapy and they're all smashed in the here together. However I feel that this paper is very important to the world of Integral, Hiphop, spirituality and academia. After I wrote it, it was mysteriously posted to a blog called C4Chaos where it was read by my good friend Corey Devos who works as Ken Wilber's editor and website manager. Me and Devos has rapped for years about fleshing out Integral Hiphop and I'm hoping that we can get some time to really make it happen one day. Devos asked me in 2003 if I wanted to be featured on Ken Wilber's Integral Naked website, to which I quickly replied "hell yeah". That led to a song that I created called "Dream Drumming" being featured as the first Hiphop song on Integral Naked and probably Integral anything...Jerry Katz found this article online in 2005 and paid me to use it in a book he was writing, an Anthology of Non Dual Writings. That was the first time I received money for something I wrote. Thank you Jerry. 

So this article did a lot for my confidence and to introduce me to others in the world of the transcendent and transformative. The last part of the paper that discusses injunction has been altered/edited (not by me) and I don't know what happened to it. Had a good piece about Jeru the Damaga in it....

Anyway, this lays out some basics on my view of Integral/Non Dual Hiphop, Freestyling and the Cypher. Dig it.

Freestyle: Gateway to the Beyond Within
by Justin Miles

Six youths gather on a corner in any given city in the world. They form a circle and engage in a few seconds of discourse concerning what is about to happen. One opens the top to a 22 ounce of beer, pours some on the ground for “those who ain’t here”, drinks some and passes it to his comrades. Members of the neighborhood glance in from the outside and wonder what is about to occur. A concerned citizen thinks that they should call the police before a crime is committed, thinking “there has been an increase in break- ins and thefts in the area lately, and someone has got to do something about these drug dealers.” All of a sudden one creates a rhythmic pattern using their mouth, hands, a foreign object, voice or all of the above. The others begin to move their heads in unison, and one opens his mouth and begins to speak, juxtaposing his words over the rhythm. The neighbors calm a bit and watch out of curiosity what they are witnessing; six youths moving in unison to one rhythm, each expressing different emotions and thoughts through different styles. There is no fighting, drug dealing, or crime committed. The event lasts for two hours and then the circle disperses, promising to meet up the next day and do it again. The neighbors watching catch on to what just happened. “Oh, they were just rapping,” says one. A youth watching smiles and says, “naw… they were having a cipher.”

Cipher: 1. Code, hidden meaning. 2. Nobody, a non-entity. 3. An enclosed circle of hip-hop practitioners and listeners, engaging in authentic discourse (Freestyling) with the aim of A) strengthening self-awareness, self-worth, knowledge of other practitioners and their styles, lyrical skill, or ones connection to a creationary force through offering words of harmony (verbalizing a connection with group and creator), awareness (verbalization of issues which cause difficulty within ones life or issues that bring joy into ones life), alignment (verbalized understanding of ones issues as being their own), actualization (verbalized plan of change or continuance) and synthesis (verbalized unity with creationary forces of change and continuance as to actualize new behavior or continue old behaviors). B) Sharing a message of personal importance with the congregation in order to increase another’s self-awareness, self worth, knowledge of one’s self and style to another practitioner, and the collective’s ability to connect to a creationary force by maintaining harmony, balance, interconnectedness and authenticity.

To a hip-hopper the cipher (or cypher) represents the womb, an urban placenta that gives birth to emcees and beatboxers through the sharing of spiritual energies, transferred around and through a cosmic circle of combined rhythms. It is the training ground for those who aspire to reach the heights of the greatest emcees, a soapbox for the believers in a higher mode of expression and communication, a forum for those who wish to just enjoy in an individual-collective experience, or a combination of all three. The cipher embodies the sacred principles and dynamics of relationship found in and between all things, even if the practitioner is not cognizant of the subtle events taking place.

Think of Hip-Hop as being the binding energy of the cypher, existing between things and individuals. It is what helps Hip-Hoppers acknowledge each other and distinguish between authenticity and falseness of an individual, group, or their beliefs. It is important to note that the description of this energy or force is not done for convention, but to describe an existing non-entity that would be associated or equitable with chi, prana, spirit, essence, the All, Ultimate Reality, Truth, etc. These words are used to describe an ever-present Reality that pervades all substance, but which could never be fully described. To practitioners and listeners, Hip-Hop is that force which allows one to create, provides the atmosphere for creation to exist, and is the foundation for all creation of the music. It can be described as a feeling of elation, bliss, ecstasy, etc. that one feels when one is in the environment that Hip-Hop is played, cultivated, or demonstrated. This bliss is associated with the connection between one and the creative force itself, the same connection described in Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all of which describe an ethereal feeling of oneness, once one is connected to the All. It is also important to note that this feeling or experience is just as subjective as the experiences found in the ways of life described above, but can all be validated in the same way, through the prophets, saviors, avatars, sages, seers, and masters that act as archetypes of those who experience the Ultimate Reality respective of their belief systems. It is in this same way that we begin to assemble a spectrum of consciousness that acts as a pathway toward the experiencing of the Reality of Hip-Hop music. A Reality that the prophets of Hip-Hop have achieved, and in the same way as the ancients, predict and influence the current and future culture towards greater actualization, liberation, and freedom from oppressive agents and forces external and internal of the people.

The diunital existence of nature which is the same as hip-hop, consists of self and other and is the binding dynamic of the cipher. A practitioner enters into the cipher for one and two reasons. 1.) To act as a part within a whole for the self-benefit of one’s ego-mind, curiosity or spiritual expression and enhancement. 2.) To act as a part of a whole assisting in the sharing of energies to facilitate the transference of knowledge of self to other, or group to creator. The word used to describe this relationship, diunital, suggests that phenomena are unions of opposites that are mutually dependant on each other (Myers, 1988; Nobles, 1980 Phillips, 1990). When our internal and external forces are joined and balanced we experience an increase in well-being and harmony. It is the ability for one to express oneself in an accepted manner and arena that allows for harmony to exist in a cipher. In the home, when speaking to parents, a school setting with a teacher, or in the streets when engaging with law enforcement officials, youth may feel hesitant to express themselves with the same authenticity as in a cipher, and not because he or she is with their friends. The binding force is the hip-hop within the cipher itself, complete with willing members, which can exist in the home, in school, or in the streets.

It is the elements (practitioners/listeners/facilitators) present that determine the outcome of the cypher. For example a youth and parent may have a disagreement. It is the understanding of the parent of the youth’s culture that will allow for the proper communication to occur. Because the child may not have an established system of principles, it may be necessary for the parent to be the facilitator of the cipher between he/she and the youth.

Having a cipher with one’s child includes but is not limited to rapping or creating a beat; it will however always incorporate authentic discourse and a rhythmic exchange of energy. The communication style of the facilitator must not only include traditional techniques such as eye contact, reflective listening, and usage of I statements, but also respecting the others style, speaking with the same dialect, and being cognizant of one’s own communicatory (emceeing) style. The diunital nature of the cipher does not change because of location, situation, or circumstance. The goals of self and other are the same. For self it is to express one’s inner feelings with the aim of being heard, and receiving feedback to hopefully make one feel better about one’s thoughts, emotions, or behavior. In terms of the other, one attempts to share feelings for the betterment of the situation and/or for the enhancement of the spiritual/subjective relationship between members.

The formation, recognition, and maintenance of a subjective relationship creates and maintains bonds between phenomena. A recognized objective relationship can be disrupted or even destroyed when there is a break in the subjective atmosphere between both parties, and object and subject can function only with mutual understanding. It is the recognition of an agreement between values, not familial relationships that is driving the youth today to cling to each other as support systems, and not their parents. The problem seems to lie in the perception of the morals and values upheld by today’s youth. Because hip-hop and it’s elements (emceeing, djing, b-boying, graffiti, ciphering) are seen as only possessing value for youth, or as a marketing tool for products, it’s potential for forming relationships and healing is never maximized.

