Q&A: Author And Religious Studies Professor Martin W. Ball Talks 5-meO-DMT


by Damon Orion

on July 8, 2015

As well as being the host of the podcast The Entheogenic Evolution, Martin W. Ball, Ph.D. is an adjunct professor of religious studies and the author of several books on entheogenic spirituality. His latest written work is Being Infinite – An Entheogenic Odyssey into the Limitless Eternal: A Memoir from Ayahuasca to Zen.

In 2008, after devoting several years of his life to the academic study of spirituality, Martin had a textbook mystical experience under the influence of 5-meO-DMT, the psychoactive compound found in a number of plant species and in the venom of the Sonoran desert toad. This and his many subsequent 5-meO-DMT experiences have profoundly impacted his life, work, and spiritual development.

Reset: Tell me about the 5-meO-DMT experience in 2008 that changed it all for you.

Martin Ball: Prior to my first real 5-meO experience, I had experienced 5-meO through yopo seeds, which come from a Central and South American tree, and contain 5-meO-DMT. I got an effect from that, but certainly it wasn’t anything like what I’d heard 5-meO-DMT was capable of producing. Then I was invited to go over to a friend’s place to experience toad venom. He gave me a relatively small dose… and something I’ve learned about toad venom is that if you’re going to get a full-release dose of 5-meO-DMT from it, you really need to take a lot of it, because it’s in very small concentrations within the venom. So I vaporized that, and I lay down for about 20 minutes. It was just kind of dreamy and floaty. At that time I had been working a lot with Salvia divinorum — particularly enhanced-leaf Salvia divinorum. If you’re at all familiar with that, you take a hit, and then all of a sudden the whole universe unzips, turns inside out a few times and then zips back up together. That was kind of my benchmark for what a powerful experience was like, so the toad venom experience was kind of, “Hmm, yeah, so what?” It really wasn’t any different from smoking yopo seeds. And this friend said, “No, no. You’ve really got to get the full dose.”

Photo: Martin with wife, Jessalynn at Burning Man, 2010 for the International Tryptamine Summit.

Photo: Martin with wife, Jessalynn at Burning Man, 2010 for the International Tryptamine Summit.

About a month later, he had some pure 5-meO. I got about two-thirds of the way through the hit, and I’m still inhaling, but at that point, it already became so powerful that the thought that went through my mind was, “Oh, my god! This is it!” It opened up to a psychedelic experience that was just light-years beyond anything I’d ever experienced up until that point. It made Salvia divinorum seem tame and mundane!

The next thought was, “Oh, my god. It’s God!” This expansion just got bigger and bigger and bigger — and within a matter of seconds, it became absolutely infinite. The first thing out of my mouth within seconds of taking the hit was, “Thank you, God!” From my perspective, this clearly was an experience of God. This wasn’t just some psychedelic realm or some curious mental state; this was a full immersion into absolute, infinite being. Then my hands went up in the air, and I was in this posture of embrace. I was simultaneously laughing and crying, and for about 45 minutes, I was just lying there rocking back and forth, saying, “Thank you. Thank you.”

Prior to that experience, if someone had asked me, “Have you ever experienced God directly, my answer unequivocally would have been, “No. Absolutely not.” I’ve always been very careful about my use of language and how I would describe my experiences with psychedelics or entheogens, and so for me, that really was the honest answer. Now, if someone had said, “Have you experienced something sacred?” I would have said yes. “Have you experienced something spiritual?” Absolutely. Yes. But also keep in mind that I’m coming from a background of having a Ph.D. in religious studies, and a major part of my studies was comparative mysticism. So I’ve read many, many accounts of different mystics and different traditions that talk about unitary consciousness, infinite being, pure consciousness, the nature of God, the mystical experience. It was quite clear to me that nothing I had ever experienced was on par with what I was aware of through various mystical traditions. There were some hints; there were some shadings of those kinds of experiences: a feeling of oneness; of connection; of transcending space and time to some degree. But when I really read those accounts — like, if I were to read a Buddhist account of the pure nature of the mind, something in Tibetan Buddhism which talks about the dawning of the pure white light and the completely empty nature of the self in relationship to this pure white light — I would have honestly said, “No. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

But with the 5-meO-DMT, that just so clearly was what my experience was. In terms of its visual quality, [the] 5-meO-DMT [experience] is kind of like pure white light that’s being refracted through an infinite fractal prism. My whole sense of my physical body completely dissolved within that experience. I mean, I was in a room in a house; my eyes were open, and the room completely dissolved away into this pure white light. In that time period, that was the only thing that existed. It existed infinitely from the past and infinitely into the future and expanded into all space and all time. There was nothing beyond that, and there was nothing separate from that. From the description of a mystical experience as being a unitary or non-dual experience in which there is no sense of separation, no self, no other, no subject, no object, and it’s just pure consciousness and pure being, that was the only reasonable way that I could describe this experience.

