Stories from a place called home — Amit and the shamanic secret to thriving in a digital world

Yoav Goldwein
11 min readApr 21, 2022

As children, we are more receptive to the magic of the unknown. Instead of rationalizing it, we accept it as given and build additional stories in our minds to the fables and tales we were told. Growing up on the stories of the bible or the fiction of Scandinavian fairy tales, I developed a strong relation to mysticism as an adolescent. In my early 20s, when it was time to leave the nest I grew up in and find my own home, it became clear to me that the city of Jerusalem had to be that place. Back in those days, it was not a very safe city to live in. But somehow during my former visits, as I was walking the old city’s winding streets, smelling the traits of sandalwood incense in the air and hearing the sounds of prayers in ancient dialects, I felt invincible and powerful. Like if I was naturally tuning into the city’s frequency and just merged with the alleys’ rhythm of life.

On the first day of spring of 2006, shortly after enrolling in the local university, it was time to start scouting the holy hills for a space I can call my own. I convinced one of my friends to tag along and together we went on the first expedition to find my first home.

I collected a few phone numbers and newspaper ads cut in advance (this was before smartphones) so that I could have a head start while exploring these new territories. During our day-long wandering, one neighborhood caught my attention particularly: Ein Karem.
Ein Karem is an old picturesque district built on the ruins of an Arabic village from the Ottoman Empire on the western slopes of Jerusalem. In this magical place, surrounded by hills and pine forests, it was/is believed that the Virgin Mary had stopped on her way to Bethlehem 2000 years ago to give birth to one of the world’s long-lasting celebrities.

The landscape features spires of mystical churches that rise among the old stone buildings and the secret gardens. They are holding on to the slopes to mark a territory and a narrative that shall never be forgotten.

There is a saying in the Talmud that 10 measures of beauty were gifted to the world. 9 were given to Jerusalem and one to the rest of the world. I would say that 8 out of those 9 have landed in Ein Karem.

Determined to turn this dream into my reality, I checked every local ad board, asked strangers on the street, and walked every alley looking for a sign until the sun was about to set.
Just before I was about to leave, defeated and disappointed, I spotted a petite hand-written note glued to the window of a bus station. In a clumsy, almost child-like handwriting, it was offering a studio apartment for rent in the center of the village.

“One last place to check,” I begged my friend, whose impatience was growing, and called the number on the note. The flat owner on the other end of the line invited us to come and see the place right away. 2 minutes later and we were there, in a small charming alley just across the main road.

It was an old Arabic stone house with a rustic vibe and a weird asymmetric division that seemed more romantic than practical. It included handmade wooden furniture and a charming small iron fireplace like you see in old movies.

It felt like all the paths of the universe had led me here and that my search for a new home has come to a blissful end. 2 weeks passed and I was already unpacking my boxes in my own little queer castle. On my first day in the hood, I found a job in a local restaurant, a spitting distance from my doorstep, and spent the next 2 years filling the house with the laughter of new friends, the smell of home-cooked meals, and romantic evenings in front of the fireplace.

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When synchronicity enlightens your life journey, one cannot help to wonder if there is some sort of magic that directs us in a certain way. I felt that magic again when I arrived in a lonely house in the middle of a forest in Brazil, to be surprisingly welcomed by a scientist from… Jerusalem.

It was a hazy afternoon when I went to check a remote property in Bahia, recommended by a local server. Even though I had no money to invest in such an adventure, I couldn’t help playing with the idea of rooting myself between the mango and coconut trees of this little piece of heaven. Amit had just woken up when I knocked on his door and was a bit reluctant to communicate with the stranger who had just intruded on his space without warning. He was renting the house for the entire month to have a space for resting between ayahuasca retreats and was not planning to have a conversation with anyone besides the one in his own head.
But for me, when I sense the presence of that magic of synchronicity, I insist on exploring it until I reveal what it is supposed to teach me.

Eventually, Amit gave in to my curiosity and after washing his face with cold water, we sat down on the balcony overlooking the dense, lush, green forest. I almost choked on my fresh coconut water as he presented himself with the long title of ‘a human-computer interaction researcher currently exploring spirituality and consciousness through the practice of psychedelic substances’.