The youth practice hip-hop and ciphering as spirituality without knowing it. The youth gather freely on any given day/s in order to have a unified experience that involves the expression and sharing of feelings to others. The goal of the cipher could be for everyone to express the best that lays within him or her in regards to vocabulary, intellect, or who can be the best gangster. Regardless of topic, the practitioner attempts to shine. Just as a choir member would “make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” a lyricist offers up words to and from a creationary force. The difference is guidance. A church member has the benefit of a pastor, priest, or other spiritual guide to walk with them along a path towards greater fulfillment. The lyricist possesses the same spiritual guides, but without direct guidance to get them to the point where the guide is no longer necessary. With the rise of mainstream hip-hop music that focuses on making money, misogyny, and violence, youth and adult listeners aren’t privileged to the conscious and positive members of hip-hop that guided the conscious movement of that began in the early eighties and continued through the early nineties. The movement continues but is overshadowed by radio and industry control. Within hip-hop and freestyling are the spiritual lessons that enable youths to understand themselves in relation to their music and their culture. Let us imagine for a minute, that a youth who appears to need guidance in their lives is shown a spiritual path of their own derivation. Meaning the path that they seek is an extension of their current beliefs and does not need convincing, cajoling, or proselytization. This path already has meaning in their lives, the spiritual energy of hip-hop itself has already been cultivated, the dynamics and place of worship(the cypher) has already been established.

But there is nothing that exists like this, formally, for youth or adults, which is why many youth seem to meander throughout their lives without a connection between them and the micro, mezzo, and macro levels of existence. Because of the separation created by Western institutions, their mechanization, alienation, disparity between economic sectors, and their despiritualization of the human existence youth and adults have slowly been detached from the subjective foundations such as family, school, place of worship, and agents of social control who in turn shape the way that people form relationships with others. The “machine” since the Industrial Revolution, has begun to eat itself quicker and quicker as the “progress” towards individualism, personal power, and economic success have grown and been taught to be the appropriate paradigms for an optimal lifestyle. What we now have is a situation where young adults from the ages of 13-25, exist on a developmental level that is equitable to the lower levels or periphery of consciousness, simply because there is no push to form a subjective relationship based upon where they are. For anyone unaware, where the youth are, where the young adults are, where we are, is in the world of hip-hop.

Because of the introspection and extrospection that takes place within a cypher, freestyling is truly the gateway to the beyond within. Freestyling allows one to be “free” with whatever “style” that they choose to display. Within the cipher, lyricists are constantly challenged from themselves and others to remain fresh, which facilitates new thought and behavior. The ability to switch styles facilitates the exploration of different archetypes and sub personalities. If given the correct guidance, people would be given an opportunity to explore that which they witness as a part of themselves as themselves, which is the divine dynamic that exists in what is called the All, Absolute Being, Godhead, The Truth, God. This is the “mysticism” exempt from contemporary teachings of religion, the caretakers of the Ultimate Truth and Reality. There is nothing wrong with religions, they through their imagery, symbolism, mythos, proverbs, and paths teach through analogy, negation, and injunction the concept of the All. Hip-Hop music accomplishes the exact same thing only more directly. Representing the All analogically, Ken Wilber the head of the Integral Institute states,

“describes reality what it is like”. It uses positive and finite qualities that are so over powering that they can effectively hint at or point to the Absolute. These qualities are usually ones such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, infinite being, supreme bliss, unexcelled wisdom and love, infinite consciousness and so on. …..they are almost invariably accompanied by the imaginative type of elaboration evidenced in religious icons, paintings, crosses, mandalas, mythological imagery and narratives, etc. This analogical way is very noticeable in almost all popular forms of religion, but especially in Christianity, certain forms of Tantra, such as Vajrayana, and Hinduism.

And concerning the second way to describe reality, the negative, Wilber adds,

In Vedanta this is expressed by the phrase “neti, neti,” the Absolute is “not this, not that,” not any particular idea or thing but the “underlying reality.” Brahman (the Hindu expression of the All) is thus referred to in this context as nirguna Brahman—“nir” meaning “without”. Brahman in essence is without any describable qualities, for every quality ascribed to Brahman necessarily includes it’s opposite quality (e.g., if he is “good” he cannot be “bad”), and this places a limitation on Brahman, but the Absolute has no such limitations: it is “neti, neti,”

And to sum up the two modes of analogical and negation,

These two ways–the analogical and the negative—useful as they may be, nevertheless remain so much as gossip, as futile attempts to define or discuss reality that will “not submit to analysis or codification.” “And what will you find?” asks Zen Master Rinzai. “Nothing but words and names, however excellent. You will never reach [Reality]. Make no mistake.” The third way is therefore an invitation, in the form of set experimental rules, to discover Reality for oneself.

Hip-Hop music represents all three modes of experiencing the All. An MC’s lyrical arrangement is largely based on analogy, metaphor, and simile where the content of the song is relayed as a connection to other things, events, places, people, or modes of thought. This helps a listener associate with the MC through things that take place in their life, but in a way that is relevant enough to see the association in their own lives.

Traditionally this would take place in the form of a parable or story that assists a reader in associating morality with a current event, action, means of subsistence, or prominent figure. We experience negation in the songs which describe what is known as the “Wack Mc” which does not always but often leads to a separation between the alleged “mainstream and underground schools of thought. These songs describe other artists or their messages as being anti Hip-Hop, or against the spirit or essence of Hip-Hop music. Through the negation of the essence we begin to see what Hip-Hop is. Notable Wack Mc songs include “Wack Mc’s” by Del the Funky Homosapien, “Phony Rappers” by A Tribe Called Quest, “Partners Confused” by Kool Keith, and “The Intergalactic Rap Battle” also by Del the Funky Homosapien. The third way is what G. Spencer Brown calls injunction, which he states

…. Music is a similar art form, the composer does not even have to attempt to describe the set of sounds he has in mind, much less the set of feelings occasioned through them, but writes down a set of commands, which if they are obeyed by the reader, can result in a reproduction to the reader, of the composer’s original experience.
…. This third and injunctive way forms the core of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, and can be found in the mystical aspects of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism….The Truth, insofar as it can be stated in words must always be a set of instructions on how to awaken the non-dual(diunital) mode of knowing, therein to experience Reality directly.(Wilber)

Music therefore possesses the ability to correctly demonstrate a path for those who wish to follow, faithfully and wholly, towards experiencing reality, just as much as the combination of the worlds largest religions separate or combined. This is the true power of Hip-Hop music. There are many paths described by Mc’s, all of which lie along a spectrum of consciousness which when made clear to the listener or practitioner can lead them to higher levels of development and an eventual external insperience of the All. Music awakens within individuals a familiar way to produce movement and change that is reproducible and that has guaranteed outcomes. Hip-Hop is responsible for providing people who otherwise may be silenced by the agents of influence, with an opportunity to voice their concerns about their present self and social situations, in a manner that is available to all, and producible in an infinitude of possibilities using an infinitude of sounds. This is the beauty not only of music in a general sense, but of Hip-Hop music specifically.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Hiphop Alive Book: Random Writing: Unknown Chapter pt. 1


Here's the situation, idioticy, nonsense, violence, it's not a good policy, therefore, we must ignore fighting and fussin...Heavy D, Self Destruction

That which shines light must be willing to be burnt. - Unknown

The world is filled with good natured individuals who care about the state of the world and feel responsible for its improvement. If you are one of them, thank you for having the bravery to open your heart to our collective suffering. The world needs you.

It is very difficult when paying attention to global events not to be disturbed by news of war, scandal, killings, abuse, neglect and other types of aggression. It can be overwhelming when trying to figure out what to do to try and improve the conditions of our planet, country, community and family. I'm often confused as to what to do and become disheartened about my ability to create any type of meaningful change. Like many, I struggle with feeling confident about the best path to take; Should I protest? Incite a riot? Vote? I don't know if there's a right way but what I have discovered is that I am a part of what needs to be changed, and since I have the most access to me then I should start here.

All journeys start here. Where we are. I could look for another place to start, maybe in an illusory future in my mind where I am my better self, but even then I would have to start here to get there. Thinking that I should be somewhere else before making any headway in life is denying that who I am now doesn't possess the ability to develop and I don't see much use in that view. It's easy to want to search for the wisdom to solve our problems elsewhere but it is wise to start our search within. So let us start where we are.

This book is for those who consider themselves a member, practitioner or fan of Hiphop Culture. 
Most Hiphoppers enjoy it for its musical aspects; emceeing, djing, music production. Others enjoy it for all of its elements emceeing, djing, bboying (breakdancing) and graffiti. I am a lifelong member of the culture. Being born in 1976 it was pretty hard to avoid Hiphop because it was everywhere in the early eighties and everybody wanted to be down, including me. During lunch we made beats on the table, on the bus we rapped, during class we drew graffiti but I couldn't breakdance to save my mothers life. My mother used to take my sister and I to a breakdancing class in 1984 taught by some Breakin 1 types, replete with bandanas, leg warmers and tights. I'd blame me being terrible at breaking on them if it weren't true that I just couldn't allow myself to feel awkward in front of others.  

