Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, is a chemical compound that occupies a peculiar position in our cultural consciousness.
A powerful psychedelic (some would argue the most powerful of any yet discovered), and a Schedule I prohibited drug allegedly with a “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States, yet it is also found widely in nature and is produced during normal metabolism in the human brain, where it may function as a neurotransmitter. It’s hypothesized that the release of naturally-produced endogenous DMT in our brains may play a role in REM-sleep dreaming and may inform near-death experiences and religious visions.
DMT visions are remarkable. There is really no way to approach conveying the experience without resorting to art or poetry, but certain commonalities have been noted: DMT psychonauts will first fall through a chrysanthemum-like mandala of color, and sometimes then find themselves in a completely different reality where they will often encounter beings that have variously been described as aliens, machine elves, or just “entities.” What goes on in DMT space is unique to each person who enters it, but those returning report often terrifying experiences of death and rebirth, the approach of the divine, and the experience of being guided and healed of psychic wounds.
Film director Mitch Schultz’s life was changed by DMT. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Schultz earned a Bachelor of Science in media production, communication theory, and information mapping at the University of Texas at Austin, and completed a Master of Fine Arts degree at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. After his first DMT experience, he found himself inspired to create a series of four documentaries about the substance. Though much of this work is still in production, the first film, DMT: The Spirit Molecule was completed in 2010 and introduces Rick Strassman’s research work and the concept of DMT as a conduit to our understanding of psychic dimensions beyond those familiar to us. The film is a veritable who’s who of those on the frontiers of consciousness exploration, with interviews from writers Erik Davis, Graham Hancock and Daniel Pinchbeck, painter Alex Grey, ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, psychologist Ralph Metzner, anthropologist Jeremy Narby, ethnobotanist Kathleen Harrison, Strassman himself (a psychiatrist) and many more.
Schultz has made the film widely available via download and streaming on the Internet, and also at theater and film festival screenings across the globe. Crossing over into interactive media, Schultz’s DMTremix Project is a web-based experience that allows visitors to edit and create their own DMT-on-film experience utilizing interviews, b-roll, visual effects, music, and sound files, all available as resources under a Collective Commons license. Schultz talked with CATALYST about his experience with DMT, his philosophy of psychedelics, and his creative work.
CATALYST: You directed The Spirit Molecule, which follows Dr. Rick Strassman’s FDA-sanctioned study of dimethyltryptamine. Why did you decide to make a film about DMT?
The simple answer, a personal DMT experience in 2002. I had never heard about Dr. Strassman’s research; it was that experience that brought me to his work. A close friend was moving out of the country, and several of us gathered to see him off. One brought a small amount of DMT, and as it turned out, he was the only one there that had ever even heard of DMT.
I considered myself an experienced psychonaut and explained to him that I knew what to expect based on past psychedelic explorations. He laughed. I was the third one to take the DMT, and by the second inhalation things began to shift very quickly. He encouraged me to take two more inhalations (I’m still not sure how I pulled that off), and immediately went into what I can only explain as dying experience. I had never been so afraid, and did my best to hold on. After approximately one minute the fear passed, and it turned out to be one of the most beautiful experiences in my life.
Almost immediately upon my return to consensus reality, I knew I would make this film. The 10-minute experience changed the core of my being, provided a drastically new outlook on life, and ultimately became the impetus for my psychedelic research and life direction.
What is the focus of your current psychedelic research?
Healing, personal growth and spirituality. Now, of course, each of these can intersect with the next, but without two of the three present it’s not worth going there. Ultimately, I believe the core of what we search for as humans lies at the intersection of all three, so I put my focus on uncovering ways to make them overlap. I’ve always had a sense that psychedelic mindspace is fully integrated with a multi-dimensional matrix of “life” that can be mapped, navigated and shaped in unimaginable ways. It’s reality hacking.
In your experience, do psychedelics act only on the mind?
Yes, but there is so much more to it. The general question everyone asks is, is it just your brain on drugs or are you having close encounters of the third kind? I’ve come to think it’s a combination of both. The cathartic emotions, shifts in time and space, entity communication, physical/psychological healing, and the variety of other experiences that we just can’t wrap a vocabulary around seem to be more than just an internal occurrence. Science continues to discover ways that our entire being is networked on multiple levels of reality, and this becomes very apparent with altered states of consciousness connected to an interactive biological matrix. My sense is that the brain opens up its range of sensory awareness, bringing insight into our minds, but at the same time we experience a variety of other energetic forces that remain hidden in consensus reality and play a role in our everyday life.
