Monday, September 21, 2015

Adventures in Entheogens

Comcast is soon discontinuing its "Personal Web Page" service. I've got a bunch of stuff I put up there over the years, which will disappear when the service ends. I'm transferring some of it from there to this blog, for the benefit of future generations... 

Entheogen is the currently popular term for mind-altering substances. The older term hallucinogen has been rejected, since it unnecessarily presupposes that experiences so induced are unreal “hallucinations.” And the word psychedelic is out of vogue, due to its association with all that hippie shit.

Following are two pieces written years ago, inspired by such explorations.


S and C meet every month or two to research entheogens. On this occasion, they kept a small tape recorder nearby, turning it on periodically during the course of their inner travels, to capture snippets of conversation. The tape is transcribed here, in the name of Science, and for the amusement and stimulation of whatever minds encounter it.

S: We’re around 45 minutes into the experience. C, anything you’d like to share with our audience?

C: Well, S, nothing overwhelming, but maybe on the fringes, having gone through this experience before, I can… kind of a familiar feeling…the kind of a just… ahh… strange, the strange edges of the universe starting to creep into my reality. Feel a little bit of a… kind of a heightened alert… kind of a speedy… just a sense of being amped up a little more than normal. But no big visual hallucinations or anything.

S: Normally, one wouldn’t even notice that there are edges to perceptions, you know?

C: In the average, everyday world.

S: Yeah, I mean, once you see that there’re edges, then you’ve got to wonder what’s beyond the edges.

C: Nope, no edges!

The conversation naturally turns to religion and spirituality. Both have experience with Zen meditation, which includes sitting practice, as well as doing full prostrations.

S: When you’re just sitting there and just looking at the floor, it’s so neutral, and it’s kind of easier just to sit, just to look at it and perceive it with the view that, OK, this is truth. When you’re bowing, and it’s kind of like painful and exhausting and all, it’s, uhh..

C: The floor becomes the evil task-master.

S: Yeah, it’s more of a difficult attainment just to see it as: ahh, this is just what it is, this is just truth.

C: Gives it a completely different flavor. Although you can see it’s just the same thing! You’re still seeing the same energy. It’s just your mind that changes.

S: In Christianity, in Judaism, or in theistic religion, you have this calling out, where you’re like calling out to God. We don’t necessarily have that in Zen, and some people miss that. You know what I’m saying?

C: Yeah, we really don’t have that vision of God. In the Book of Lamentations, book of the Bible, God doesn’t really say or do anything, but it’s just kind of like the whole tone of the book is: “We’re in this fucking shitty situation, this is too much suffering, how could you fucking do this to us?” Just this kind of grief and despair, almost like Job, same kind of situation, God doesn’t… there’s not really a response from God.

S: Yeah. People generally think that at the end of Job it’s somehow resolved like, “Oh! God does these evil things because it all works out in the best.” But it really isn’t. The book of Job is just like, yeah, He does give everything back in the end, but as far as why God did it, why was God just toying around with him and making him suffer, there was really nothing offered. Except that, as I understand it, God basically says, “Hey, can you make a universe? When you can make a universe, then you can argue with Me.”

C: Right. I guess you have to chalk it up to being able to see every once in a while that the universe is more complex than we can possibly imagine. Any little thought that enters your mind is just… incomprehension.

S: I mean, we understand the universe better than a dog does. Right? But if you look at the vastness of our ignorance, it’s really a very very small jump from what a dog understands to what we understand, y’know, considering the vastness of the mystery.

C: May as well follow a dog.

Long silence.

S: Voice-activated tape recorder, that’s what I need to invest in. Like Richard Nixon had.

C: Could be our Watergate tapes, could be our downfall.

S: When you’re about to get transmission, become a Zen master, these tapes will come out like the Kerry Swift Boat Ads.

C: Oh, man. If I’m ever at that point, I hope I say, “Bring it all out. Listen to it all. Listen to it all.”

S: I feel like we’re kind of at the edge of that place… everything, the world seems fine… it’s almost the edge of that place where it’s kind of difficult to do anything, because everything is already resolved and OK.

