Saturday, October 24, 2009

Musing on Psychedelics


Just trying to get your attention.

While many people extol the virtues of psychedelics in many of the circles I've run in, mostly in opposition to the parroted rhetoric of the mainstream culture, I think it's simply meaningless to propose that a substance is inherently good or bad. The statement doesn't even make sense. Psychotropic chemicals have a variety of effects, most of which are not really understood, on a nervous system and consciousness that also exists more in the shadows than the light. The question of their use is whether exploring these uncharted waters is worth more than the risk. What could be a more American pursuit than blindly using a little of that Manifest Destiny machismo and plunging forward?

(Of course, that's a myth of America that's mostly been replaced by another one. The modern one has more to do with various overreactions to fear.)

Oh well. On my way home from the farmer's market today I found myself mulling over this, and thinking back on the discussion about this topic the Gen Hex authors had at Alex Grey's CoSM (recording here if you want to check it out). And as my thought process leapfrogged around, as it does... it occurred to me that the actual lesson provided by these chemicals seems to be relatively simple. It's the same basic lesson you see in the Bardo-- let go. Oh, hey look, the wall is bleeding. Let go. I'm 50 and my life is a wreck. Let go. That hawk-headed God has giant tits and it's starting to unnerve me. If you hold on, it can become a demon, but if you let go, it becomes bliss.

And once you really get that, you simply don't need them anymore. Though you can get to the same place by doing yoga all day. Sure, you'll lose it all the time and get caught up in God-knows-what-thing that won't matter in 100 years anyway. You'll do that because you're human and that's part of the experience of being alive. But in the back of your mind now, you have that spot you can fall back to, that place where you learned you can fall back from anything and observe a sensation from the outside. And if you think that sounds like a defense mechanism we all (maybe) heard about in Psych 101, that's because it probably is. Like all defense mechanisms, dissociation is only pathological when it is out of control. Otherwise, it's one of many tools.

Chew on it and let me know what you're left with. I'm going to make some tea.

(By the way- For a modern adaptation of some of the ideas in the Bardo, I suggest Jacob's Ladder. Spoiler alert: the whole movie is the process of him dying, it's all internal mythology.)


  1. all experiences need to be undone when one goes beyond them, to the experiencer .. the intense ones turn out to be the biggest obstacle of all

  2. I know it's said that ones experiences and concepts are always the last obstacle, in many ways thats true- but what does it mean to "undo" an experience? I mean practically, not theoretically.

  3. I think I was saved from psychedelic cult religion subscription by my having spent a whole night reading The Book of the Subgenius after having taken about 3 blots...during one of my first 10 or so acid trips when I was 18. It disconnected me from taking anything very seriously and pursuing any kind of objective truth for a long time.

    Now that I can't access this beloved molecule, I find myself wishing that the full-on visual experience actually could be experienced through naught but yoga. I believe that consciousness can certainly be altered by it, but I doubt it can make most people hallucinate. If it can make you actually hallucinate--not just "have visions", but hallucinate--I'd be fairly amazed. (Since the DMT molecule, if not the LSD one, has a lot of similarity to compounds found in the human brain, it would seem to make sense at least scientifically.)

  4. I remember having to sit up all night with one of my friends while we were both tripping trying to explain to her how to let go.

    Turns out it's really not that easy a concept to grasp - especially when the walls are bleeding and you have a companion who thinks he's helping but is actually just rambling on about waterfalls.

    If you do learn that lesson, it's a great lesson to learn but some people crave the illusion of control so desperately and so blindly that all they see are the demons and no amount of anything can help.

    Nice post.



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