Artist and author Rachel Sussman shares her physical, intellectual, and spiritual journey around the world and through time-space.
All right, thank you so much. So good evening and welcome to the Center for the Study of World Religions. My name's Charles Stang. I'm happy and honored to serve as the director here. I'm in my third year. And I'd like to thank you all for coming out for this wonderful event.
This is a difficult time of the semester to get people out. And so I'm appreciative. Those of you who are not sort of subject to the brutality of the semester may not recognize that we're really at a really bad time of the semester for everybody. But it's basically crawling to Thanksgiving. I think that we should all have like a t-shirt that says crawling to Thanksgiving.
OK, so let me first of all, thank the center staff, as always, for making this event possible. And let me also, as I always do, remind you to please silence your cell phone. I will do the same. Silenced, OK. So I trust most of you have just moved over from the exhibition opening in our conference room. If you're just joining us now, you'll have missed that. So let me just briefly explain where we are.
Rachel Sussman, whom I will introduce properly in a moment, has generously allowed us to hang a sample of her work from this amazing collection-- pardon me-- this amazing collection. This is the book from an ongoing project, well, a decade long project-- I believe it's no longer ongoing-- The Oldest Living in the World. I'll say more about that in a moment. In our conference room, there are seven pieces now hanging? Yes. And then there's an eighth in our foyer.
So if you missed the exhibition, I welcome you to visit the conference room on a different day, or a different evening. Because there's another group meeting in the conference room this evening at 7:30. So I'm afraid that was your opportunity to see it today. But it will be hanging for some time. We haven't exactly figured out for how long yet. But we'll figure that over dinner.
OK, I have the distinct honor and pleasure of welcoming Rachel Sussman again. I welcomed her very briefly in the other room. But this is the proper introduction for her lecture, All the Time in the World: An Artist's Awakening with Ayahuasca. Rachel's exhibition and lecture falls into one of the center's ongoing series entitled, Matter and Spirit: Ecology and the Non-human Turn.
So I know many of you have been here for lectures in that series. So forgive me, because I'm going to read something you've heard many times. But I feel as if almost liturgically I want to repeat it to orient us all to its themes. Then I will introduce Rachel in earnest. So this is the series, Matter and Spirit. Recent work in the humanities and the social sciences has generated new interest in the age old question of the relationship between matter and spirit and its relevance for the environmental crisis we now face. On the one hand, "vibrant materialists," such as the political theorist, Jane Bennett, ask us to revise our view of matter as an inert object we manipulate, and invite us to think instead of the vibrancy of non-human and allegedly inanimate things. That is their agency and creativity.
This promises to cultivate a different ecological sensibility and different sorts of political interventions in the environmental crisis. On the other hand, anthropologists have revived interest in spirits and their interaction with humans, taking these phenomena seriously, if not always literally. Taking them seriously as occasions to widen our notion of agency. Perhaps humans are just one expression of a more widely distributed agency. An agency spread across the full spectrum of the alleged opposition between matter and spirit.
Richard Grusin of the Center for the 21st Century calls this decentering of the human, the non-human turn. Or what David Abraham, who was with us last year, might call the turn or the return to the more than human world. Could it be that by shifting our focus away from the human to the more than human world, we might actually summon an ecological imagination that better safeguards humans precisely by displacing them from the center of all inquiry? We hazard to guess that questions such as these might help us to reinvigorate our thinking about religion and ecology.
What can these fields of inquiry teach religious studies about cultivating an ecological imagination and a potent activism? And what can religious studies in turn, contribute to these efforts? So I met Rachel last year here in Cambridge across campus as part of a Radcliffe exploratory seminar on the theme of Apocalypse Now: Time, Ethics, and Eschatology led by my colleagues Giovanni Bazzana. Where's Giovanni? Did he already leave? He left. He was at the exhibition. He's looking after Beniamino. And Evander Price, Evander just walked in. There he is. He's sitting down. OK, these two are really responsible for bringing Rachel to my attention. And I'm deeply grateful for them.