C: Everything’s completely peaceful, and it’s almost like… things just kind of like slowly shifting about, things aren’t quite as solid as what they normally would be, but there’s no problem with any of that. Like I can actually see that when my mind is moving around, that my vision is jumpy and cloudy, and as soon as I realize that my mind has been wandering, instantly the whole room just stops. It’s just like complete complete clarity, it’s like just, oh yeah, just that glass, just the jar full of juice, that’s all there is.

Another very long silence.

S: We reached the point where we stopped talking. What was it, 20 minutes ago, 30 minutes ago?

C: Yeah.

S: Everything just felt, uh, too perfectly in place to need to say anything about it.

C: I agree as well. The complete peaceful tranquility can get jolted a little bit. But then you realize it’s OK. And it’s OK again! It’s OK for that edge to be there, just let it be there.

S: Even if your bed is made of rock, if you completely relax into it, it’ll be comfortable.

C: Sure.

S: Plenty of nice visuals when I allow them. They don’t overtake me or anything, but if I want to just look at a pattern and kind of surrender into it, all sorts of interesting visuals, perfectly calm, nice, feeling. C, anything?

C: Ditto.

S takes a bathroom break.

S: Sitting on the toilet I was kind of getting the feeling of… my mind and the universal mind being the same, so… let’s live with that for a while.

C: Yeah, yeah. You must keep this “shitting mind” with you wherever you go.

S: So kind of what I… the experience that I had in there was like… we talked earlier about the High Holy Days of Judiasm that we’re going through, where we’re supposed to be getting right with the world, and God is watching you to decide if you live or die, based on how you act here, right? So I was looking at… of course I don’t believe in God or anything, but it’s kind of like having a back-seat driver. Because it’s the same type of thing for me, that sometimes, I’ll act with this feeling like, with this concern that I’ll be judged as being right or wrong. You know what I mean? Like someone is watching me, like someone else is going to be judging me. And when I was looking at it, kind of feeling the oneness of the trip, I sort of like had this, this jolt of “Oh! It’s like I have a mind that makes decisions, and then the same mind judges them.” It’s not someone else who’s judging me, it’s the same mind, choosing to make a decision, and then judging it as right or wrong.

C: Yeah.

S: And there’s nobody else doing it. And it’s kind of like the feeling you get when you’re on a stage performing, and being concerned if you’re doing a good job for your audience, and then when the performance is over: Ahhh! You kind of breathe a sigh of relief because no one’s watching you any more. And that was kind of… a little bit of the feeling the experience was giving me.

For inspiration, they watch the DVD Devil’s Playground, a wonderful documentary about the Amish.

S: Y’know, this Amish preacher in the movie, he said that the correct way is… is not to care about the things of the world, because the things of the world pass away. “But if you obey God…” -- I forget exactly what he said -- “But if you obey God, then you abideth forever.” Uh… my initial reaction to that is: so what’s the big deal about abidething forever? Y’know, if I’m having a good time, then maybe OK, I’ll abide forever. But abiding forever just for its own sake doesn’t sound so interesting.

C: Oh, you mean spending the hereafter with God? By eschewing worldly things then you’re guaranteed paradise forever?

S: Yeah… although it’s not always even a matter of Paradise or Hell. A lot of the Protestants say this too: it’s not really Heaven versus Hell. It’s “Why do you believe in God?” “Because if you believe in God, then you’ll live forever; if you don’t believe in God, then you die.” And they automatically take living forever as a desirable thing.

C: Uh-huh.

S: Which seems to be something worth examining. I mean, maybe it’s just like our DNA blindly wants to survive, for procreation obviously and so on. And when they say, “Oh, if you do this, then you’ll live forever,” there’s something deep inside ourselves that reaches out and grabs that. But when you stop and think about it, why…

C: That’s being attached… Since “don’t be attached to worldly things”… your body is a worldly thing.

S: Yeah…

C: So don’t be attached… well, it depends what they mean by “living forever,” but… it does kind of bring up a notion of… like “you” existing, not on earth, maybe, but existing somewhere else forever and ever.