Psychedelic experiences can reveal human potential to be infinite. Can you describe life in a psychedelic world? Is this a good idea?
The dream, the reality, the imagined; all are contributing to the conditions of daily life—each of these arenas influence our thoughts, habits and decision-making.
Examined close up, even the most still parts of life are full of movement and dynamic change. Rocks erode. Everything is in a constant state of decay or rejuvenation.
In considering a state of psychedelic cohesion, is a psychedelic state a more immediate and direct awareness of this actual and constant reality?
Through personal trials and tribulations, I’ve come to understand my journey as a way to offer help to humanity with the concepts that have been revealed to me. And although the last decade has allowed me to solidify my musings, it has been a lifelong process. The culmination of my 38 years on this planet has resulted in a tetralogy of projects that make up the four-part Manifeso that aims to redefine our connection to Spirit, however understood or represented by any individual or larger culture.
Many have seen your documentary The Spirit Molecule, the first part of this Manifesto. Please share with us how you see the whole manifesto taking shape.
It begins with DMT: The Spirit Molecule exploring a new paradigm for consciousness, quantum consciousness. At the center of awareness lies this simple, natural molecule that may exist in all living organisms. This is a molecule that consistently produces a mystical experience, and it may be the seed to the ultimate connection to that experience. Viewed through the lens of entheogens, consciousness encounters the quantum world, generating and fostering gnosis, but this state of consciousness can also be explored via a variety of ancient and esoteric knowledge around the world.
Your next film, Ground of Being, documents a thriving eco-village built as an effort of restoration, rehabilitating an exhausted bluestone quarry in Australia. The community maintains an urban farm and an environment and education centre. Can you tell us a little bit more about the movie?
Ground of Being, which is now in editing, builds from the knowledge attained from quantum awareness, and addresses humanity’s role and symbiotic relationship to the life force of Earth. Through food and general sustainability practices, our physicality, thought, emotions and behaviors directly relate to how we recognize and care for natural world. By acknowledging our connection to everything around us, we can create a successful realignment with nature that begins with the individual, grows into local community, and blossoms into a well integrated whole; mimicking the life force that we exist in.
How about the following film?
The third film, Global Beat (based on Derek Beres’ book of the same title) examines the interpretation, and celebration, of spirit through music. Music has always been a ritual and social activity, a personal connection and a communal art shared by many. Music is the soul of a culture. Global Beat Fusion uncovers the computer as the first global folk instrument that international musicians share their respective cultural soul via the electronic space and, in turn, cross-germinating their mythologies to the world creating a meta-mythology.
And the conclusion?
This work concludes with the communication component, which now carries the working title of Open Source Reality. It asks for the evolution of consciousness, physicality and interpretation of spirit. For this to take place we need to develop a new language of maps, models and metaphors to re-interpret the misguided mythologies that have directed humanity for millennium, and which now plague the social fabric.
What are your thoughts on intellectual property vs idea sharing?
Rather than ‘property,’ think abundance—an intellectual smorgasbord. All ideas are open source, if we believe the source of inspiration is infinite. Through this open sourcing and idea sharing, we redefine our mythologies, incorporating the quantum physical realm. We are constantly connected and related to a heavenly presence and source. Additionally, data is prolific throughout the world, and the Internet makes all this information broadly accessible, allowing for the discovery and rediscovery of lost traditions. This process is illuminating a clearer understanding of new and emerging tribal beats, new stories, new technologies and innovations, and new mythologies created and shared.
Terra Cronshey has been director of a loud-sound art theme camp/village from Utah at Burning Man for the past three years. She is the festival accounting coordinator for Sundance Film Festival. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mitch Schultz in Utah
June 7-10: See Mitch Schultz at Green River’s Desert Rocks festival for a screening of The Spirit Molecule and footage from his current project Ground of Being. www.DesertRocks.org.
June 15: Mitch Schultz will be in Salt Lake City for a three-hour workshop and screening of The Spirit Molecule. 7-10pm at Crone’s Hollow. $50. 2470 So. Main St.
Starting June 24: Join Mitch Schultz on a co-creative journey into transformational film-making and learn how you can help mix the open-source code for a new planetary culture. Three sessions, starting June 24, 1pm Mountain daylight time. Info: www.Evolver.net