The seminar that they lead was an exploration in their words of the frightening realization that the end of the world may not be as distant as it once seemed. Some have gone so far as to claim that the apocalypse has already happened. We just haven't quite noticed it yet. These apocalyptic anxieties are nothing new. Yet, they have assumed a newfound urgency in recent years. For many of us it seems, the future is astoundingly now.
This renewed interest in the end raises several urgent questions. Just how much future is there? When and where does the future end? And how does that measurement shape our actions in the present? That last question about measurement is where Rachel and her critically acclaimed, decade long project, The Oldest Living Things in the World, comes into view. Rachel had the mad idea to research, document, and photograph the oldest living organisms in the world. And she set her standard high.
They had to be at least 2,000 years old, in no small part to show up the arbitrariness of the calendar we call the "common era," as if we all agreed that we would just use that calendrical system-- pretty sure that's not how it happened-- and also shows up the presumption that we humans are at the center of time that we're somehow the centerpiece organism on this island home of ours. Some of the elders documented in these books are towering sentinels, such as California sequoias. Some are vast networks underfoot, such as the honey mushroom in Oregon, whose exact size is unknown and can only be glimpsed best from the air from the trees that it claims as its victims, as its food.
That humongous fungus has the distinction--
I owe that to Rachel. That humongous fungus has the distinction of being the only predator to have made it into this exclusive club of oldest living things. Some of these elders look to outlast us easily. Others feel oddly vulnerable. Two have died in the last five years, including a pond cypress in Florida nicknamed The Senator, who had lived to a ripe old age of 3,500 years, until a group of kids in their 20s high on Meth snuck into the park, which was The Senator's home, lit matches in its hollow trunk to "see the drugs better." When The Senator went up in flames, it became a pillar of fire. Although, guiding whom where I do not know.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's been my sort of meditation guide the past week. It's a deep meditation on the more than human world, on deep time and our place in it, and on the endurance and fragility of life. All right, who is Rachel Sussman, such that she produced this astonishing work? Well, she's quite obviously a wildly accomplished artist and author. She's also a Guggenheim and MacDowell Colony fellow and a two-time Ted speaker.
For the past five years, she's been deepening her investigation of personal and cosmic time being in consciousness fostered by a spiritual awakening ignited by shamanic medicine practices. And it is this more recent journey that she will be sharing this evening, her physical, intellectual, and spiritual journey around the world and through time space from the New York Times bestselling book to newer mind expanding works incubated at NASA and CETI, and for the first time in public, at least, to her spiritual awakening and transformation through a relationship with Ayahuasca.
It is such a privilege and a pleasure to have you here. Please join me in welcoming Rachel to the center.
Wow, I don't know if I can follow that introduction. It was so beautiful. So thank you all so much for being here tonight. It's a really funny thing for me to be speaking here at the Harvard Divinity School. In part because up until about four years ago, if you asked me, I would tell you unequivocally that I was an atheist. I also would have told you, up until four years ago, that I had never ingested an illicit substance before. And those two changed on the exact same date. So I am going to be sharing with you. The visuals you'll be seeing are my art projects.
We'll start with some of the oldest living things and move into some other places. And I'm just going to weave in some much more personal background than I ever have. As Charlie mentioned, this is the first time I'm speaking publicly about Ayahuasca, shamanic medicine, this sort of thing. So I'm a little nervous, but also really excited to share this. I think it's a really critical time that we be having this conversation, given the state of the planet right now.
I didn't ask. But I think there'll be time for Q and A afterwards. So if you do have questions, please let me know. That's my favorite part of the lecture. So without further ado-- so I started photographing at a really young age. I think I took this photograph when I was around 10. So I grew up in a pretty abusive family, pretty rough childhood. And nature was one of the first things that I really connected with. It really without knowing it became a guiding force for me.
And so early on, I was making photographs. You can see one that I made as an adult. Kind of sort of see the artistic development. This image is called Clearing. This isn't an oldest living thing. I was doing a series of works, which I really began when I was an undergrad. And I had started reading about philosophy. And for me, I'd grown up in a family where religion wasn't part of our household.