What lies at our core? Who are we? For an adherent of Hiphop the answer is that; Hiphop. You are that which you seek. You are that which ultimately occupies your awareness which is that awareness itself and all of its qualities. How rarely throughout the course of human history have people stopped their inner and outer wandering to ask the question and fearlessly go on the search to find themselves. 

It is my premise that Hiphop is just another means of searching and discovering who we are. The word that I most frequently use to describe who we are is our nature, but other words will suffice. Words such as essence, ultimate self and core all point to a definite existence that underlies our everyday experience. Hiphop is another word that describes that nature. 

Afrika Bambaataa says that Hiphop is love, peace, knowledge, wisdom and understanding; that it is raceless, genreless and free from whatever qualities we'd like to attach to it. Essentially Hiphop is infinite and can contain all that arises. When described like this Hiphop is an experience more than an object. It is the aim or goal of a Hiphopper to be Hiphop, just as the aim of Buddhism is to not be a Buddhist, it is to be Buddha. As KRS one so infamously says, I am Hiphop. The way I understand this is that we are those qualities; We are love, peace, knowledge, wisdom and understanding and Hiphop is the term that we use to describe the experience of individually and collectively touching our nature. Hiphop is not a thing, no more than a recipe in a cookbook is a meal. The ground nature (Hiphop) cannot be described accurately, no more than love or peace can be quantified or made tangible. It can only be experienced as freedom from the conceptual attachments that we have conditioned ourselves to believe in. In this way Hiphop is less about doing and more about being. I contend that the ultimate hip hopper is not the one who will spit the illest rhyme or the dopest records but is the one who has allowed the elements to expand their awareness to where the distinctions between like, dislike and I don't care have vanished. Then we have adopted the qualities of Hiphop, awake to all experience and free from attachment to any one of them. We experience Hiphop through those who have most allowed themselves to go through the process of being, self exploration, incorporating insights, sharing, returning to being and repeating the process as a journeying through phases that cut through how they once saw themselves and the world to be. 

The elements, Emceeing, Djing, Bboying, Graffitti are the methods (another word I like to use is skillful means) by which those who take up the mantle of bboy or bgirl use to actualize Hiphop. The elements are tools that when used skillfully can wake us up to our most basic and helpful qualities. What matters the most is not how entertaining we are but why we use the elements. Talent is entertaining and can certainly be associated with being able to reach people but is overrated in comparison to the development of insight through art. In fact insight may be a talent in and of itself. When you realize that there is a deeper purpose besides gratifying ones ego, Hiphop can be an exercise of exploration of perspective and unlock new ways of being helpful to others.

How we experience Hiphop is through three distinct, yet interconnected perspectives; the experience of those perspectives is determined by how we choose to focus our awareness and the quality of our experience is determined by how much we have attuned our awareness to rest as the three perspectives. The three perspectives are 1st, 2nd and 3rd person perspectives, 1st person is our own awareness as individuals which no person can experience but us, usually communicated through using the words I, me or my. 2nd person is when we attempt to see through another's perspective or share our experience with another, communicated through the words we, us and our and 3rd person is when we take on the perspective of the objects in our environment (or the environment itself), usually communicated through words like them, it, it's and that.

The Buddha and Hiphop

The Hinayana or small vehicle is the first stage of the Tibetan Buddhist path. The view of this stage is the foundational view of Buddhism found in all schools of Buddhism around the world and is based on the life and enlightenment of the Buddha. 

The Buddha was a rich young man named Siddartha who grew tired of his affluent and guarded life who sought to find out what life was really like. He left his comfortable surroundings one day and saw that life wasn't as he was led to believe by his parents. Life was not full of never ending pleasure, never growing old, getting sick or dying and was actually the opposite. Everything grows older, gets sick and eventually dies. Sid also discovered that there were individuals who spent there entire lives trying to become comfortable with that reality and sought to find out how he could be like them. After much effort and discouragement he decided he would search until he figured out how he through his own experience, could wake up to an understanding of why human beings suffer so much and how they could be free of such suffering. 

Sid meditated for a long time until he felt he was sure that he knew the source of suffering. This is now commonly known as enlightenment. Sid saw that suffering comes from a belief in an illusory self and is based on attaching to ideas and behaviors that support this sense of self. Instead of accepting our sensory experience and life as it is, we over exaggerate the illusory gains of pleasure, aggression and not paying attention at all. This causes us to live life on egos terms which is a never ending excursion of dissatisfaction because no matter what we do we can't make life exist on our terms. We can't make pleasure permanent, we can't make pain or change go away and we can't not pay attention to our minds, bodies, others and the world without experiencing the reality that it won't work. Living like this leads to anger, selfishness and being out of touch with our everyday experience. This in turn leads to our world being full of war, greed, materialism, mindless entertainment, scandal and desensitization to the pain of others. That is suffering, and the perpetual effort involved is called samsara. However, the Buddha saw that this is a choice. If we chose to pay attention to how we construct our idea of a self and our ideas about what lies outside of ourselves we will be free from this suffering. Not that we won't experience pain (which is different from suffering) but we will learn to accept pain and loss as realities, not as something to be fought against. To free ourselves the Buddha prescribed a path of paying attention to the totality of our lives in every moment through discipline, wisdom and meditation.  He saw that living life on its own terms was a worthy path and living life falsely was a life wasted. He also emphasized that there is no time except the present to engage in this path. He saw that there is no time outside of the mind that believes in it.

Hiphop means many things to many people. To most it is a musical genre, to some it is a culture, to few it is a way of engaging sociopolitically and to only the most puerile adherents is it a method of cultivating love and wisdom.

Because Hiphop is a human affair, humans involved in Hiphop experience suffering. Whether you are an "artist" or fan you probably believe in a self and spend most of the time trying to please and reinforce that self. This means that if you are an artist then what you create is probably for making you feel good, either from the act of creation or the validation you get from what you have created. There's nothing inherently wrong with feeling good about what you've made or receiving praise for it. The issue is that we can get attached to that experience as all that there is to get from the act of creating, instead of using our efforts to deconstruct how we get caught up in creating suffering for ourselves and others.

Much of what is considered destructive in Hiphop can be attributed to the inner suffering of its practitioners. The overwhelming amount of greed, violence, misogyny, addiction, aggression and materialism expressed not in the name of working out the causes of those issues but in the delight in them is a sign of the prevalence of suffering in the Hiphop community. Hiphop scholars debate the underlying causes of Hiphop's ailments; psychological issues, poverty, racism, poor education, the media, the government, poor parenting, run down communities, capitalism, crime etc. All of these arguments have merit but miss the fact that all of these causes aren't ultimate determinants of an individuals behavior. There are many poor people who aren't violent or greedy and many people who don't come from poor parenting and violent communities who choose to hurt others. The ultimate determinant of an individuals behavior is how they have freed themselves from their conditioning, found something that is good about themselves and made choices that transcend who and how they were taught to be. It's a matter of choice over what we want to do with our lives. Choose what you will but life is short, and if you want to make hit songs or spin records for thousands of people and you think it makes you happy then do it. The Buddha did not encourage belief in him, he encouraged confidence in ones own experience through diligently searching for the answers to life's most fundamental questions.

The Buddha taught that until we begin to try and solve our underlying issue of attachment to a self then we will appropriate whatever we do or whatever we have in our surroundings as a means of reinforcing our ego. This means that as Hiphop practitioners we will use the elements in self serving ways until we see that they can be used for other purposes. I personally have witnessed Hiphop go through three distinct phases: (1973-1985) egocentric, (1986-1994) ethnocentric and (1994-present) worldcentric. During each phase, many Hiphop practitioners explored a different aspect (read: perspective) of reality. Although not everyone during these time periods embraced the qualities of these phases, many did and utilized the elements to express the values associated with those phases.

Hiphop is currently worldcentric regardless of what you hear on the radio or see on tv. Just like a mountain, we know the peak not by where we see most people climbing but by how far others have gone and given us ways to experience it for ourselves. In the Hiphop community there are many examples of excellent climbers who have turned around and told us about the potential that Hiphop possesses to introduce us to higher elevations of thinking, living and interacting. Often times their voices are diminished but those who confuse success with attention. Entertainers get lots of attention, often times rightly so. They have learned the art of attracting people to their popular message which is a skill. However this is not the same as success. Success does not depend on followers, it depends on how far one has gone in a given pursuit. In the Olympics, no one pays attention to the most flashiest athlete, it is the one who was the strongest, fastest or had the most endurance. Even if no one paid them any attention after they won the gold, they would still be the best because they pushed themselves to the limits of physical human potential. You probably don't know who won the Nobel Prize in physics but you probably know that why they won wasn't because they had the biggest chain. In Hiphop, the journey is less about how many people can I get to mention my name but how well have I explored who I am and what I am capable of. How much of a scientist have I been? How have I explored an area of the human experience that others were afraid to? To the masses, popularity in Hiphop today is determined by what's cool among young people (as if what's young is what's new, it can be, it used to be). Popularity used to be determined by who pushed the envelope by introducing the world to something that wasn't there. In my humble opinion what has really changed is the extent to which people allow themselves to be told what popularity means instead of experiencing for themselves what is healthy for them to be attracted to. 

