Ayahuasca: shifting the assemblage point

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Drank ayahuasca tonight, for the fourth time. One thought worth reporting might be explained by way of the great fiction of Carlos Castaneda and his concept of “assemblage point”. Anyone is free to think what they like about his work, but like flies to shit the figures speak for themselves: it is popular. For me the books were instrumental, formative, eye-opening in my early 20s – great metaphors and possibilities for thought patterns, well wrapped in humourous prose in words attributed to Don Juan.

So what did he say? Well…. get off your flippin’ tits, init? Almost.


  • flō, /fləʊ/, /fl@U/
  • Rhymes: -əʊ

Reality is a vast flow of information; and through an assemblage point we make sense of it; we have filters that let in what we need to survive; and filters that block out what would cause too much confusion, to put it really briefly, and the “purpose of” psychedelic/halluconogenic drugs is to alter, reconfigure your filters so that things appear “infinite” in the best case scenario (once the doors of perception are cleansed, as Blake ventured; and on that note, cleanse, it is instructive to recall that a ayahusca session oftentimes include a limpia, a cleaning, in which the yachak/ayahuasquero/shaman/curandero/witch/medicine man/woman engages his/her flows with yours and thereby facilitates the energy flows of the plant spirit – which can be needed –heeelp!- if you have a full-on dose, such as the one we had last time with DMT and the whole shabang):

Sufficient personal power leads to the mastery of intent, chiefly the controlled movement of what is known as the assemblage point, which is the center of a bundle of energy emanations emerging from the body. When we are babies, our luminous cocoon is not yet rigid and the assemblage point flows fluidly throughout the luminous cocoon. Humans’ cocoons are intersected throughout by these filaments, producing perception, but as they grow and live in ordinary existence, people filter their perceptions by concentrating on only a small bundle. Focusing on only a small given area this way limits awareness. Ultimately, most adults can only move or shift their assemblage point in dreams, after a trauma, by way of drug use, love, through inner silence, or as is preferred, through Intent. The most straightforward or common form of movement of the assemblage point is achieved through dreaming. Descriptions of dreaming in Castaneda’s books and the varied techniques he employs to achieve mastery of awareness often resemble lucid dreaming. These techniques are comprehensively discussed in The Art of Dreaming.

Esoteric twang aside, the obvious connection for many psychedelic explorers is that a hallucinogenic drug, or psychedelic substances are exactly psychedelic because they shift the assemblage point, so that the world is felt immensely different, particularly felt in the form of flows, as opposed to static substance. The sandy beach that moves like a snake or a mountain that breathes. With regards to whether Castaneda wrote fiction fantasy or whether his books were based on genuine anthropological field work is kind of irrelevant (if he made it all up, then only more so good on his imagination!):

One way to read the books is as a sort of game, almost like a detective novel. Depending upon one’s approach, they could be either accepted at face-value in their entirety, or discarded. Some of the material could be considered true, some fictional; and some of the events described probably appeared to be real at the time, but could be interpreted as hallucinations.

Recall Huxley’s table leg, or was it chair? The one in the Doors of Perception anyway. What Huxley describes is the perspective from behind a shifted assemblage point. One tangential note is in order here: psychedelic (mind-manifesting) does not refer, for me, to the altered state, but to the novel state to which one must inevitably return in the recognition of finding “one self” in a non-ordinary reality. Once you have been so far off your head that it was indisputably so, then you know that you have a mind (and a self for that matter), how else could you note its absence? Otherwise known as the “coming down”, this is where some people might stumble and should be seen as an integral part, indeed as the culmination of intent: leaving your self only to return to it anew with the chance to reconfigure it (and thereby embody your experiences).

When it comes to ayahuasca there is a tradition, it seems (as also reflected in the Wikipedia quote below), for the blancos and the gringos who come to the Amazon to deduce by means of pharmacological rationality that the actual effect of ayahusca is the DMT-containing plants that are sometimes brewed along.

Ayahuasca, an entheogenic brew traditionally used in strict ritual context by South American native tribes, is a mixture of Banisteriopsis caapi, a vine containing various harmala alkaloids, and another plant containing N,N-DMT or 5-MeO-DMT alkaloids, usually Psychotria viridis or Diplopterys cabrerana. Modern, western analogues to ayahuasca often substitute Syrian Rue for B. caapi and Mimosa hostilis as a DMT source. As DMT is inactive orally on its own, it must be combined with an MAOI when taken orally in order to cause psychedelic effects.

This, of course, is the mistake and the misunderstanding – in relation to how things are seen by the yachak (shaman/ayahuasquero). For him, or for her, the ayahuasca is the trip, the business is the ayahuasca. Magic comes from the vine – other plants are just different sub-channels of communication, or facilitators of flow, with the ayahuasca spirit.

Therefore, we can go back to the idea of an assemblage point shift: ayahusca does just that: shifts the assemblage point. Ayahuasca hacks the metabolism and neutralises (inhibits) one particular kind of amino acid in the stomach, thereby shifting the assemblage point of the body:

MAOIs act by inhibiting the activity of monoamine oxidase preventing the breakdown of monoamine neurotransmitters and so increasing the available stores. There are two isoforms of monoamine oxidase, MAO-A and MAO-B. MAO-A preferentially deaminates serotonin, melatonin, adrenaline and noradrenaline. MAO-B preferentially deaminates phenylethylamine and trace amines. Dopamine is equally deaminated by both types. Many formulations use forms of fluoride attached to assist getting past the blood-brain barrier and is suspected as a factor in pineal gland effects.