S: It’s almost like, even in my yogic experience, there are a lot of people… or maybe it’s a stage that everyone goes through, where you get a little detachment from the outside world, and you think, “Oh, man, I’ve attained all there is to attain!” But in fact, you can get just as attached to ideas as you can to so-called worldly things.

C: Yeah. And what made them decide that this was a perfect level of technology for them? I mean, it’s the same, y’know, it’s probably what they did back in the 1600s, and they just decided to never change. Whatever, in 1693, that’s the level of technology that surrounded them, and they always stayed with that.

S: But it’s arbitrary! Why should one particular point in time be more holy than some other place? The Hare Krishnas are into the same thing. They dress like, y’know, cowhearders did in India, however many millennia ago. But why keep that particular technology? One of the reasons this movie is interesting is because it does kind of show the logic behind it. The logic would be: you want your technology to be simple enough so that if something breaks, you can just call on any neighbor to help you, and that helps build community. A horse and buggy is simple enough for everyone to understand. If you went up to a car, then you’d need specialization. You’d need certain people who were the auto mechanics, and it’d be bad for the community equality…

C: What?! Auto mechanics aren’t part of your community? Like socializing with them, hanging out with them?

S: Yeah, yeah.

C: I mean, that is an interesting thing, but…

S: It’s a mistaken notion of equality, I guess. They want everyone to be equal. Obviously, that’s why they all dress the same, all this is about everybody being equal. But that’s kind of like not being able to tell the difference between black and white, y’know? Everyone has the same true self, and everyone deserves the same honor as a human being. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have people follow their own karma.

C: They’ve studied this group of, they’re kind of like Amish, they’re called Hutterites, and they live in North Dakota, like northern North Dakota and southern Canada. They have the highest ever recorded fertility rate. They’re very similar to the Amish, they fled from Germany or from Europe 150 years ago. But basically, the women will start child-bearing as soon as they’re married, y’know, married at very young ages, and continue to have children until they cannot have children any more. So it’s kind of like a rare example where there’s no break for the women, as far as child-bearing.

S: Uh-huh

C: So they can determine… the human body, the female body… how many children is physically possible over the course of a reproductive lifespan. And it’s something like…

S: This is like a Christian religious sect you’re talking about?

C: Yes. On average, in this population of Hutterites, it was like 12 or 13 kids per woman, which is the highest ever recorded. Even though there are stories of even more than that. But for a population as a whole, that’s the highest ever. Which, can you imagine…

S: It’s like… There’s this spiritual practice that a lot of people do, where they have the idea that they need to get something, they need to attain something, y’know, to become something different, right? And then there’s some sort of, some type of enlightenment moment when you realize that, no, it doesn’t have to be that way. It can just be an examination of… “What am I right now?” “What’s the nature of this moment?” I don’t have to make anything of it. You know what I mean?

C: Yeah.

S: Now, kind of a… it seems kind of silly to want to attain something, and how much grosser it is to have a religion that actually thinks it’s necessary to multiply and spread your tribe around the earth, you know what I mean? And yet you can obviously see how it’s just an idea that carries within itself the seeds of being able to spawn communities like this.

C: Yeah, I bet this will change. I don’t see how Amish… it’d be very surprising to see this lifestyle not have survival problems. It’s just like in Korea: how many people become monks anymore? It’s for the exact same reason. It’s like, fuck, you can live a normal life and still go to church. It’s not like… there’s just so many more options. I don’t know. That’s why they need to have tons of kids. Because, y’know, they’re going to lose increasing numbers…

S: It’s like crabs, or whatever the fuck it is. Grunions. They just toss out thousands of kids, and they can bear a 90% casualty rate as they crawl across the beach to the ocean.

By this point, the experience has wound down, so they review the day.

S: Anything you’d like to add in general, C? Conclusions?

C: Epilogues?

S: Yeah.

C: I can remember exactly what I meant when I felt that my thoughts were going… made my visions tremble, and that when I stopped, and just looked at whatever was in front of me, it became instantly clear. When I realized that I was thinking, then my vision became much clearer, and less jumpy than it was.

S: Yeah, that’s a very fascinating thing.

C: I definitely feel that there’s great hope for the world. Moreso than I do in my non-altered life, I guess.