I also gravitated towards the word God, because from my experience, It was clearly intelligent; It was alive; It was a being; It was the All-Being; It was the being that everything else is a gradation and manifestation of. So for me, the word God became very appropriate. It was the natural word that came out of my mouth when I spoke. And also intellectually, later, within my own mind and in discussing the experience with other people, that was the only word that felt correct to me — not even something like “Buddha consciousness” or “Buddha mind” or something like that; something maybe a bit more philosophical or more traditionally “spiritual.” It was just, “No, this is God!” And God is everything. That includes you; it includes me; it includes this room; the medicine; the air; my thoughts; any experience I might ever have… it’s all just God. It’s this one infinite being that is infinitely intelligent and is essentially made out of love. Love is the fundamental energy out of which all other things are made, and that’s what this being is made out of: pure love, pure consciousness, pure being.

Reset: Can you talk a little about how 5-meO and other entheogens can help overcome energetic blocks?

MB: The way that I understand it, the reason that 5-meO works the way it does is that the energy level is so big — really, it becomes infinite when it opens up all the way — that it’s able to override the structures of the ego. The ego itself is just a collection of energetic patterns, and these patterns govern the way that we think, act, speak, gesture, and mobilize energy within our body. So, we have all this natural energy, but from the time that we’re small children, we start to make choices about how we’re going to express the things that we feel; how we’re going to think about ourselves; how we are going to use our bodies in relationship to objects and other beings. We establish all these patterns, and collectively, these patterns make up our notion of the self, and it’s always established through a dualistic reference point: it’s me in relation to someone else; it’s me in relation to the world; it’s me in relation to God; it’s me in relation to objects. So there’s always a duality that’s built into the energetic structures of the ego. Some of these patterns are perfectly benign, but a lot of them actually create distortions within ourselves, and they also create blocks within themselves.

A really simple example would be, let’s say as a kid, you hear music, and you just start dancing, because that’s a natural energetic reaction to that stimulus. But then as you’re getting older, you start to become aware that your dancing maybe doesn’t look like other people’s dancing, and maybe you think you want to look like other people. So you start to change what was a natural and authentic expression of energy for you. You’re starting to conform it into social and cultural standards. Or, even worse, someone comes along and says, “You can’t dance! You look stupid,” and then you add that to your personal narrative, your story of yourself. You start to be critical of yourself, and you say, “I can’t dance. Now I’m embarrassed about the way that I dance.” Now you’ve successfully created an energetic block within your system. Now music and dancing comes with a bunch of baggage for you as an individual. Now you’ve got this distortion within your energy, where you’re no longer able to react from a place that is authentic and genuine for you in that moment. You’re coming from a place of a mental construct of how you think things should be, and there’s lots of criticism, doubt, and judgment that’s involved in that. People accumulate these kinds of distortions and blocks through all different areas of their lives.

[That’s what] the potential of entheogens really is. I would define an entheogen as something that amplifies your immediate experience of your own energy. Through this amplification, it can dissolve some of these structures of the ego. And then if you have energy that’s been stored up, such as self-criticism, doubt, and fear, once those structures of the ego are gone, then that energy is able to release and ground out. This involves clearing out mental blocks, emotional blocks, physical blocks… All of these things are related; they’re just different ways of parsing out the nature of the self, but it’s all energy. There are all kinds of ways that people can release this stuff, but the main point is that people feel better afterwards. They feel like, “There’s this thing that I’ve been holding onto for years and years, and I’ve finally let it out.” And it’s able to reset their energetic system, so that then they can be more authentic, present, aware, and centered within themselves and within a sense of universal and unconditional love.

I would add that, for most people, this is a process. Even with something as powerful as 5-meO-DMT, this doesn’t happen all at once. For a lot of people, it takes repeated sessions to go through successively deeper layers of holding on and holding on to remove and let that stuff ground out. The upside is that energy is always just looking for a way to express itself and ground out, and the only thing that’s in our way is ourselves. It’s not anyone or anything else; it’s nothing outside of you; it’s not someone’s bad juju or your karma or witchcraft or the signals from Mars or whatever it is that people think is messing up their lives. It’s them. Every person is responsible for himself or herself. They’re the ones who have created the structure of their ego; they’ve created their own blocks for themselves. It’s up to them to set that down, wash themselves off and then step into life nice and fresh. Every person has that responsibility, but they also have the power and the ability to do it. Particularly when you’re using the right tools, it’s not that difficult. The more you just do nothing when you take an entheogen, the more likely this is to clear out on its own. It’s not about setting an intention or constructing the proper ritual or anything like that; it’s just, get out of the way and let the energy work itself out the way that it needs to.

Martin at the Podium(sm)

Reset: How have your psychedelic experiences affected your relationship to the idea of dying? Are you afraid of death?