What Hiphop Needs: You

Hiphop needs its followers to practice it as a sacred art form. Sacred doesn't have to mean spiritual it can translate into special or holding high value. Hiphop isn't sacred just to be sacred, it's sacred because of its inherent value. And what is its inherent value? Hiphop's most endearing quality is its ability to accept whatever arises, all sounds, all movements, all art styles, all tools and all perspectives on the human experience and allow them to be expressed however the practitioner sees fit. This means that whoever you are and whatever you feel can be explored and expressed through Hiphop. You don't have to be high in skill in order to be Hiphop. You only have to embrace who you are. The most successful artists (read: success as developed in authentic self/other knowing, not at making money) are authentic and growth centered. They know who they are, where they come from and where they want to go. 

Hiphop Alive: The Ground Path and Fruition of the Four Elements

This is the Table of Contents from my book. It's a living table so I'll probably be adding or deleting things from it. Enjoy.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Begintro

Chapter 2: What is Hiphop: The Importance of Fragmented Views

Chapter 3: Joining Perspectives (what is the need for...)

Chapter 4: History of Hiphop Consciousness Movements

Zulu Nation, HEAL, STV, Temple of Hiphop, RBG Fit Club

Chapter 5: Integral Hiphop

Internal and External Hiphop 

AQAL: lines, levels, stages, states, types

3 bodies: gross, subtle, causal 

Chapter 6: Turning the Mind

Clarifying intentions, motivations

Hiphop and Non Duality

Hiphop as Nature

The Three Faces of Hiphop, God, Spirit, Buddha Nature

History of Hiphop Cultural Awareness 

Ego/self identity development and Hiphop

Perspectives: entertainment, education, enlightenment (worldview)

Pre/Trans Fallacy: elevationist, reductionist and integralist perspectives

Mainstream and/or Underground

The Myth of The Positive, Romanticism and Who Fucked Up Hiphop

The Best: A Stage Affair

Evaluating Art: 5 perspectives

Chapter 7: Hiphop As Deep Science: Post Metaphysics

Integral Methodological Pluralism - How to Study Hiphop: 4 elements, 3 perspectives, 2 zones, 1 aim


Chapter 8: Hiphop As Life Art

Elements as Skillful Means: What does it all mean?

Direct Experience

Utilizing the elements to increase self awareness, compassion and wisdom

Growth through AQAL: lines, levels, stages, states, types

The 3 universal prescriptions

Bboy as scholar spiritual warrior

Chapter 9: Graffiti

Chapter 10: Bboying

Chapter 11: DJ/Producer

Chapter 12: Emcee

Chapter 13: Freestyling as Cultivating Presence, Genuineness and Authentic Discourse

Chapter 14: Integral Hiphop Life Practice


Chapter 15: Knowledge, wisdom, peace, love and unity i.e Hiphop/spirit

Contentment: a bad word?

Chapter 16: Integral Hiphop: Implications for Psychology

Current trends

The need for an integrated perspective; unaddressed quadrants

The need for bboy therapists

Chapter 17: ....

Hiphop Alive: The Ground, Path and Fruition of the Four Elements. Chapter Two pt. 1

Chapter Two pt. 1

Chapter Two: What Is Hiphop. The Importance of Fragmented Views

Hiphop has always been a very pure thing to me. No matter how sullied by wack emcees, biters, crabs, toys or the media it seemed to be, for me it has always been an unstoppable machine of creating joy, togetherness and fun.

I got into Hiphop in the early 80's when Hiphop first turned the world upside down with its new dances, rebellious graffiti art, wild style of dress, soulful samples and brazen emcees. I couldn't bboy to save my life. When I was 8 my mom took my sister and I to breakdancing lessons. Real Breakin 1 stuff. My six step was more like a three step and I eventually ended up watching from the sidelines. Too young to buy albums and living in Prince Georges County a suburb outside of Washington DC, I had little access to Hiphop outside of my friends and the radio. The first rhyme I remember and can still kick to this day was Newcleus's Jam-On-It. Cozmo D's verse in particular was my joint:

"(Said Superman had come to town to see who he could rock) 

(He blew away every crew he faced until he reached our block) 

(His speakers were three stories high with woofers made of steel) 

(And when we boys sit outside, he said "I boom for real") 

He said, "I'm faster than a speedin' bullet when I'm on the set 

I don't need no fans to cool my amps, I just use my super breath 

I could fly three times around the world without missin' a beat 

I socialize with X-ray eyes, and ladies think it's sweet 

(And then he turned his power on and the ground began to move) 

(And all the buildings for miles around were swayin' to the groove) 

(And just when he had fooled the crowd and swore he won the fight) 

We rocked his butt with a 12 inch cut called Disco Kryptonite 

Well, Superman looked up at me, he said, "You rock so naturally" 

I said now that you've learned the deal, let me tell you why I'm so for real 

I'm Cozmo D from outer space, I came to rock the human race 

I do it right, cause I can't do it wrong 

That's why the whole world is singin' this song 

This dude just took out Superman! Ever since I was hooked on rhymes and began to listen more intently to lyrics. Hiphop artists became my heroes, Salt N Pepa, Slick Rick, Doug E Fresh (who I venerate because of his "dice roll" beatbox), BDP, X Clan, Whodini, UTFO, The Fat Boys, Roxanne, Dana Dane, 3rd Bass, A Tribe Called Quest, NWA, De La Soul, Rob Base and DJ Easy Rock, LL Cool J....I could go on for days. In the mid 80's Video Music Jukebox (a video music service that let you call in and request the video you wanted to see) was my teacher as was a radio show hosted by a DJ named Big Brother Conan that could only be heard if you tuned the radio juuuuuust right. I also fell in love with djing, in particular scratching which first became a fascination after hearing cutting by DJ Richie Rich on 3rd Bass's first album, The Cactus Album. I began to emulate the scratching in my head and then using my teeth would figure out how moving the record forward or backwards made a particular sound. Another good tool for scratch practice was a pencil. During class I would practice moving the pencil back and forth on the edge of my desk until it sounded like I was a pro. Nobody's records were safe. I remember practicing scratching my friend Hashim's Led Zeppelin Kashmere and Run DMC's Its Tricky records until they were barely playable. In 1991 I got my first turntables (Technics B200's that weren't made for scratching at all). I used wax paper for slip mats and a rubber band, pennies and nickels to weigh down the shell head) from a kid named Trader James who would barter his junk for yours. After buying a 2 Channel mixer for $6.00 from my friend Boosie and asking my handy Uncle Mitch to solder some wires for me, I had my first set up. I practiced djing everyday transferring the scratches in my head to the turntable. For records I would steal my Dad's jazz albums and use my lunch money to catch the subway to P Street Records in DC to buy the latest hits. I practiced for hours everyday for years until I got the basics of mixing and cutting records. Around this time I also started writing rhymes and freestyling. Listening to instrumentals over and over again helped me to find that I had something to say. When I first started rhyming it was others lyrics. Soon I learned that what was more important was to learn style, or how and where to place words. In 1996 I bought my first piece of production equipment, an ASR-10 and started making beats. I never wanted to be famous or an entertainer, what was more important was the sampling of sound and finding the unheard to play it for others. My goal was curation and preservation of music that had been forgotten about. It was what my favorite producers did; find rare music, sample and play it. I used to love reading the liner notes of albums where the artist would tell you who they sampled. Paying homage to the musical ancestors doesn't happen as much anymore. Over the years, collecting records and sampling became (and still is) an obsession for me and I can find no greater tribute to my elders than reintroducing their music to the world. These are just my formative Hiphop experiences and since the mid nineties, I've continued to experiment with writing, freestyling, djing and producing in ways that I feel honor and advance Hiphop culture. 

I flew home from Amsterdam on August 1st, 2000 still processing the profundity of the Ayahuasca experience. I couldn't clearly capture everything that happened but a few unshakable truisms stayed with me. 

