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Wolfgang Sterneck:

THE PSYCHONAUTICAL MAP - SEARCHING FOR INNER UTOPIA


Like an astronaut who travels through the vastness of outer space, a psychonaut travels to the depths of his or her own psyche. The imaginary psychonautical map comprises the poles of an almost incomprehensible inner realm containing pleasing areas as well as dangerous abysms. While everyday experiences may be clearly described and often contain defined structures, marginal zones beyond conventional areas of consciousness often seem blurred and impenetrable.

In turn, the paths that lead to these marginal zones are anything but straight and simple. They often resemble a labyrinth, some are dead-end streets, others seem to lead nowhere, until they finally reach the desired destination. Some are only discovered by realizing that they do not lead to a place in the outside world, but deep into the inner Self. The paths that lead to this inner realm may be discovered by using various techniques, such as meditation, trancelike dance, extreme physical experiences, ecstatic sex or adequate amounts of psychoactive substances like mescaline, psilocybine and LSD.

Certain paths reach their full potential only in a ritual context; in other cases, no specific technique is necessary – experiences develop from the mental structure of each individual. Recent studies have shown a comprehensive human need of inebriation, ecstasy and transcendence to go beyond the limits of everyday life. This need is often suppressed, particularly in Christian culture. However, we must not only consider the purpose, but also the high risk factor for the psyche. Frequently experiencing extreme conditions is not enriching; on the contrary, it produces deep insecurity, since the conventional world view is fundamentally challenged. In addition, as a manifestation of mental problems or illnesses, there are various levels of consciousness, in which some persons find themselves and are unable to free themselves from.

The extraordinary experiences in marginal areas of the psychonautical map often create the need to fully understand and accept these, in some cases also express and pass on content related to it. Dealing with this subject in the framework of artistic forms of expression represents a possibility that is often used. The reproduction of extraordinary states of consciousness in artistic forms of expression is not always recognizable as such, they often appear in an abstract or encoded form and may only be understood by using certain codes.

Many indigenous cultures have a long tradition of reproducing transcendental states of consciousness. Some Amazon tribes, for example, practice an art inspired by Ayahuasca, where perceptions in an altered state of mind and elements of a different reality are reproduced, which in contrast to reality of everyday life is understood as the actual true one. In doing so, the act of processing and ordering transcendental experiences is put in a collective context.

Due to sociocultural factors, an individual approach is widespread in the Western modern world. Thus, there are many artists who individually access and deal with marginal areas of the psychonautical map. In some cases, their work is rejected because it is too independent, often however, because it is difficult to classify into prevalent categories. In some cases, the name of the artist himself already represents an individual style, inasmuch as such a definition is necessary. Upon closer review, it soon becomes clear that far from the demands of general art concepts and commercial art standards there are multiple independent forms of expression.

In recent art history, beginnings of dealing with extraordinary states of consciousness may be seen in surrealism and in dealing with dreams from a psychoanalytical point of view. The terms Art Brut and partly Outsider Art, however, refers to the art of certain people who have almost unhindered access their subconscious mind, such as persons in certain mental or extreme psychotic conditions. Later, the Viennese actionism as well as the Industrial Culture suppressed energies and with it often the abysms of extreme mental situations. The key point of reference of visionary art is formed by the reproduction of mystical transcendental experiences which are often glorified in a religious way. Numerous works of art are created in the context of a cybertribe culture, altered states of perception and consciousness with modern graphic means.

The representation of extraordinary states of consciousness achieved with the use of psychoactive substances appears in stone murals as early as the Stone Age. Psychedelic art is particularly observed with reference to developments in the late sixties. The spectrum of experiences includes increased sensory perception and a direct access to your subconscious mind, feelings of happiness and union, as well as deep inner irritations and psychotic illnesses. Withal, psychedelic substances do not bring anything new into a person, but they rather open doors to existing inner spaces. The criminalization of many psychoactive substances resulted in a stigmatization of corresponding forms. in the course of the representation of psychedelic-trance-culture, and psychedelically inspired art has seen a revival since the nineties.

No mental experience and of course no transition to an extraordinary state of consciousness occurs in an unrelated space, as personal as the process might be. The experience must always have a direct connection with the surrounding conditions and thus with the socioculturally defined requirements. This becomes evident in relation with the prohibition of psychoactive substances or the extrusion of techniques leading to other states of consciousness. Beyond the momentous experience, an inner freedom is necessary which ultimately may only unfold in the context of corresponding social freedom. Extraordinary states of consciousness are stigmatized, especially in cultures where economic performance, competition and profit dominate almost all social areas. An excessive rationality and the striving for permanent self control close the access to a state of transcendence and a real understanding of the potential of altered levels of consciousness. Subliminal mental problems and sociocultural conflicts are closely linked to this.

The individual motivation for a well directed transition into a transcendental state of consciousness and thus a psychonautical journey may vary largely. A connection is often found in a subliminal level in the search of a concrete inner utopia as a place on the psychonautical map, which detached from external repressive structures and inner emotional blockage opens a feeling of flowing. A fundamental first step on the long way is realizing that it is possible to approach this utopia through personal practice and social change, as distant and suppressed as it may seem from the outside. We may reach the stars, but only if we really try it...

Wolfgang Sterneck
w.sterneck@sterneck.net

Moksha-Research -Studies on Culture, Drugs and Consciousness:
www.sterneck.net/moksha/moksha-e

Literature:
Claude Steiner & Radovan Hirsel (Ed.) / A Trip into Psychonautic Art.
Wolfgang Sterneck (Ed.) / Psychedelika.

Psychonautic Art:
www.psychonautic-art.ch

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