Noticing my confusion and attempts to translate that statement into my aging brain, Amit continued to explain further:

“My research has always been about the integration of traditional practices and contemporary ones. We, Humans, position ourselves somewhere between nature and God, between an animal and a machine. Right now we are at a stage where we might feel detached from both, and I explore the way how psilocybin might reconnect us to these two worlds.”

Just like me, Amit’s fate led him to another green valley in Jerusalem (Ein Yael) a few years ago, where he decided to settle after a painful breakup. The magic of that choice was fully realized when the complex he was residing in was bought several months later by a… shaman.
Synchronicity at its best.

After hearing about his work, the new landlord pushed him to explore further with Ayahuasca in a little place he knows in Brazil. Now he is here, for one month, replacing the intense spiritual realm of Jerusalem in the one of the jungle and working to deepen his knowledge of shamanism.

Amit’s affair with shamanism started a few years back while doing a bachelor’s degree at the same university where I did mine. In one of the experiments he was conducting, he built an unusual robot that was inspired by traditional African sculptures of goddesses which were made as a vessel to absorb rage. The robot could be tortured and even dismantled as a way for users to transfer their pain and anger into an object and, through that, enact a sort of spiritual practice. This manifestation of God in a machine and our interaction with computer technology is something he explores further with ayahuasca.

“When taking ayahuasca in the jungle, you may ‘see’ and ‘communicate’ with the spirits of the jungle. But do not be mistaken. Those spirits are only a manifestation of the information you collect from the jungle. It is your own intuition you see in the form of a spirit that guides you through the jungle.
It means that whatever you need to know, you already know, but you are not trained to take responsibility for that, so your subconscious is giving you a guide.

Now imagine you do ayahuasca, not in the jungle, but in a virtual reality designed by programmers and scientists. You will still see the spirits, but what type of intuition will they represent? What will you learn about the nature of this digital world and its designers through that opening of your subconscious?

Technology can be very manipulative if you stay at a lower level of consciousness and take it as it is without noticing the signs and symbols that are much deeper.

As “digital shamans” we can sense beyond the advertisement, violence, and porn, and understand the subtext of this tech age.
Rather than enslaving ourselves to technology, we can see the world clearer through it and become closer to — gods”

It takes me some time to digest this revolutionary idea and to suspend my guards. The recent developments in technology, and in particular Artificial Intelligence (AI), evoke a deep fear inside me. I believe we have gained too much power and not enough consciousness to handle all the possibilities that have been opened for us. With the fast development of AI, the doomsday prophecies of machines taking over humanity seem closer than ever, and it feels like at any given moment things can get completely out of control.

Amit empathizes with my worries and then asks me to consider it from another perspective: “Through practicing with mushrooms here, I learned that if you walk in the jungle in harmony, nothing will hurt you. The birds, spiders, cicadas, and trees in the jungle are all one — they are constantly communicating and taking decisions as an entire forest. When I make my way through the bushes under the influence of psilocybin, I feel like an integral part of the system and not fighting against it. It’s like riding a horse. If the horsewoman is very skilled, she doesn’t need to do anything to direct the horse. They become one.”

Ecosystems of nature are complex and the result of billions of years of evolution — I respond — yet the technology we create, which is becoming an integral part of our reality, is a manifestation of a relatively short-term collective memory and knowledge. The simple binary language we base our computers on, made out of 1 and 0, is rapidly replacing billions of years of nature’s evolution and soon this will be the only language we could speak.

“We have to be a little patient,” Amit insists. “When we develop a technology, we start by imitating what we know at the time. After the initial imitation, we, together with the technology, get more mature and start to develop in all essences. It is true in all fields of technology, not just the digital ones. In music, for example, the first synthesizer imitated piano and was very limited in creating a certain range of sounds. However, since then, electronic music grew and developed, and today stands as a whole new world of sounds that we didn’t even know existed when we started using keyboards instead of strings.