1.) "Hiphop" did not exist like I thought it did, 2.) the divine/spirit/nature/essence etc. was not only not separate from Hiphop but was an intimate and important player in understanding and practicing Hiphop, 3.) that I needed to know the divine in order to truly know Hiphop. 4.) because I see Hiphop as a tool of self understanding, that Hiphop is an effective tool of a means of realizing  the divine.

The first week after Amsterdam I thought heavily about how to live these truths and my mind flashed back to what I learned in my recent Philosophy class. There are various paths to the divine, all divine paths have steps, levels of development that progressively introduce you to the source of ones personal suffering (usually thought to be the self/ego), how to transcend the self in order to see self in other/self as other, this leads to treating others with kindness and not as separate beings and eventually introduces you to the nature of all things as fundamentally being you, others and all things. The experience of seeing oneself as all things, in all things will ever berate throughout ones family, community, nation and world eventually leading to mass enlightenment. These "laws" if you can call them that, are familiar to most of the worlds religious traditions. Also familiar to most of the worlds traditions are the practices of meditation, prayer and contemplation, each of which serve a different purpose and introduce a particular perspective of the divine. Whatever path I chose should have those components: levels, progressive stages, ego transcendence, cultivating compassion, introduction to ones nature, sharing with and waking up beings to their nature.

Buddhism always rang true to me. My sophomore year in high school I read a story about a Buddhist monk who when trapped in the mountains of the Himalayas conducted a practice that allowed him to generate heat to keep him warm. He brought to mind the image of a fire and imagined it inside his belly. I tried repeating this practice to no avail. In 1991 I was taught how to meditate by my Judo Instructor, Steve Seaquist.  We would meditate after every Judo class and then I would go home and practice by myself in my room. I'd describe those early experiences as letting my mind blank out. The instructions I was given were to sit zazen (Zen Buddhist) style, hands folded in my lap, thumbs touching and then to let my mind focus on the faintest sound in my surroundings. When my mind wandered I was to bring my attention back to the sound. I did this 3-4 times a week for four years until I went to college and started partying. It wasn't until taking the class in Amsterdam that I remembered how inviting and interesting Buddhism was. I began searching for a Buddhist center to practice meditation the first week of August, 2000. The first place I found, a Kadampa Buddhist center was closed and I went to the second listing that came up on the internet, the Shambhala Buddhist Meditation Center. 

Ken Wilber, an American philosopher and whose book The Integral Ken Wilber I read in Amsterdam had a profound impact on me. Ken's claim to fame was being able to synthesize various systems of development; physical, mental, cognitive, emotional, moral, spiritual (more than 100 in all) into a map or a way to not only show how they were all connected (and important) but how to traverse them in a way that would produce the most growth possible. I wanted to grow, badly. In my mind I've always envisioned myself as more than the meek, fearful and misguided person that I thought myself to be. In my mind I was a good and decent man. Stories of mystics who were able to perform magical feats of levitation, meditate endlessly and achieve peace beyond words were intriguing but what was more intriguing is that they were usually normal people who one day committed themselves to finding out the truth about themselves and the world and found it. I wanted to be like them. Ken seemed like an American mystic. He meditated four hours a day, worked out, did yoga and had a seemingly endless intellect. I kept thinking about one thing he said in his book, The Integral Ken Wilber. He described himself as a "practicing Buddhist" meaning that he didn't proclaim Buddhism as his only path but felt it was the path that spoke the most to him. He felt that Buddhism unlike other traditions, had done the most to clearly describe the condition of human suffering and the way out. Buddhism provided the best map of the human mind and had the best track record of providing experiential evidence through repeating the practice of meditation for 2500 years. 

What I was looking to do was to not only become an ardent spiritual practitioner, but also to find ways to use methods that didn't involve me having to deny the existence of the divine in my  everyday life. I wanted to find the sacred in the secular; not as an intellectual exploit but because it was my experience. Understanding Hiphop from a "spiritual" perspective caused a great deal of inner conflict. What is Hiphop now, versus what I used to think it was? What were its origins? What do the elements of Hiphop have to do with spirituality? Is Hiphop a religion? Can it be used as a tool of growth? What are Hiphoppers seeking? 

Without question when most people hear the word Hiphop they think music. And why shouldn't they? Historically Hiphop has garnered attention due to its provocative lyrics over recognizable repetitive beats. Even if you asked the truest of Hiphop heads about what Hiphop is or isn't, they'd talk your ear off about their favorite albums and rappers, not about Futura 2000, The Rock Steady Crew or DJ Q-Bert. Hiphop is largely created by artists and embraced by fans as a form of entertainment and it has been since its inception. To the purist this is a bad thing, but the reality is that it has been this way since the days of Cold Crush Brothers and Afrika Bambaataa. Hiphop as a form of musical entertainment serves many masters: for many it was and is a way out of poverty and and the false hopes of an unreachable American dream; It's a multibillion dollar industry that makes record executives exponentially more money than the artists that work for it; its a way for cultural voyeurists and exhibitionists to get their rocks off; its a way to display talent and receive validation. It's all about the ego baby. TV, radio and the internet all reinforce the message that Hiphop is a form of music, devoid of other elements or any psychological or spiritual depth. 

The Problem With Hiphop pt.1

What up world. This is a piece I began working on. Not finished yet but plan to as I believe that the main problem with Hiphop is that we think that there's a problem with Hiphop. There isn't. There's just our human problems. One of our biggest problems is that we don't view life in an Integral fashion. We're caught up in our partial views, never taking the time to look at the whole picture. Anyway, enjoy. 

The Problem With Hiphop

In 1998 I interviewed Wycleff Jean, Canibus and Jean Forte for Towson University's Black Student Union magazine Black Voices. A year prior Jean had released his first solo album, The Carnival, to much acclaim. It was the first interview of any sort that I conducted so needless to say I was very excited and even more nervous. The first question I asked Wycleff was "What's the current state of Hiphop?" The question was met with raucous laughter from all three interviewees and left me feeling confused and embarrassed. Wycleff explained that they meant no disrespect but that he gets asked that question at every interview. 

In 1998 my cause celebre was the elimination of sucka emcees, spurred by the recent release of Missy Elliot's Supa Dupa Fly which at the time to me was Supa Dupa wack. It was a travesty that in 1997 anyone who called themselves an emcee should be allowed to rhyme:

I feel the wind
Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten
Begin, I sit on Hill's like Lauryn
Until the rain starts, comin down, pourin

I felt Hiphop had reached a new low; it was bad enough that Bad Boy seemed to run the airwaves with glittery tales of hyper materialism. But despite their Cristal drinking and Versace wearing aesthetic, they still adhered to the traditional format of dope beats and cuts. Biggie was undeniably talented. But this time someone had killed the gatekeepers and something evil creeped in. It felt regressive and disrespectful to my purist sentimentalities.

I asked Wycleff about the phenomena of the popularity of Missy Elliot, Timbaland et al and if he felt (like I did) that it was ruining the culture. He said that to people like me who take this Hiphop shit seriously Missy was wack, but that Missy was just having fun; she didn't really consider herself an emcee. His statement did little to ease my suffering. I felt something had to happen. Afrika Bambaataa needed to summon the Zulu warriors and forcibly remove Missy from the public eye. I was upset. 

And rightfully so as "seemingly new" Hiphop emergents gave cause for concern. At that time, although Hiphop's underground was going strong and gaining more visibility with releases by Black Star (Mos Def and Talib Kweli), Outkast (Aquemini), Gang Starr (Moment of Truth), The Coup (Steal This Album), Killah Priest (Heavy Mental), Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1 and Mix Master Mike (Anti Theft Device), mainstream media outlets began to be saturated with the sounds of Cash Money Records (Hot Boyz: Lil Wayne, Turk, B.G. and Juvenille) and No Limit Recording artists Master P, Mystikal, Mia X and Kane and Abel. The New Orleans flavored Hiphop missed me completely. I was sure that these new rappers were missing a chromosome or two. The tracks were completely devoid of samples and scratching, sounding as if they were made on a keyboard. The lyrics seemed over simplified and lacked any depth of content or complexity. The messages often promoted violence, misogyny, drug use and drug dealing. Surely these abominations were what was ruining Hiphop music. Surprisingly, people loved it. 

In 1998, Cash Money Records agreed to a $30 million pressing and distribution contract with Universal Records. This led to releases such as 400 Degreez by Juvenile, which was certified 4x Platinum by the RIAA. The Hot Boys made numerous appearances on many of the albums' tracks such as, "Back That Azz Up" featuring Lil Wayne and Mannie Fresh, and "Ha", where the Hot Boys were featured in the music video. The album also contained a remix of "Ha" featuring the Hot Boys. The Hot Boys appeared on both Lil Wayne and B.G.'s albums in 1999, Tha Block Is Hot, by Lil Wayne, and, Chopper City In The Ghetto, by B.G.. Both albums were certified Platinum. The group also released singles such as, "Bling Bling" and "Cash Money Is An Army" by B.G., "Tha Block Is Hot" and "Respect Us" by Lil Wayne, and "U Understand" and "I Got That Fire" by Juvenile.

