Daniel Pinchbeck has written features for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Wired, Harper's Bazaar, The Village Voice, Salon, and many other publications. He is one of the founders of Open City, an art and literary journal, and an independent book publisher. He was a 1999 - 2000 Fellow of the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University. He has also been a columnist for The Art Newspaper of London, and an editor at Connoisseur Magazine. Born in 1966, he grew up in New York City, where his father, Peter Pinchbeck, was an abstract painter. His mother, Joyce Johnson, was part of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. She is the author of several books, including Minor Characters, a memoir. He went to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, then worked as a magazine editor and journalist.
In the late 1990s, after years of working in the media, Pinchbeck fell into the classic existential or spiritual crisis. Life seemed to have no point or transcendent meaning. He began to feel as if he was already dead, a ghost walking around the streets of Manhattan. At some point he recalled his fascination with psychedelic mushrooms and LSD in college. He experimented again, and his experiences inspired him to travel to Nepal and India, where he visited Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and the sacred Hindu festival Kumbh Mehla.
Back in New York, he began to study shamanism and the magical plants used in rituals. On assignment, he went to Gabon, in West Africa, and took iboga, a long-lasting psychedelic rootbark, in an initiation ceremony. He visited a shaman in Oaxaca, the son of the famous shamaness Maria Sabina. He attended a conference on "Visionary Entheobotany" in Palenque, Mexico and visited Burning Man. He went down to the Ecuadorean Amazon to visit the Secoya tribe and take ayahuasca, a visionary medicine.
Breaking Open the Head describes his own process of discovery, and a profound paradigm shift. He admits to still being surprised - even extremely astonished - at what he has found. Through direct experience, Pinchbeck learned that shamanism was a real phenomenon, that direct access to the spiritual world is available to anybody who is willing to explore for themselves and escape the prevailing orthodoxies, the "irrational rationality" of the current system. He supports the perspective of Christ in the Gnostic "Gospel of Thomas," who said: "Open the door for yourself, so you will know what is."