I'm Jewish. My mother's side of the family had Holocaust survivors. Like there's a lot of trauma on both sides of my family. And to me, being an atheist just made sense. I also have a memory from a young age, where I thought, well, I don't believe in God. But if God exists, he totally doesn't care that I don't believe in him. And so I later found out that was true.
So at any rate, when I was an undergrad, I started reading in philosophy. I read about the natural sublime. And I was like, oh my goodness. All of a sudden, somebody was speaking a language that I understood. And it was the first time I got this spark that I wasn't alone. And so it was still very early on in my journey in this sense.
This photograph was made in Japan in 2004. I had just finished an artist residency. I just got a new camera. This is medium format, six seven film camera. And I was exploring. One of the things that was always interesting to me was putting myself in a place where I was in unfamiliar surroundings. So that it would just help to open my eyes more, to understand more. I was also really hungry for some kind of project that would match the scope of all of the feelings that I had of everything that I wanted to express and explore. I was always really interested in science, as well.
That was always something that I appreciated the study and the discipline of it and just the way that you can share information so easily. That's actually something I appreciated about philosophy as well. It almost felt like the scientific way to talk about something that previously was just pure feeling to me.
So this tree is called Jomon Sugi. It's supposedly 7,000 years old according to legend. That's not actually true. It was 2180 at the time that I photographed it. The Oldest Living Things project for me was something that pushed me outside of my comfort zone again, and again, and again. From the get go, I was on a trip on my own. I had no idea where I was going. I just was exploring. And somebody had said, oh, you're interested in nature? Well, you should go visit this ancient tree.
And so I made this photograph. And I didn't get the idea for Oldest Living Things. It's not like I had the epiphany in front of the tree. I made the photograph, came home. And it was actually telling stories about my travels to a friend. This was maybe even a year later, where I got the light bulb went on. And I was like, oh my goodness. I can combine all of the different things that are so important to me. I can make a project that's about nature, that's actually about climate and climate responsibility without hitting you over the head. It's actually framing it in a positive light, as opposed to saying, well, I'm going to scold you for all the wrong that you've been doing.
It included science. I actually ended up doing research to make sure that I was using accurate information. And so I used published scientific research papers to track down the scientists. And an intern would often travel with them to these different places. And as Charlie was saying, this project just really framed our relationship to time, and deep time, and long term thinking. And why is that?
Because humans, physiologically we're not really attuned to connect with timescales that are outside of our physical lifespans. So we already have that working against us. And so this project was meant for me to be a touchstone, to start to create an empathetic relationship with these life forms that are outside of our own conception and understanding of time, and to create a personal relationship that you can then reframe your own experience of what your lifetime is.
So you know, this project took me all over the world. This is a 100,000 year old seagrass meadow in Spain. I'm going to maybe move a little quickly through these images. But we can always come back if you'd like to. I'd like to mention that while I was doing this project, this 10 year project, I didn't know it was going to be 10 years when I started it. That's just how it rounded itself out. In retrospect, it's a really interesting thing to think about what was my motivation to do this work. While I was doing this work, I couldn't not do it. I just felt that it had to be done.
And in my book, I have 30 different subjects. And I've written 30 different essays on each of them. And in them I weave together the science and research that I learned, the experience of traveling to these different places, in some cases, the myths and stories about the organisms themselves. And I also talk about what's going on with me personally. So I was going through a pretty challenging relationship. You know, you have a character that shows up, my ex, and what I was going through. Because I really wanted to also show this balance between what it is to be on a personal journey and how we relate that to our collective journey.
So this is a baobab tree in South Africa. It's around 2,000 years old. A brain coral in Tobago, also around 2,000. I had to learn to scuba dive to do this project. I was actually getting my open water dive certification and learning underwater photography at the same time, which is maybe one too many things to do at once.
This is the oldest known living thing in the world. This is actually an image of a soil sample containing what's called Siberian actinobacteria, which is between 400,000 and 600,000 years old. And it lives in the permafrost in Siberia. Now of course, we can sit here today and say, is the permafrost permanent? So there's so many things that even five years ago, certainly 10 years ago, these questions are becoming more and more pressing.