On July 27, 1999, The Hot Boys released their second studio album entitled, Guerrilla Warfare, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard magazine Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 5 on the Billboard 200. It featured two charting singles, "We On Fire" and "I Need A Hot Girl". "I Need a Hot Girl" peaked at No. 65 on the Billboard Hot 100. Guerrilla Warfare went platinum just within a few months. The album also had contributions from the Big Tymers, Baby and Mannie Fresh. Just like the group's previous album, Mannie Fresh produced every track.

It was an invasion. A declaration of war. In my mind it was simple; get rid of any rap that didn't adhere to the underground aesthetic and Hiphop would be as it should be, pure. But why was it cool in 1993 for me to enjoy Onyx's Baccdafucup and "Throw My Guns in The Air" (mind you, the 16 year old suburbanite "me" had no guns to throw in the air) but not the Hot Boyz? My personal truth was that Onyx and the Hot Boyz were on two different levels of Hiphop. In fact the Hot Boyz were just rappers to me; not even Hiphop. But wasn't the violence they both espoused the same no matter the package it came in? Weren't they both unintelligible at times? Weren't they both representing their borough/ward? 

What was the real truth (beyond my feelings) concerning Onyx and the Hot Boyz? What were their truths?

In 2000 I read Ken Wilber's book, "The Essential Ken Wilber" and was introduced to the phrase, "No one is smart enough to be 100% wrong all the time." The phrase confounded me for a long time. How is that possible? No one is completely wrong all the time? Wilber explains what he means in 2003:

An integral approach is based on one basic idea: no human mind can be 100% wrong. Or, we might say, nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time. And that means, when it comes to deciding which approaches, methodologies, epistemologies, or ways or knowing are "correct," the answer can only be, "All of them." That is, all of the numerous practices or paradigms of human inquiry — including physics, chemistry, hermeneutics, collaborative inquiry, meditation, neuroscience, vision quest, phenomenology, structuralism, subtle energy research, systems theory, shamanic voyaging, chaos theory, developmental psychology—all of those modes of inquiry have an important piece of the overall puzzle of a total existence that includes, among other many things, health and illness, doctors and patients, sickness and healing. - Ken Wilber, Forward to Integral Medicine: A Noetic Reader (2003) 

With a different lens I now see multiple truths. 
The truth is that the Hot Boyz were not as behaviorally skilled as emcees as Onyx.
The truth is that Onyx and the Hot Boyz were psychologically and culturally operating at the same level.
The truth is that socially the Hot Boyz were more organized and developed as a machine and an institution.
The truth is that mainstream media put more money into Cash Money Records and Hot Boys than Onyx. 

But Hiphop isn't just music. 

(Hiphop Anniversary, Rocksteady Anniversary, Zulu Nation, Temple of Hiphop?, DMC, ITF, Graf?, politics?....)

Common Hiphop Problems
- language, that artists aren't forcibly removed/destroyed, misogyny, violence, wack emcees, the market being flooded with music that only supports messages of violence, materialism, fatalism, Whites participating in the art and/or owning the means of distribution, Blacks not owning the industry, the lack of female artists, the lack of unity of perspectives. 

Hiphop has no problems.

Why? Because Hiphop is not a thing. Only things, objectively existing objects have problems. People, animals, insects, places, essentially all nouns have problems. Hiphop is none of those things. So Hiphop doesn't have a problem. When people say Hiphop has a problem they usually mean those involved in creating it as well as the cultural values they adhere to, not the feeling or experience of Hiphop. 

So then the question may be better phrased "what are the personal and cultural problems of those that practice Hiphop?" The answer is, the same personal and cultural problems that we all face on our walk as humans. If we begin to take an honest look at what we call problems, we begin to see a common thread. Somewhere in our development we learned to think and behave in ways that were unhealthy for us. Often times our thoughts and behaviors were an intelligent response to situations that we didn't know how to cope with. Intelligent or not, our learned responses to life events cause us to to do damage to the things that we care about the most; our bodies and minds as well as our family, friends and society.

If we wish to speak about Hiphop then we must take into account that like all events Hiphop first begins inside of us. Like most of the things that we think feel or do, Hiphop begins in our 1st person; our psychospiritual dimension. If we don't take the time to  understand and experience the aspects of ourselves said to bring well being, peace, harmony, balance and stability I.e. what we consider to be our ego/self, subtle energies sometimes called qi/chi, prana, soul and more fundamental realities sometimes called spirit, God, Buddha Nature then we diminish our capacity to achieve peace, balance, harmony and stability in our lives. We also diminish our capacity to experience those same qualities in Hiphop.


Peace to whoever reads this.

I've been working on a book on and off for the past 15 years and decided that now is a good time to be "on". I've been struggling lately with some personal challenges and writing about Hiphop and Spirituality brings me out of whatever funk I find myself in.

This is the first part of Chapter One, titled Begintro. Enjoy.

Chapter One: Begintro

In the year 2000 I was an undergraduate student at Towson University trying to bring an end to a tumultuous 5 1/2 year Bachelors Degree program in Sociology. Fortunately I still had a couple of electives to finish up so I looked into some classes in the Philosophy Department. I could've taken Bowling 101 or Contemporary Peruvian Basket Weaving but I was at a point in my life where I needed some blend of freedom and pragmatism. I decided that I would take a class on self hypnosis, meditation and yoga. I also remembered that my friend Jeremy had taken a class with the same professor the year before in Amsterdam, Holland. He described the class as a whole as part coffee shop adventure, part Hiphop head fantasy and part educationally enlightening. Who could resist? Especially a class named the Philosophy of Addiction, Co-Dependence and Self Liberation! 

After taking care of the requisite planning and financial burden of a month long trip to Europe I was off to Holland. If you've never been to Amsterdam I'm sure you've heard the stories of coffee shops offering the best weed in the world, the sanctioned prostitution, blah blah blah...all the stuff the average American tourist does. But after the first few days, that grew to be the norm and it was all pretty tame. To me the real beauty of Amsterdam is its ability to create a city that allows for different beliefs and practices to coexist peacefully. When I walked down the straats (street in Dutch...cause I'm cultured) I would pass Buddhist temples, brothels, hotels, record stores, coffee shops, heroin needle dispensaries, artist squatter communes and professional offices sometimes all on the same block. 

The class was held in a hostel in Vonndelpark, one of the biggest parks in Amsterdam where we were also staying. Every morning we would wake up, eat a horrible breakfast and attend class for two hours. It was during this class that I was introduced to the teachings of Ken Wilber, Carl Jung, The Enneagram, Michaels Overleaves, as well as the various developmental structures of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.

After the class we were free to roam around the city at our leisure for the next 22 hours. The idea was to explore theories about the self and then go into the dynamic city of Amsterdam to explore who that self is when presented with a multitude of options of how to be. Amsterdam was the perfect choice for this experiment. I was told by my professors that on the last day of class we were offered to take part in a ceremony called Ayahuasca which involved taking a very powerful hallucinogenic potion that is likened to "holding hands with God". As a budding psychospiritual spelunker I couldn't resist the opportunity find out what the experience had in store.

On July 29th, 2000 three students and one professor took a ferry across the river Ij to a church that looked as if it were built in the 18th century. When we arrived we filled out waivers that informed us about the ritual, the potion (called Jurema) and the group leading the ceremony called The Friends of the Forest. The Friends of the Forest are a group of like minded spiritual seekers that practices ethnobotany, or healing through the ingestion of medicinal plants. The Friends used Ayahuasca to help individuals who struggled with depression and substance dependence and reported favorable results.

Ayahuasca is an ancient practice engaged in by various native cultures of South America. The word Ayahuasca ("Aya" meaning spirit and "huasca/waska" meaning vine) roughly translates as "vine of the dead/soul/spirit" called so because it introduces the taker of the potion to profound spiritual realities about the nature of the universe and deep insight into their true purpose; it can also cause temporary psychosis and severe emotional distress. We were told that what determines our experience is our relationship with our minds and how comfortable we were with seeing what it really contained; some people see angels some demons, some both and some neither. As I was told on the waiver, I should also expect to purge i.e. vomit or diarrhea which is a side effect of the potion and an important part of the ritual itself representing a release of negative energy and emotions. It's recommended not to eat or take any medication at least 12 hours before the ritual but it was too late to do anything about my full stomach of Lebanese lamb shwarma. So Ayahuasca is no joke, and I don't recommend doing it without very experienced guides and a healthy grounding in experiences with other psychoactive substances. 