MB: Oh, not at all. I feel like I’ve been through death many times with 5-meO. I understand the process. I enjoy it. It’s like, “Oh, I just get to let go!” Death is the ultimate thing that you don’t need to do anything about — you just let it happen to you.

Before my first 5-meO-DMT experience, I used to wonder a lot about, “Well, is there an afterlife, or is there reincarnation, or is death the end of the experience?” With my acceptance of the reality that everything is God — I’m God, you’re God, it’s all God, all the time — the idea that I could somehow destroy myself just became laughable. So, death isn’t necessarily the end, but it is the end of my individual experience as Martin. That’s kind of sad, because I enjoy the experience of being Martin, but it’s also kind of liberating, because life comes with all kinds of hardships, responsibilities, and things you need to do moment-to-moment and day-by-day. It puts it more into the context of, this is all just a gift, because this is my one opportunity to experience life as Martin. Maybe I should just enjoy it, make the most out of it. And since I know that everything is God, I’m not really afraid of anything at this point. I’m not really looking for physical pain or suffering, but I don’t have unnecessary anxieties, I don’t worry about things anymore. I’m not concerned about the state of my soul or spirit anymore.

I also don’t believe in an afterlife, because that’s going to be the end of Martin. Martin is just a character that’s held together by this body that I’m inhabiting at this moment, and when this body’s gone, Martin is gone. And that’s great, because that means all of Martin’s concerns are gone as well. It’s kind of like the eternal vacation, in a sense. But, see, the irony is that even though Martin is gone, the true I doesn’t ever go anywhere, because God is reality, and just because Martin disappears doesn’t mean reality is going to disappear. I am still here. I’ve always been here. I always will be here. It’s just that one life, that precious gift of experiencing myself as a human being, as this particular person known as Martin — that will be done. That will be over. That makes it precious! It makes it infinitely valuable. And from the personal perspective as well as the God perspective, I can say, “Look, I went to all this trouble to evolve this universe and evolve human beings so that I could experience myself as this one person for one life.” This is a statement that’s true for everyone, so I’m not claiming that it’s unique for the Martin character, but from my perspective as Martin, that’s a true statement: Wow, I must really love myself a lot to give myself this gift and this experience… and to put an expiration date on it! Because without an expiration date, nothing has value or meaning. Because everything is God, nothing is any more valuable than anything else, but from the individual, embodied perspective, whether I have a glass of water when I’m thirsty — that becomes very, very valuable, because there are energetic consequences for this embodiment based on what I experience within my reality and what is available to me. So everything becomes so, so precious. The beauty and the horror, it’s all something to savor. Everything is beautiful, no matter how horrible it is. I just love it — I love being alive. I love being, and I love everything and everyone. It’s so liberating just to love everyone rather than to have conditions on it… which doesn’t necessarily mean that I personally like everyone, but I’ve become very comfortable with the fact that I actually love everyone, because I love myself. And if I’m God, and if everyone is God, then that means I love everyone.

Reset: What are your thoughts on the illegality of your spiritual practice? Do you see hope for change in that area?

MB: I feel very, very strongly that this is something that needs to change, that this is a social and human rights injustice. And here the United States is actually kind of lagging behind. Some other countries have already started shifting their laws in regard to these things, and I think that eventually the United States is going to catch up. I think we’re on the cusp of all of this shifting, because now research has begun once more into this area, and we’re finding that many of these things that were classified as Schedule 1, addictive, dangerous, toxic substances are not actually addictive. They’re not actually toxic, and they have many psychological, emotional and spiritual benefits to their use as well. Especially with some of these psychedelic churches coming out, like Santo Daime and things like that. Studies have found that people who work with psychedelics in a ritual context actually tend to be more socially well adjusted, they have a better family life, more emotional resonance, and more empathy. The more that these things are studied, I think that’s going to give more impetus to changing the drug laws to reflect the reality rather than the hysteria. I think what we’re seeing, for example, in the area of marijuana laws is the beginning of what we’re going to start to see more on the psychedelic frontier. It might be a little bit slower and a little bit longer coming, but there are all these studies being done that show that [the use of psychedelics] is great for spirituality; that people have profound spiritual experiences, and they feel that it’s more meaningful than going to church, meditation hall, yoga, or whatever it is. So if we’re going to protect people’s religious and spiritual rights, well, we’ve got to protect these practices.

I think that we have a real issue in our country where we have a constitutional freedom to religious practice, but one of the things I like to point out is that at the time of the writing of the Constitution, everybody belonged to a church. Even though a lot of the founders of the United States were Deists — so they weren’t actually believing Christians — they still belonged to a church, because that was the social reality. You were born into it. The idea that someone might be “spiritual” but non-religious — that wasn’t a social reality 200 years ago. But that’s the largest-growing demographic in the modern Western world — people who identify as spiritual, but not affiliated with any religious tradition. Well, they don’t have any rights! So this is a place where we need to expand our definition of protected human rights. In my view, spiritual experience is something that should be a protected human right.