Jamie Wheal unboxes today’s crisis
After years of shivering in snow-capped caves and mountain peaks, Jamie Wheal came to understand why he willingly caught azure waves or hurtled frozen powder over sheer cliffs, but could never make it to the sport room. The concept of flow – this moment “in the zone” where you are so absorbed that you lose track of time – was at the heart of her 2017 bestseller, Steal fire, which put Wheal on the map in the world of biohacking. Yet almost no mention of the concept appears in his latest book, Reclaiming the Rapture, which hit the shelves last April. Instead, he returned to his academic roots, examining what brought the company to the brink and if there is a way back.
Regarding the flow, you have been called a thought leader.
Oh my God, that makes you vomit. It just seems pretentious super-duper.
How would you describe your job then?
All I do is try to keep up with the questions that fascinate or confuse me.
In Reprise, you don’t seem like a fan of biohacking even though you have become famous because of it.
Not at all. I shared the stage with Dave Asprey a while back, and my speech was “Once you’re bulletproof, what bullets are you going to march on whose behalf?” For me, biohacking – which gives the impression of having been overtaken by paleo and the next flavors of the month – is intensely individualistic and narcissistic. The most of [my link to it] comes from the subtitle of Steal fire, to the right? I hated that fucking subtitle. This was imposed on us by our publisher to make it more marketable.
You’ve strayed from the specific teaching flow these days. What are you focused on?
It’s the notion of how to move people from the pre-tragic [level of consciousness] to the tragic to the post-tragic? Pre-tragic is that everything will work out. You are drawn into the tragic, and it is as if nothing was going to work out. But there is a way out. You look at Mandela, [Martin Luther] King, Gandhi. We will not teach you anything until you are ready to embrace the tragedy of this human experience in a mature form and hold it back. We will also share with you the joy: ecstasy; celebration; the things that make it bearable. But make no mistake about it. You are hooked.
In short, what is wrong with the world?
The simplest is a global collapse into shared epistemics. We no longer agree that what we watch and describe are both important and the same. Take the WHO: either it’s an NGO to the rescue [during] a global pandemic, or they are in the reservoir for dark interests like China and secretly organizing a Communist takeover. We are on the verge of post-enlightenment consensus collapse.
In some ways, this city is literally a zero point for understanding this clash of cultures. Austin is like the puddle that breaks and crashes between ocean and shore. You’ve got great cultural creativity, high progressive street-cred values, and a lot of people come from coastal areas, and – at the same time – it’s a red sea of libertarian anti-statism.
Let’s talk about the taboos you suggest that we use to find meaning.
If everyone was humming happily right now, it wouldn’t be worth walking on those tracks. But given that we are both adrift in a crisis of meaning and in diseases of despair, it is clear that something is wrong. The notion of taboos [is] also indicate that they are powerful and meaningful. We shouldn’t shy away from these things because they have taboos. We should use this to mean that there is something powerful under each of them.
Reprise was not as successful as Steal fire That much. Is it frustrating?
I knew when I was holding Steal fire in my hands, it was the most commercial book I was ever going to write because it was the bridge across the river from consensual reality to a realm of heightened possibilities. I wasn’t going to write more books crossing the river. I have to write down what I think I have to write.
Does it all come back to the community? Is this what we need?
For sure. We yearn for purpose and for transcendence. We yearn for healing and integration, and we yearn for community and connection. It’s a three-legged stool. If you have a community without transcendence and without healing, you end up with boring and dysfunctional group thinking. If you have peak states without a base or community, you end up with megalomania or inflation. And if you have healing without a goal, no purpose, or higher ground to aspire to, you just find yourself stuck in endless personal growth. It’s a trialectic between the three, and that’s what makes the world go round.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.