S: For me, it’s like, I was quite happy at the end of the last retreat that the Zen master said, “Remember this is just a dream.” Because, a lot of times, you hear talk in any sort of spiritual group as if you’re moving forward and attaining something or going somewhere or something very important happened. Which is all fine, and maybe really necessary to have that perspective, but it also is kind of nice to have the perspective of “Oh! Just remember it’s all a dream.” And when you say there’s hope for the world… that’s the time when I have hope for the world, when I realize that it’s all a dream. What do you think, C? Is that what you meant, or did you mean something else?

C: I don’t know. No, what you said was definitely true. Yeah, but I guess… I feel that maybe my life has gotten better because I don’t hold on to things like I used to.

They decide to make one last re-visit to the altered space, by taking nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Nitrous provides a short-lived, yet extremely intense experience, hitting in less than a minute. C suggests turning off the recorder during the actual inhalation.

C: Recording during a nitrous inhalation is not allowed, not permitted, just like flash photography during a rock concert. We don’t allow that here. You can only do the aftermath, the post-mortem.

A minute later…

C: There’s a moment of… did I just die? I do get like a second of that. Of “What the fuck?! Oh yeah, I’m still here in this room.” Just for a split second, it’s amazing. I don’t know if that’s healthy or unhealthy to say.

S: Healthy and unhealthy are made by thinking.

C: Yeah, I mean, maybe death isn’t so bad. If that’s what it’s like. If it’s kind of like just a heavy nitrous buzz, and it intensifies and intensifies, and you just never breathe out. Just kind of like disappear into the void.

S: Well, you know, there are beings who claim to have made peace with death. I know I still get quite panicked when faced with the thought of death. But there are people who say they’ve made peace with it, so if this is the case, then it must be possible to…

C: It’s like “Oh shit, I’m gonna die.” “Oh no, I’m not gonna die.” “Oh yes, I am gonna die.” “Oh no, no you’re not gonna die.” “Oh shit, yes I might die!” “Oh no, you’re not gonna die.” Back and forth. Between those…

S: So anything you can think of will die. But maybe this before-thinking won’t die. What were you’re going to say? I’m sorry.

C: I don’t know. I have no fucking idea.

The End

For more entheogenic adventures, with the amazing sage Salvia Divinorum, see my Salvia Stories.


Following is a letter I wrote to a friend after an acid trip, sometime during the late 1980s.

-- Philosophical teaching on all San Francisco bus transfers

Dear Al:

M came to visit last week. On Sunday, he was interested in taking some LSD, which he had not experienced since college. Synchronistically, I had kept a stash in my freezer for just such an occasion. We spent a pleasant day walking around Golden Gate National Recreational Area (an area where people go to re-create when they tire of what they had created previously). By evening, we were famished, so we took a bus to the local Hare Krishna temple for their free feast.

With the food, of course, we got a talk from a Krishna devotee, who explained their rather complex philosophy and cosmology. Eventually, M asked him, "Gosh! How did you learn all of these things?" It seemed to me to be an astute question, which pointed to the fact that someone's "philosophy" is no more than a collection of words and ideas he is clinging to. In other words, dog-thinking creates a dog-world, cat-thinking creates a cat-world, and Hare Krishna-thinking creates a Hare Krishna-world. But our host probably thought differently.

"I learned it from the scriptures," the H.K. replied, "which are the sound vibration of the Absolute Truth." Though M and I were well past peaking, our minds were still so open that anything and everything could go in and out of them. Perhaps the devotee saw in our expressions that we were not embracing his idea that any words could be "Absolute Truth."

"You must believe in Absolute Truth," he elaborated, "because that is the basis for Good and Evil." Again, M and I said nothing, but our expressions must have communicated that ideas of Good and Evil were making no more impression on us than a bird's footprints in the sky.

"And without Good and Evil," the H.K. continued, "the world is just a joke!" M and I began to nod excitedly.

"Well, I suppose from a certain perspective the world is just a joke," the devotee conceded, and quickly changed the subject.

"Thank you so much," I told the Krishna as we were leaving. "I really enjoyed everything."

"I know," he replied. "I can tell by the look in your eyes."

Yours in the Dharma,


The End

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