i n t e g r a l c o u n s e l i n g i n s t i t u t e
March 2007 Book Review and Quotes Archive
Breaking Open the Head:
A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism
Publisher: Broadway Books
Breaking Open the Head is a personal cross-cultural travelogue to lands most of us will never know and probably should
never visit. It is a journey that begins with the exploration of primitive Shamanic cults and leads to a thorough discussion
of modern concepts regarding the nature of consciousness. This is a serious book and a serious inquiry into our eternal
quest for spiritual meaning and unity with the reality of the Godhead.
Pinchbeck does a good job balancing a scientific approach against a variety of spiritual traditions from Africa, South
America and other locales. He is an active participant/observer in exploring these realms, yet still manages to present
his research in a fashion that allows the reader to retain a variety of perspectives. His only final conclusion is that this is
an area that merits serious scientific research and that it is clear that it is a valid spiritual and religious quest. It is not a
playground and it is not for the faint-hearted. It is a grueling journey from which one will return changed forever and perhaps
not for the better.
At its heart, this book is about the nature of reality. It looks at what we can discern through our senses and mind as well as
other realities that are not readily available. It is also a funny book with cultural exchanges straight out of a movie parody.
In one scene, we find a hip American New-Ager asking if the local shaman would like to use his new GPS system as they
head off into the jungle for a ceremonial rite. "No thanks," says the shaman. "I know where I am."
This is also a scary book, in that Pinchbeck relates the dark and occult aspects of these realms. The spirits, demons, and
dimensional beings that inhabit these realities have repeatedly shown up in human myth and spiritual history. The correlation
between Gnostic, Buddhist, Bon and other traditions are not easy to dismiss out of hand. These encounters vary widely from
beings that appear well disposed to humans to those that are indifferent or even hostile, and actually seem to feed off us in
One of Pinchbeck's central ideas is that humans do not live in a physical model of the world so much as a spiritual model.
Our physical reality is simply consciousness at a lower vibrational level. The higher levels are places that are not easily
understood even at the archetypal level. This is, of course, the jump-off point for Terrence McKenna's Machine Elves.
This book is well worth your time if you are a serious inquirer about spiritual realities filled with real consequences. In another
scene from the book, a spirit informs a western New-Ager interested in getting high, that he will kill him if he returns to this
place because his intentions are faulty.
You will come away from this book with new insights and a certain level of fear. Like it or not, it's a big Metaverse out there
and we might not actually be running our own show much less the big show.
Guest review by Lynn Michael Allmeyer
March Quotes of the Month
“If we allow ourselves to relax and take a mental step back, we can begin to recognize that all of our different thoughts or
feelings of anger, anxiety, and fear, are simply coming and going within the context of an unlimited mind which, like space,
remains fundamentally unperturbed by whatever occurs within it. No special
focus, no special effort. If you cannot rest your
that’s what’s going on in my mind right now. . . Cool.” ~Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, The Joy of LIving
“Ask yourself what your questions are and pursue them. Find the people who will work with you. We don’t need more spiritual marshmallows in the world. You must honor the answers of the past, but you must test them in the present and always ask what
they’ll do to the future. The Chinese say that if we stay on the road, we will surely arrive where we are going. Most learning is not
acquiring new insights; it’s letting go of the old ones.” ~ Joan Chittister, Sisters of the Order of St Benedict, International
Lecturer and Writer
“A spiritual junkie isn’t any nobler than a heroin addict. You see them in spiritual circles, some addicted to the group buzz, others
who had a transcendent experience in 1974 that was so unimaginably pleasurable, so euphoric — just like a drug — that they
run around the rest of their lives trying to get that feeling back. Unfortunately, people often think that high was reality, that it was enlightenment. We feel that most pleasurable experiences — because of the way we’re hooked up biologically — are
extraordinarily real. I like feeling good as much as the next guy, but ultimately that has little to do with the actual task of finding