The Friends of the Forest were there as facilitators and guides throughout the 8-10 hour process to make sure that we were comfortable and deal with any disturbing things that we experienced. In the main hall of the church was a shrine on which sat symbols from various religious traditions. Through the center of the hall leading to the shrine was a path of candles and crystals, mainly large geodes, about 100 feet long and a space in the center with a small square blanket with room for about four people to sit. The participants sat along the outer walls of the church surrounding the path. The four of us that attended were joined by about 50 others, all dressed in white, some who appeared to be yogis who wore turbans and had beards that reached down to the floor.

We were told that the ceremony would consist of three rounds and at the beginning of each round we would come to the shrine and receive a cup full of the Ayahuasca potion.  I brought a journal with me to document my experience and wrote in my normal penmanship to my girlfriend at the time about how much I loved her and hoped that the ritual would improve our relationship. After I jotted down some other notes it was time to take the first potion. After the first dose I sat down and we were led through guided meditation while listening to subtle atmospheric music. I began to see trails and have some milky bodily feelings. I remember thinking that it was like taking mushrooms. When my eyes were open I saw vivid colors and had a general sense of peace. When I closed my eyes, my mind was awash with images all of which transformed into whatever it desired. The first round was cool. I remember being so caught up in the experience that I was surprised when we were called for the second round. After drinking the next Dixie cup of bitter Jurema I sat down and began to write a little more about the first round.

" The first round was very peaceful. We went through different meditations and then a silent round. During the silent round is when I began to really feel the effects of the Ayahuasca. It was calm and tingly, like shrooms, then it intensified and began to give me very intense geometrical and audial visions. Audial visions. That sounds like an oxymoron but the sounds were so vivid and in other languages and voices but somehow it was all in English but me speaking to me. I went to the bathroom and sat and thought that soon I would be home but no matter how far I fly I can't get away from me."

The second round is where it all fell apart.

I can't really explain the second round because I wasn't really "with it" anymore. Whatever ties I had with reality were cut and I went quite literally somewhere else. It was as if I was transported to another realm where I was present and awake to my experiences but had no control over what I chose to experience. My mind showed me whatever it felt I needed to see. There was no persecution or judgement in my visions, there was nothing that tried to hurt or scare me. Everything I experienced seemed to come to me for my benefit. I remember having a conversation with my deceased grandfather and apologizing to him for not being the grandson I felt I should be. I don't know if he forgave me or not but I do know that he seemed happy. During the second round I joyfully laughed and cried at the vivd, dreamlike display. Writing during the second round was drastically different than the first. Aside from the fact that my handwriting regressed about 20 years, my ability to capture the experience in sentences had been reduced to singular words. I remember opening my eyes and asking myself, "what do I write". What I wrote is:

"The question is what don't I write"? "2nd dose, Trans-critical plateaus unimagined, love,   fathomless, grief, beauty, explosions of God, me, ME, WE! J-Who? C'mon now, you know the answer, you've always known. That's the pain. SHOWING UP! SHOWING UP!  SHOWING UP! 

Showing up, or being present for life is what I took from the second round. All of my life's pain and suffering could be boiled down and distilled into that phrase. I saw how much fear and avoidance were my dominant responses to life and that if I had only been more brave, more trusting that I wasn't crazy, more self affirming, more sure that I wouldn't be destroyed by the experience then I wouldn't be haunted by moments of weakness and frailty. I also realized that because of my conditioning, I could only end my suffering by pledging to show up as soon as possible. Little did I know I would soon be presented with an opportunity to do just that.

While the 50 or so participants of the group were on their internal Jurema journeys, outside of us, in the center of the room was a group of three people playing soft music on a guitar. I remember listening to them and beginning to nod my head to the rhythm. I then began to beatbox very quietly, or make rhythms with my mouth in sync with the guitar melody. I quickly stopped myself, thinking that this was a sacred occasion and out of line. The highly spiritual, yogic like appearance of the other participants and the meditative environment informed me that there was no place for anything Hiphop related. Hiphop is not spiritual, it is not gentle, not subtle and has nothing to do with the divine at all. My mind then flashed to a lesson I learned in my class about a term, "non-dual". That things are not two, nor are they not one. All phenomena do a dance called "the one and the many" where they maintain both their connectedness and individuality at the same moment. What that meant is that Hiphop was not separate from spirit/divine and that although it manifests in various ways that it could never be separate. So me beatboxing was no less "spiritual" than the Ayahuasca ceremony itself, the difference was the degree to which my heart was in aligned with my intention. 

I stood up and walked around the path of crystals to the area where the guitarists sat. They smiled, gestured for me to sit and offered me some water. I spent a minute listening to them play,  gathered my courage and then began beatboxing, loudly. All of a sudden the group awoke from their collective hallucination, raised their heads and began to nod to the beatbox in unison. After some time the guitar players began to slowdown their playing and I followed suit, bringing the beatbox to a close. When we stopped, the group placed their hands in front of their heart and bowed. 

The third round was a blur. I was completely overcome by my visions and don't remember a thing. I did manage to write one word. "Ghost". 

 At the end of the ceremony many people walked up to me and shook my hand telling me that the beatboxing took them and the ceremony to another level. One man, Soma, had me call his family in America and beatbox for them.  I wasn't rejected and in fact the beatboxing seemed to be of benefit to others. Whether it was beneficial or not I can't really say, but what I could say with certainty is that I had never felt closer to "God" and "Hiphop", and my definition of those two concepts had never been more malleable. From that moment I vowed to live that experience whenever thinking about, speaking about or creating "Hiphop". However my vow alone wouldn't be enough to turn my insight into actuality. What needed to drastically shift was my view and practice of Hiphop which would only come with my own psychospiritual development. I needed a path. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hiphop and the Three Perspectives Pt. 1

Hiphop and the Three Perspectives

Much of my work is informed and influenced by the teachings of Ken Wilber who I have studied for some time, but to say that I've achieved any level of mastery of his dense and profound theories would be a gross overstatement. So forgive me if my writing is basic and without any real depth of understanding. Writing for me is like untangling knots; the more I work with it, the more a greater reality is revealed. This is just practice writing.

One of the things that assists me with my writing process (in particular when writing rhymes) is looking at an idea/concept/action/thought/feeling in as many ways as I can. This way I am sure to have a thorough grounding in the reality of that which I am currently witnessing (or are planning on being) engaged in. Just as much as a diamond can only be described after looking at all of its facets, I can only describe an object (including mental objects) or subject in full when I look at it from all sides. As my awareness inhabits more perspectives, I increase my direct experience (and as a result increased knowledge and understanding) of the ob/sub and can better express the totality of the experience hopefully without the taint of shortsightedness and prejudice.

To understand Hiphop fully and reap the most benefit from utilizing the elements, one must be willing to view and create from as many perspectives as possible. Why?
Well in general because looking at any situation, idea, etc from multiple perspectives frees us from myopia, or viewing things from a singular view. It provides a wider, more inclusive and more importantly, more real view of a situation. Hiphop is not one thing, nor are the elements or the ideas that the elements can capture. Taking on multiple perspectives makes us more intelligent, not because of what we now know but because of our increased capacity to know. It widens our mental lens, our awareness and tolerance of other viewpoints. If you're an entertainer it may even widen your audience. When we create, the more perspectives we take the more we can know about the subject, the more we can relay to others and the more we can connect to others through our element.

But from a larger perspective, as Hiphoppers we are often out of touch with who we are. Taking on multiple perspectives (of self and other) helps us to know ourselves better and live more authentically by short circuiting the tendency towards self/other deception by taking something at mere appearance or face value. Taking on more perspectives we attempt to "directly know" a phenomena, meaning we no longer base our knowledge on strictly guessing, belief, hope etc. We know because we experienced the perspective as much as we could. Viewing things from multiple perspectives also provides options for how to interact, treat or better assist a situation. Consider the ramifications it has when trying to truly be creative (instead of adopting old patterns of manifesting), solve difficult inter/intra personal decisions, be truly empathetic or resolve conflict between parties who can't see out side or beyond their own viewpoint.

For those interested in healing, connecting, helping, growing etc. I can sum it up like this.