So this is a landscape in Greenland. And to me, this is more like those images-- the first couple images I showed you. That's more like an emotional and philosophical landscape. So if anything I want to convey to you is the sort of yearning that I had in my work to connect on a spiritual level. I didn't actually know I was on a spiritual journey while I was making this project. It's something that became revealed to me after I completed it.
So this is some 3,000 year old lichens, 2000-year-old primitive conifer in Namibia, and everyone's favorite, the yareta, the alien life form. That's actually a shrub living in the Atacama Desert in Chile. I'm going to segue a little bit to start talking to you about some of the experiences that I've had. So this is going to be non-linear. So it's really interesting as an artist working with time. And then you're going to see some of my other projects that I've done, where I'm dealing with even much deeper time than this.
And then I had this moment. I was like, well, maybe time just doesn't exist. So it's a really funny thing to devote your life to something and then have your whole perspective changed. So when I had my first plant medicine ceremony, it was a year and a half after my book came out. And I was in yet another relationship and had broken up. It was quite terrible. It was one of those things of being in a trauma pattern from my childhood. And I really hit an emotional rock bottom.
The book was doing great. I was lecturing. And I just felt miserable. I should mention, I was in therapy for decades. I did so much work. I did everything that I thought the work was supposed to do. And nothing was good enough. I wasn't getting to a place where I felt like, oh, I'm OK. I got this. It was just like, oh, I can muscle through. I've got some reserves. But they're running low. And it was truly a point, a devastating moment, where I had to make this choice between the suffering or stepping into the rest of my life.
And so I had this moment where I decided that I was going to take this risk. And so as I said, Oldest Living Things was such an extreme way. It was a training ground, where I got to push myself over, and over, and over again Into places that I felt uncomfortable. And then I had to learn to create safety for myself in a place where I felt uncomfortable.
And so when I moved into this first medicine experience, well, I should mention, as I said, I'd done no substances. I maybe smoked cannabis once or twice. I went to art school. I went to tons and tons of art school. There was plenty of opportunity to do substances. And I never did them. And I think the reason was I understood that I needed to be in a contained space, contained sacred space. Sorry, I didn't think I was going to cry during my talk.
And I was right. So many people who are interested in this kind of work, they kind of come close to it and then back up again and come a little closer. And you have to find the safe space that's right for you. In my case, the first time that I experienced plant medicine, with somebody who was a therapist. And to me it's like, OK, that feels like a safe container for me to finally make the leap over that threshold. And the reason I hadn't done the substances before is because I knew it was going to get dark, the first thing in was going to be dark.
Sure enough, it was. It was. And was it worth it to go in there? Absolutely. So about midway through that ceremony, a light got switched on that has never gone off. And all of a sudden, all of this space opened up. My consciousness opened up. And the most important thing that happened in that ceremony was I understood that my inner voice, my inner dialogue, was so mean. It was so cruel. And it was the voice of the people who had abused me. And I didn't know. I didn't know.
So it's really interesting, again, to be here talking about a spiritual journey. For me, my spiritual journey had to begin with healing core wounding. There was no room for anything other than what was the immediate pain. There was no space for it. My nervous system was overstimulated. I was doing my best, gripping on really tightly to be OK. And it's something that I actually in my first year actually of doing medicine work, other people would be telling stories of like flying through space and talking to beings.
And I'd go to my inner child. I would go like do some family work. I would release some healing. And at first, I was kind of envious of these experiences they were having. And then I had a ceremony, where I made a vow to myself to show up to myself for as long as I needed forever. So that the first vow I ever made was to myself for unconditional self-love. And by the way, the moment I did that, all the other amazing shamanic stuff started happening.
So I want to take a moment to talk about what Ayahuasca is. Can everyone raise your hand if you're familiar with Ayahuasca? So mostly. Does anyone feel comfortable raising their hand if they've tried Ayahuasca? OK, great, fantastic. So for those who aren't as familiar, the Ayahuasca tea is a combination of two different plants. It's the Ayahuasca vine. And then it's brewed in combination with another plant, like Chacruna, many other things that contain DMT. And so these things actually have to be brewed together in order to have the full experience of the Ayahuasca.