So if now technology or virtual reality tries to imitate our ways of living, in the future they will allow us to explore new realities. This is not something we should change or try to stop, we cannot “fix” the world or change its course, it’s futile, all we can and need to do is to learn how to relate to this future better and advance with it.”

The way to do that, according to Amit, is by exploring shamanism and consciousness-altering substances that allow us to connect better to ourselves. Through a deeper understanding of ourselves, we can work on our flaws and handle the power given to us as humans (and the one that we invest into the technology) more responsibly.

The Kabbalah, a Jewish philosophical and mystical textbook from the 13th century, inspects the relationship between humans and God in depth. As a part of his study, Amit went deeper into the mystery of this ancient wisdom to gain additional perspectives about our place in the world.

“One teaching that got my attention is the discipline of ‘Narrowing’ (Zimzum in Hebrew).
It means that we humans start from a space of infinity and, gradually, with the progress of life, we are being narrowed to become who we are. In the beginning, from all the prospective parents, we are born into two specific ones. Once it is done, all the other options are not relevant anymore, and we get the specific genes that make us who we are. Then there is another narrowing, which is the room we grow up in, the surrounding environment, the culture, etc. All of these narrow our world down from infinity to something very specific. This narrowing is sometimes very tight, and it cracks under the pressure we, and the world around us, impose. Reality is then revealed to us only through those cracks/traumas, and that shapes the way we see the world.
By going through a spiritual process, we broaden this narrowing as much as we can and heal the cracks so we can see the greater reality as it is and not through the prism of pain.”

Healing the trauma and opening our minds to the bigger picture will perhaps allow us to see the “magic” or simply the order of the things outside of our narrow consciousness. Perhaps it is all leading somewhere that we are yet to see and understand.

All the existential threats of this modern age I am confronted with on a daily basis (climate catastrophe, rising dictatorships, pandemics, the age of the machines, and so on), infuse me with a constant fear that the world as I know it is slipping out of my grasp and will soon resemble a scene of a dystopian future.

This growing anxiety and helplessness would ideally drive me to action, but in reality, it mostly just paralyzes me to think that the scope of the problem is far too big for my little hands.

“It’s enough to do the archaeological work of sorting out the unique pieces within yourself and trying to fit them together. That is a function that is worth living for. And from this perspective, we are already making the world a better place”.
- says Amit, before he disappears back into his inner jungle, leaving me a bit more hopeful and a bit less fearful.

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Fear has a vicious mechanism as it drives us to take actions to defend ourselves that might not consider the greater good. If it is the farmer in the Amazon who burns the forest to provide food security to his family, the entrepreneur who compromises on sustainability to save his business, or the countries who prioritize an arms race to education to protect themselves from the vision of potential destruction.

But what if modern technology will allow us to build a reality where fear does not exist? Where we can walk safely in the forest without worrying about venomous snakes or starvation. Would we still act in a way that prioritizes ourselves or work together to solve the bigger problems?

While it is unlikely that the world will run out of risks anytime soon, in the digital world, things can happen faster. Already today, technology users are buried in their screens and easily avoid the tyrannies and discomforts of the outside world. Every day, we are getting closer to designing a virtual world that is completely safe and doesn’t require us to deal with the complexity of life on this planet. Once we will be soaked into this scenario — what will become of us?

A dark “matrix” scenario comes to my mind, but what if the real world, run by the machines, will actually become the healthy place it was before our species invaded it with our insecurities and unconscious minds?

According to the Middle-Eastern monotheistic religions, on the day of the apocalypse, the Messiah will enter the gates of Jerusalem, riding a white horse or surrounded by bright light, and restore the world to the heaven that it used to be before Eve had eaten from the cursed apple.

Jerusalem has been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years, dwelling in the stories of salvation while torn apart by conflicts. But perhaps The Messiah is already there, penetrating the city’s gates slowly through the electricity cables and the computer networks that increasingly surround us like the growing mycelium under our feet. Perhaps instead of fearing that change, we just need to surrender and trust that this is the path to synchronicity.

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Yoav Goldwein

Everywhere and nowhere. Urbanist, researcher, social anthropologist and a huge fan of human humans. https://yoavgoldwein.wixsite.com/intrinsicurbanism