For the yachak the ayahuasca opens up channels of communication that with focus and concentration can be navigated, at will (“mastery of intent”, as it were), and in this understanding the DMT channel is just one particular sub-set of ayahuasca experiences.

Finally, we find ourselves back at the by now familiar story about the conflict between Parmenides and Heraclitus. A good anti-capitalist point of departure to toward an understanding of the difference between Heraclitus’ flow model (fixity is an illusion, all is constant change) of the universe and Parmenides’ substance model (change is an illusion, there are only objects) is provided by David Graeber, who writes that “theories that start from action fall so far outside the main currents of the Western intellectual tradition that it’s hard for most scholars to figure but exactly what to do with them. They belong, one might say, to the Heracliteantradition, which in Western thought has always been somewhat marginal.” He continues to summarise the dispute between Parmenides and Heraclitus.

What we may conclude here, is that the focus on the DMT as the psychoactive ingredient is a focus mainly on the substance of the DMT, as permitted by the substantial effect of the ayahuasca, but for the yachak the ayahusaca changes the flow of your system – through which anything might run, if you add it, will it or otherwise influence yourself with something. In the final moment of alphabetic agency for tonight, after all it is late and I was slightly tripped out earlier -without the DMT substance carrier, experiencing the flow of ayahusca (with cannabis and a bit of red wine, both of which go well hand in hand with the ayahusca spirit, who welcomed particularly the former)- all there is left to say is that when focusing on substance and prioritising it over and above flow, we allow only for thin descriptions, whereas an embodied recognition of flow opens up for thick descriptions.

The thicker the description, the greater the sensorium, – I think.

Well, I guess you can’t end like that. Hmm…. Ok, I paste something from thesis world for your perusal, in case further explanation of thick and thin descriptions are desired (it’s derived from a discussion of Free Software source code, but with a bit of imagination should connect to the story above and make clearer ……..):

As a means with which to distinguish between different forms of peer-review the concepts of thick and thin descriptions, as introduced by Gilbert Ryle (1971)1 and developed in the context of an “interpretive theory of culture” by Clifford Geertz (1973)2, are useful. The concept of a thick description was delivered by Ryle clad in a story of a boy winking to deliver a secret message “according to an already understood code”:

“Two boys fairly swiftly contract the eyelids of their right eyes. In the first boy this is only an involuntary twitch; but the other is winking conspiratorially to an accomplice. At the lowest or the thinnest level of description the two contractions of the eyelids may be exactly alike. From a cinematograph-film of the two faces there might be no telling which contraction, if either, was a wink, or which, if either, were a mere twitch. Yet there remains the immense but unphotographable difference between a twitch and a wink.”

For Geertz the “little stories Oxford philosophers like to makeup for themselves” were too artificial, but the conceptual difference between a thick and a thin description was obvious to Geertz, who as an ethnographer reflected on his own position:

“What the ethnographer is in fact faced with–except when (as, of course, he must do) he is pursuing the more automatized routines of data collection–is a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them superimposed upon or knotted into one another, which are at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit, and which he must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render.”

Ryles used the term “established codes”, the specific use of which Geertz questioned in his appreciation of Ryle’s conceptualisation:

“Analysis, then, is sorting out the structures of signification–what Ryle called established codes, a somewhat misleading expression, for it makes the enterprise sound too much like that of the cipher clerk when it is much more like that of the literary critic–and determining their social ground and import.” (my italics)

On that note we may also make a general claim: a peer-review of any creative process will involve an aesthetic judgment on some level. It may unconsciously influence reviewers’ opinions, in the form of the flow of prose, for instance, or it may be prioritised lower than, say, the logical unfolding in the structure of the argument it communicates, but the very notion of creativity is inevitably linked to aesthetics. Without entering into a philosophical debate about the problems of aesthetics, we can accept that:


“Judgments of aesthetic value clearly rely on our ability to discriminate at a sensory level. Aesthetics examines what makes something beautiful, sublime, disgusting, fun, cute, silly, entertaining, pretentious, discordant, harmonious, boring, humorous, or tragic.”

However, aesthetics is a problematic term that would require further discussion to be usable here, but we can observe that more than just simple economic performance facts and how a computer programme runs graphically on a screen goes into an individual evaluation, or collective peer-review process, of the programme at hand. In general, we may say that hackers attach a significant value to creativity and beauty in the presentation and structure of code: is it neat, is it sophisticated, is it elegant, and does it solve problems imaginatively?

Likewise, we’d be ill adviced to look only at the substantial function of an ayahuasca experience in the image of the DMT – when the code behind is what flows to allow the “difference that makes a difference”.





3 thoughts on “Ayahuasca: shifting the assemblage point

    yucca said:
    Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 16:34 (732)
    Ashley Hartwell said:
    Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 17:57 (789)

    Where can the artwork on this page be purchased? I have fallen in love!

    colono responded:
    Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 18:20 (805)

    I think you just have to click on it to find its home – or try this link:

    — and then click on “Buy Prints”.

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