And if you ask indigenous people of the Amazon how they figured out how to combine these two things out of the millions of plants and the how many trillions of combinations there could be, they said, oh, the plants told us. The plants told us to do it. After you've experienced Ayahuasca, that makes sense. I, by the way, have had the plants tell me that they gave me the idea for Oldest Living Things. And to me it's like-- again, I'd finished this 10 year project over a year before I'd ever had a sip. So again, how do we talk about linear time?
And yet we can. Actually, I'm going to stop for a moment and go back to Oldest Living Things here. This is The Senator tree that Charlie had mentioned that the kids had snuck into the tree at night. It was in a park. But only part of the park was fenced in. And they killed this tree. It was 3,500 years old. And the tree was on fire for over a week before anyone noticed. Because it was burning from the inside out. And so by the time they found out, it was too late to save it.
I was about to go to Antarctica the following week when this happened. And I had visited this tree five years prior and had made some photographs. And I'd been sort of nonchalant about it. It's just outside of Orlando. It's like sort of this, I went with my friend and her family in their minivan. And I'd just gotten back from Africa and was on all these epic adventures. And I'd just been kind of relaxed about it. It was just like it's this other sort of landmark. And I made some photographs. And I wasn't crazy about them.
And I thought, I can go back anytime. I can go back anytime, 3,500 years, but not 3,501. And so this was one of the most pivotal moments for me in this project of truly understanding that just because something has longevity that is not the same as immortality. And what are the things that we are taking for granted all around us? So it was incredibly moving and obviously, incredibly sad that this happened. There was one little point of light for this photograph, for this tree.
Because of its age, a research facility had taken some graphs of it. And they actually replanted one of them back in the spot where this tree had originally lived. And the community renamed it The Phoenix. So yeah, it was well loved. And this is Antarctica. Is this a laser too? Yeah. So if you can see this green on the slope here, that's a 5,500 year old moss bank on Elephant Island, which is the island where Shackleton was marooned, if you're familiar with Ernest Shackleton.
It was incredibly challenging to get to Antarctica, as you can imagine. I was lucky enough to be a guest researcher on a commercial ship. And so for me, I was sort of connecting lots of worlds in this moment. So the Shackleton story, Shackleton and his crew were marooned in Antarctica for two years. They also had to come to their own rescue. So if you haven't read the book, Endurance, I highly recommend it. It's incredibly inspiring.
So I had my own journey getting to this place. One of the things I'm thinking about, deep time. Deep time in a lot of ways is like deep water. So we're constantly pulled back to the surface, whether that's like five minutes ago or five minutes from now, if you're familiar with the Long Now Foundation or, you know, just I haven't checked my phone in the past few seconds. But the more that we get comfortable diving down deep, deep into the deep water, deep into the deep time, then we can start to look around and get curious.
And to weave back in this idea about healing, when we're in a place of trauma, we're not in a place of curiosity. You can't be. You can't be. To put it another way, when your root chakra isn't stable and safe, you can't get to your crown chakra and expect it to be open and balanced. Because you might not have shelter. You might not have security. You not have food security. You name it. We might not all have environmental security, given what's happening in the climate right now.
So we have the trauma that we need to heal on an individual level. And we have the trauma that we share collectively, like what's happening on the planet right now. This is Shackleton's grave. That's actually an elephant seal. And there's Shackleton's grave right back there. He's just kind of wedged in there. That's the last photo in the book. I thought it was kind of appropriate.
And then I actually talked about this already. But I just wanted to share a few photos of me on my adventures. This image was made in Antarctica. I forgot to put one in of an image of an x-ray of my wrist. I had gone to Sri Lanka to visit the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, which is one of my favorite stories. I don't really have time to tell it now. But it's a really amazing tree, amazing story. But I fell and broke my wrist on my way there. So I didn't get to see it. Again, I mentioned learning to scuba dive. That's Namibia. It's a lab in Copenhagen. I was photographing that bacteria. You can see my hair peeking out of the mask there. I wasn't doing a very good job of staying sterile. And then end of a dive.