The more perspectives you take the more you know about yourself and others.
The more you know about self and others the closer you grow to understanding and empathizing.
The more you empathize and understand the more you begin to see how big your heart really is (and always was).
The larger your realize your heart is the more space you have for other beings and your behavior and life naturally become skillfully helpful.
When there are masses of open hearted, compassionate beings, our families, our communities and our world will experience less suffering and more interconnectedness.
When individuals and families begin to see their interconnectedness to each other they will begin to see natures perspective and our connection to it.
When we see from the perspective of the divine calling us to call us its name, we will have peace because no thing is threatened by the fear of feeling other.
When you are everything there is nothing that you are outside and nothing that is outside you.
Then you can relax among the chaos of the world knowing that to resist would pull you from that integral perspective and peace that reality offers.

Three Perspectives

Wilber postulates that there are three primary perspectives, 1st, 2nd and 3rd person, by which all things may be viewed and the possibility of 4th, 5th, 6th and maybe even more perspectives yet to be discovered. These three perspectives are found in all human language and represent the ways we've developed to view the world.

If we look at how we describe experience, we find that we use 1st, 2nd and 3rd person pronouns. "The 1st person refers to the person who is speaking which includes pronouns like I, me, and mine (in the singular) and we, us, ours in the plural. It is what's going on within us. "It's the person speaking". Our 2nd person experience refers to who is being spoken to and includes pronouns like you and yours. The 3rd person perspective refers to the thing being spoken about such as he, him, she, her, they, them, it and its." (18, IS, Wilber)

So if I am talking to you about the new album by MF DOOM, "I" am the 1st person, "you" are the 2nd person and MF DOOM's album is the 3rd person (or the "it" being spoken about. When "we" communicate your 2nd person and my 1st person are engaged in dialog about MF DOOM.

1st, 2nd and 3rd person perspectives are part of your being, right now and are available to you in any moment. It is by adopting these perspectives that we see deeper into all experience. 3rd person perspectives refer to objective truth (science, nature), 2nd person perspectives refer to how we treat each other and 1st person perspectives deal with how i express myself. These three perspectives put can be stated more simply as truth, good and beauty or nature, culture and self. By visiting these perspectives we become more whole and begin to see the reality of ourselves, others and all things. Utilizing these perspectives when engaging with Hiphop can lead to a fuller and deeper experience of reality as well and can unlock the true power of the elements.

For instance, when Organized Konfusion wrote Stray Bullet in 1992 they did so from a 3rd person perspective; what it's like seeing through the eyes and mind of a bullet and gun. Why was that significant? Because in becoming the stray bullet one can more clearly relay the terror and trauma of those effected by it from a previously unseen perspective. Pharoahe Monch's verse was especially visceral:

"Aww fuck it", next target's Margaret's face *bang*
And I struck it
Now it's a flood of blood in circumference to her face
And an abundance of brains all over the street
Shame how we had to meet *bang*
Dashin, buckin, greet by fuckin family
They follow behind me in a orderly fashion
Bashin through flesh I'm wild
Crashin through the doors of projects hallways
To deflect off of the tile
I'm coming for you little girl
Once inside I shatter your world
Swirl, no more dreams no hopes when I spray.

If we take into account all of the perspectives involved in Pharoahe writing his verse we see that his depiction of the chaos of a stray bullet involved multiple viewpoints: a bullet (3p object), the 1st person view of the bullet (1p which are the lyrics), all coming from Pharoahe Monch's 1st person perspective (1-p).

But let's say we switch that around a bit: Pharoahe could've written from the little girls perspective as well. Had he have, he would've been writing from her 1st person view (1p) of a 3rd person (3p) from his 1st person (1-p). Had he chosen he could've written a dialog between the two of them as they discussed the horrors of gun violence. If he did he would've been giving a 1st person view (1p) while taking on a 2nd person perspective (2p) from his 1st person (1-p). He could've not written anything and instead did some introspection: that would be him taking a 1st person view (1p) of his 1st person awareness (1p) of his 1st person (1-p). What if he wrote about the proliferation of guns by large corporations? 3rd person view of a 3rd person institution from his 1st person. The corporation also has an internal view which could've focused on as well. That would've been Pharoahe writing from their 1st person about a 3rd person from his 1st person.

This attempt at looking at the exterior and interior perspectives of a phenomena is what Wilber calls Integral Methodological Pluralism, which is a really nerdy way of saying that we can view (and better study) the internal and external experience of individuals and groups from both inside and outside those experiences. Better yet. Here's a chart. (Fig. 1)

(Fig. 1)

Upper Left, Zone 1/Zone 2: The movement of my intelligence

The upper left (UL) of the chart refers to the individual, I, and also includes my self concept, identity, symbols, sensations, concepts, rules, structures of consciousness, feelings, thoughts, memories and experiences. Me. Zone 1 is the internal experience of the individual. Only the individual can see inside the individual. Wilber associates this Zone with the study of phenomenology, the study of mental arisings. Zone 1 is where we come in contact with the healthiness or unhealthiness of our thoughts and emotions, where we do the psychospiritual work of removing mental barriers to love such as greed, pride, anger, jealousy etc., cultivate healthy emotions such as generosity and gratitude and where prayer, meditation and contemplation take place. Zone 1 is also where we deceive ourselves by casting out thoughts and emotions that we find it hard to identify as ours. Wilber calls this our shadow. I often question emcees when I hear their lyrics. Is what they just said who and how they really are or a learned maladaptive response to unresolved trauma or pain? Zone 1 is where we can begin to witness our tendencies to distance ourselves from certain thoughts as well as begin to see how imbedded or fused our identities have become with material that we are completely unaware of.

Using the elements from a Zone 1 perspective

Emceeing, DJing, Bboying, Graf Writing, Producing: Resting AS Hiphop (peace, love, unity) in formless awareness as the Witness consciousness that sees the arising of your perceived emcee identity. Practicing stillness and conscious breathing to be aware of the present moment and to calm thoughts and feelings. Awareness can then be brought to thoughts and feelings to determine quality, motivation and intention. Thoughts can be assessed for healthiness or lack thereof. Questions such as, "what's keeping me from feeling my best", "are my thoughts pre/rational, post rational", "who am I", "where is the I that I think that I am", "what have I learned that can help me with this subject", "which aspect (level of self development) of my self do I wish to create from", "what am I trying to not feel", "is my identity in alignment with my intention", "how can what I'm about to create help or hurt me/others", "what may be the result of my creation", may be asked.

Zone 2

Zone 2 however is what Zone 1 looks like from the outside. It is the attempt to look at the arisings (thoughts, feelings, perceptions) of a first person perspective by someone other than the individual. Examples of this include studying the effects of meditation on an individuals perception. From a Hiphop standpoint, Zone 2 is where we attempt to explore and understand the experience of other practitioners 1st person perspective through contemplation, research, interview or other form of inquiry. Theres no way to conduct the research from the inside of someone else's head, but we can ask them to report their experience to us so we can try to understand it better. Attempting to describe the experience of a practitioner is useful because although ones 1st person perspective is not legitimate by itself, if you and I discuss our experience and come to a consensus about the means and fruition of that experience we can begin to discover HOW to repeat that experience. Meditation is a good example. Meditation can only be experienced by the meditator. No one can see inside of their experience. However if we both meditate, follow the same instructions and get similar results, it gives credence to our method and fruition as valid. People have meditated for thousands of years using the same instructions and getting the same results. Faith in the practice is based upon the experience of others, our experience while meditating and cross checking our experience with the lineage of meditators. What did they say would happen if I meditated? Did the same thing happen for me? If not, is meditation flawed, was my teacher flawed or did I not follow the instructions correctly? My experience has been that its usually my fault. I either didn't practice at all/enough, or I thought that I could replace practice with thinking, as if the thought was the same as experience.

No one can see inside the 1st person experience of a bboy, however if two bboys both uprock and then share their experience with each other, and agree on the experience, it gives validity to the experience. It then is not just my experience, it is ours. Lets say a group of 1000 bboys do the same thing. Then we can be more sure that our experience is valid and repeatable. Knowing the means (the 4 elements) that produce favorable developmental outcomes and sharing our results with each other will validate Hiphop as a tool for growth.

Hiphop is already a lineage based on study, practice and discussion of the results as validity for future study and practice but I don't think it's very recognized. For now i think that Zone 2 is largely used by those interested in entertainment. My hope is that Hiphop will utilize this same scientific method to explore the benefit of the elements on our psychospiritual, cultural, social and physical development. Researching and validating reports of heightened states of consciousness, increased self awareness, interconnectedness, compassion, wisdom etc. through skillful use of the elements helps Hiphop transcend its current egocentric and ethnocentric associations.