So this is me photographing a 13,000 year old shrub oak in Southern California. So this is a remnant of a time that no longer exists. So this would have been around when mastodons still roamed around Southern California. And so thinking about this photograph actually got me thinking about this idea of temporal layering, where we have all of these different timescales existing simultaneously. So you have this organism that's been there for 13,000 years old. You have the click of the shutter of the camera, 1/60 of a second, 1/25 of a second. And then in between you have you and me.
And so yet all of these timescales converge in this way to share this moment. And again, this was a premedicine idea for me. And yet it makes so much sense that we have all of these things converging if we pay attention to them,
if we're awake and aware about them.
So when I finished Oldest Living Things, again, this idea came right before I began medicine, I had a moment of thinking, well, I've just spent 10 years of my life doing this work. What if I never have another idea again? I'm not sure how many of you have had that. It's like, uh-oh. 10 years is like a lifestyle at that point. This image popped up on social media of Kintsukuroi. And it's funny. It's like another Japanese influence, the idea of repairing with gold. And really, the concept in Japanese aesthetic philosophy with Kintsukuroi is something is made more beautiful for having been broken.
And I read that. And it just resonated. And I thought of all of the things, all of the organisms that I had photographed and the fragility of them. And I thought about myself and all of the suffering that I'd experienced and all that I'd been through and wondering what was coming next. And I got this idea to do what I call sidewalk Kintsukuroi. So instead of pottery, which the practice is traditionally done in, I was like, well, why not look at all the things that are just around us? So for instance, I had already been making photographs like this. Then I just started repairing them.
And so some of the work is actually just works on paper, where I've painted the gold onto the cracks of photographs that I've made. And then I also have done repairs directly into the ground. So this one's a photo. But I've also done this one. This is at MASS MoCA. So the idea of Kintsukuroi and this project has continued to come back to me through the healing process. And of course, why wouldn't it resonate with medicine, this idea of we're more beautiful for having been broken? But we truly need to go through these trials and tribulations to get to the next levels of consciousness.
I'll tell you that for me, as I continue to do the work with Ayahuasca and as well as some other medicines, I eventually came to a place where I was shown in a ceremony that it was my purpose to come into the suffering that I did, so that I would find my way out of it and forge a path through, so that others could come through with me. And so it reframed the entirety of all the abuse and suffering that I had experienced my entire life into something that made sense and actually had purpose and reason. And just like that first ceremony, another light went on, more consciousness expansion happened. And it's something that has completely guided and changed the course of my life.
These are some of the installations that are directly in the ground. It's in concrete and asphalt. So by the way, when I making these works, especially the more delicate ones, I had to figure out a way to get-- I was using gold powder on top of resin. And I had to figure out a way to distribute the gold powder very carefully and precisely in the resin. And I got this idea to use a chak-pur. So a chak-pur is a tool that's used in Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas. I actually got the idea, because I was watching a TV show, where somebody-- oh gosh, what was it? I've forgotten the show.
I was watching a TV show. And they had some monks. And I was like, oh, that tool. And then I started researching it. I had moments early on, by the way, in my spiritual path, where I was like, that's so embarrassing. I got this idea from a TV show. And then I realized spirit comes from whatever direction it wants to. And it's just our job to receive it. So if it comes from a show, that's fine. I, by the way, before I started medicine, could not meditate. I tried and tried and tried to meditate. My nervous system was to upset. Everything was too upset to handle it.
After my first ceremony, I was like, oh, meditation, I got this. It was amazing. I also, by the way, quit drinking coffee after my first Ayahuasca ceremony. I didn't go in there with an intention saying, I really hope I can break my coffee addiction. I was totally addicted. It was like, no, that's bad for you. Stop. I was like, oh, OK. Done. So at any rate, when I started making this work using the chak-pur, I was enjoying it so much. I was actually sitting on the ground. It wasn't snowy at the time. I was making this piece. And I was like, I have to keep working with the chak-pur. I really enjoy this.
And I got the idea to make a sand mandala of the cosmic microwave background. So this is the cosmic microwave background, for those not familiar. This is also known as the baby picture of the universe. So this a radiation map imprinted on the sky 380,000 years after the big bang. So you can't actually "go back in time" any further than this, because before that, we just were in the primordial soup. So there was electrons and protons. And also, light particles were floating around. But they were so bound together, there was actually no light yet.
And so this moment was when things cooled down enough that you'd be able to have this differentiation between particles that started to form our universe as we know it. The red, if you guys are familiar with this image, you probably didn't see this red band in the middle. That's us. So when scientists make these images, they're making it from the viewpoint of being human. And our instruments are around us. So I actually thought this was one of those moments where both it was visually much more appealing, but also conceptually worked a whole lot better to include the interference, if you were, of humans.
So mandala, as you probably know, means cosmogram. And how perfect to have this. You couldn't have a lower tech tool than some different colored sand and a chak-pur, and combining it with some of the cutting edge science trying to determine what the nature of consciousness, the nature of the universe. I love working between disciplines, so that there's no between anymore that we start to really blend and stop siloing things so much. So the sand mandalas are traditionally done in groups. I didn't find any monks that wanted to participate. I tried. They actually just needed to be paid, which I do understand. But I didn't have any money. So I did it myself.
It took two weeks. And as I think you saw, I mapped it out square foot by square foot. It was physically grueling. And at the same time, again, I already was into my plant medicine practice at this point. I was listening to Leonard Cohen's, You Want It Darker, on repeat through the entire time that I made this. And when you do that, you start to really again, what are we doing? Putting into perspective our own experiences, even our own discomfort. Discomfort can be a great catalyst for understanding things outside of ourselves.
And of course, you make something out of sand, it's meant to be destroyed. So in the Tibetan Buddhist practice, people are meant to come spend time with the mandala, get the blessing of the experience of being with it. And then they get destroyed. Sometimes the sand was put into a river. I didn't, because of all the coloring. I didn't like the idea of that. So I instead opted to actually sweep up all the sand and share it with people who came to visit. So I passed out the sand, so it could travel that way. So for those of you who've had medicine experiences, you'll definitely have likely some relationship with this idea of a world being created and destroyed and then created again.
One other project I'm going to share with you, it's called Selective History of the Space Time Continuum. So it starts before the big bang in a swirl of competing theories. And this is actually just about half of it. It goes 10 to the 101 billion years into the future. So as I said before when we were looking at Oldest Living Things, it's about lifespans and connecting in these different moments. With the selected history of the space time continuum, I thought, well, I'll do 13.8 billion years back. Maybe I'll mirror it and do it 13.8 billion years into the future.
This is another version of the same project. And then I spoke with some cosmologists who shared this theory in astrophysics about, speaking of the apocalypse as well, when the universe will end. And this theory it's very compelling. It talks about like right now, we're in this stelliferous era. Meaning we're surrounded by stars. And new stars are still being created. But as the universe expands, eventually those gases will be too diffuse. So new stars won't be able to be created. That's called the degenerate era, which people tend to find pretty funny.
And then followed by the black hole era, where everything starts to be swallowed by itself. And finally, the dark era, where you might every once in a very, very, very, very long while have one particle bump into another particle. And so just having that conversation with a cosmologist changed my entire-- I was like, oh, I was going to be happy with 13.8 billion. Maybe we'll go 20 billion into the future, 10 to the 101 billion. All of a sudden, again, it's a way to radically disorient yourself as a way to actually find yourself.
So I've done a few installations of this project. I assume they're going to finish their studies. So again, I got this idea after I started my medicine practice. I can't say that this was generated by the medicine. But it was definitely generated by this change in thinking. So it's like the exploration is getting deeper. Also this idea of creating safety everywhere is so important. So for me, in doing my healing work, the most important thing is creating a sense of security and self-love.
So I want to sort of shift back into plant medicine mode for a few minutes. So one of the things I mentioned from my first ceremony, I understood that my internal dialogue was something that was really unkind. And somebody started talking to me about self-love I'm like, well, how do you do that? I don't know what that means. Because I wasn't taught I was lovable. So it was like a really big hurdle to cross.
So one of the things that has become a constant tool of mine is the Ho'oponopono. I see a few smiles. So the Ho'oponopono is a Hawaiian practice. It's a mantra essentially that's meant to be the most loving things that you can say to yourself or to one another. So it's four things. It's I love you, I'm sorry, please forgive me, thank you. And you can say it to yourself from yourself. You can say it to yourself from anyone. Like say your dad never said he loved you. You could say, I love you. I love you. I love you, energetically from whomever you would like and from you to anyone else.
And it's something so simple. And yet, for me and a number of people that I know, has been a huge transformer. And it's something that the medicine is able to help us with in a way that talk therapy never was able to. You could tell me to be more loving. It didn't make any sense. And the medicine actually had to teach me how to do it. And then it was my job to run with the ball. It's like, OK, here's a tool for you. Are you going to choose to use it?
I think we had said five years ago, four or five years ago, there's no way this many people in the room would have raised their hand when I said, who knows what Ayahuasca is? It is coming out of the jungle to meet what is happening, the crisis in the climate, the crisis of spirit that's happening on this planet. I also want to mention drinking Ayahuasca is not for everyone. It can be an incredibly intense experience. I do want to say everybody benefits when people get together to drink. Because it's both a deeply cleansing and healing personal experience. And it's a collective experience for those in the room.
I just want to say, when we do our own healing, that means other people don't have to do that for us. We change. We become better citizens. We become better friends. We become better parents and children and spouses. I mentioned in my Oldest Living Things book I was struggling with this difficult relationship. I actually met my husband in an Ayahuasca ceremony. Umbanda it's called. It's an Afro-Brazilian syncretic practice. I won't go into that. Because we could talk about that for a whole hour.
But when we met, I was finishing up some work. I had some stuff I was processing. And when I finished it, the medicine said, that guy. And not long after that, it said, you guys have to get married. And he didn't disagree. So it worked out pretty well. But so in some ways, I think of Ayahuasca as a matchmaker. But first, the match that it had to make was with myself. And that was the most profound experience I've had in my life.
And in the work that's come out, sometimes it was really scary, really painful. Now, if something painful is uncovered when I'm in a ceremony, I think, oh my gosh, thank you. I am so grateful that something has come up that I can now love and that I can heal. And I didn't have that foundation before. I told you before, I was like, oh, I was an atheist, I said pretty flippantly. I've now had experiences of channeling the Egyptian goddess, Isis, or the Buddhist deity, White Tara. Or the Virgin Mary and I had a chat.
And it's something that I never would have guessed, just as much as I never would have imagined I'd be speaking here about these things with you and talking about something that's both really personal and something that I just want to share with everybody. Because I had no idea my life could transform in this way. Another thing, looking back at The Oldest Living Things, in part, I was looking for love. I was like, I'm going to do this work for everybody. And I hope that I'm going to get some love. And I'm not wrong to have done the project.
But I had these places in me that I wasn't able to care for myself. And through the process of doing this really deep, emotional work, I can care for myself now. And it's something that I truly believe-- and by the way, the Virgin Mary said this to me also. Just take it as you will. That when we do our personal work, when we show up with self-love, that we are on the path. That everything we do falls in line behind that. That when we show up in a place of understanding that we're caring for our innocence, that we're caring for the divinity within ourselves, that we walk from a place of integrity, that we are healing the collective.
But you can't do it for someone else first. You have to do it for yourself first. So I always use the airline oxygen mask thing, like put your own oxygen mask on first. You pass out, you're not helping anyone. Someone actually has to come help you. What time is it? How much time do we have left?
Well, we have until 7:00.
Oh OK. So I'm going to-- is that right?
Yeah, it's 6:45.
OK, so I'm just going to close there. That's my husband. He's right there. So I'm just going to close it there. And I would love to take any questions that you have about organisms, or entities, or anything you want, Virgin Mary. Thank you.