The Man Who Turned on the World
3. Leary Flies his Jolly Roger from the Ivy Tower
1962As the Harvard Psychedelic Project grew in both numbers of people and sessions, and as we become more aware of the effects of these drugs, it seemed that the hinterland of the 'psychedelic mind' is not the obscure forest in which Blake saw his tiger, nor the dream-world from which Coleridge conjured the mysteries of Christabel and Kubla Kahn. It was a place altogether different, and much more mysterious.
We studied the reports from students using LSD or psilocybin, and began to chart maps of their interior space (which we also compared with our own experiences). We were hopeful that some of the mystery would thereby be revealed to us, for the 'psychedelic experience' looks intelligible enough. But here we came to certain other realisations. That this Other World is vibrant with strange energy transformations and existsif it exists at allin another dimension of mind or self; like the inside of an atom, it is a space forever recreating itself and its own mystery. The more we began to peer into it, the less we could actually 'see'. It seemed to proceed, under pretence of showing you how it works, to display a series of much more surprising worlds. It might be called a more or less 'magical preparation'.
All we could say at this time was that this Other World could be experienced as the moment when one emerges from the prison of 'limited mind' and becomes identifiedby the simplest but most intense of the acts of mental lifewith the 'limitless mind', whatever it may be, however slight. And we felt this form of identification or sense of 'oneness', far from being an acquired or learned state of mental discipline, was a natural state, the only true natural state for man to be.
It was then but a short step from this realisation to individual members of the project linking their secret 'psychedelic life' to the Beyond. And all sorts of claims on behalf of LSD et al. were made on the campus. Some advocates of the psychedelic experience suggested that God may himself be at work in these biochemical compounds, and would quote the work of W. T. Stace, William James even Henri Bergson, in support of their growing mystical beliefs. Professor Huston Smith of M.I.T. said that the subjective drug experiences are sometimes 'strikingly like those reported by mystics, seers, and visionaries of the past'. And in an extensive questionnaire study of eighty-two subjects who took psychedelics at Harvard, the following 'mystical' characteristics were cited by well over half the subjects as occurring 'quite a lot' or 'among the most important aspects of my experience': loss of time sense; objects snore significant and beautiful; being able to operate out several levels at once; extreme pleasure, ecstasy, cosmic joy, paradise; feeling of being very wise, knowing everything; feeling that nothing need be said.
According to Freud, at the basis of the human personality lies sex and aggression, the twin poles of deep consciousness around which we revolve. But we found that when the ego-personality was ripped away completely, which can happen during an intensive LSD experience, what was left was 'purest love' and a sense of oneness with all living creatures. No sex; no aggression. Subjects felt free of anger, pity, and disgust. It was as though the supremely ordinary human aspiration to be free could be reached, albeit only briefly, by means of these drugs, which is perhaps what Freud meant when he also spoke of 'the Nirvana instinct' in man, this yearning for peace which lies at the very core of our being. It has always seemed to me a pity that Freud did not write more about the mystical or spiritual dimensions of knowing, for he was obviously aware of the existence within realms which do not easily fall into the categories of psychoanalysis.
But in New England in 1962 the subject of mysticism was one that, for most people, was synonymous with religious faith. And so it was rather natural for project members to turn to spiritual masters in order to help them identify the nature of their new experiences, which were not like anything they had ever imagined before. It was the start of their search for an answer to the riddle of consciousness or for the Grail, as for something from the sky. They felt certain in their own minds that what they had undergone was something which they had personally experienced deeply, and not really something which they had done for themselves. It was a gift from God, a gratuitous grace, aided and abetted by modern synthetic chemistry. God was not only in his heaven all right; he was also here with each single one of us, but wholly within.
Naturally, the 'good news' quickly spread across the Harvard campus, and the sort of feedback we got suggested that the rest of the faculty thought Dr. Leary was starting a new religion, with psychedelics as the new sacraments. And to the rest of the psychology faculty, this was absolute heresy.
Accordingly, we began to experiment closer to home, as it were, trying to find other areas in which these substances could be used, particularly those with distressed or helpless people, for whom life had become one long unrelieved struggle. Such was the case with prisoners at the maximum security prison at Concord, just north of Boston.
Tim Leary had had the good vision to see that if a large-dose acid session could help end-of-the-line alcoholics, it might also work with 'hard-core' criminal recidivists. And he had spelled out a research project, using psychedelics, to the officials at the Massachusetts Department of Correction, the Department of Legal Medicine, and to the head of the Harvard Social Relations Department. After a lot of hassle and red-tape cutting, the proposal was accepted; and thus began a unique and very successful experiment.
We started slowly, with small groups of three or four prisoners and two members of the Harvard group (who at this time included, in addition to Leary and myself, Dr. Allan Cohen, Dr. Alfred Alschuder, Dr. George Litwin, Dr. Ralph Metzner, Dr. Gunther Weil, and Dr. Ralph Schwitzgebel, with Dr. Madison Presnell as the medical and psychiatric adviser). We would usually work in pairs, and go to the prison twice a week, with one of the days given over to running the prisoners' psychedelic sessions, which were held in a locked room in the prison hospital, and one of the days devoted to planning future sessions or in follow-up discussions.
I am not a psychologist and it would be ridiculous if I were to attempt to give a scientific appraisal of the Harvard-Concord prison project. But one thing is certain, the sessions 'worked' in the sense that very few of the inmates who underwent the intensive LSD or psilocybin sessions ever came back (which was the whole point of the exercise). Statistically, fifty to seventy per cent of inmates paroled or released return within a five-year period, with a nationwide average of sixty-seven per cent. We found that one and a half years after the termination of our project the return rate had been reduced to seven per cent, which is a completely objective index of success. How did we achieve these results ?
After an initial discussion meeting with an inmate, when he would be told about the drugs and the kind of effects they produced, we would then meet three or four more times to plan his session. We explained to him how he would 'lose his ego' and soar off into 'non-game' worlds of experience, and how this would enable him to see himself and his criminal games with greater clarity. We also encouraged the prisoners to propose the kind of changes they would like to see happen within themselves, which might take the form of a hefty South Boston American Irishman saying 'I want to understand what drinking means to me' or a coloured inmate from Georgia 'I want to get over my paranoia'. We would also draw 'internal maps', huge circles in which we could fill in the expected positive changes and note areas of the personality best avoided in a session.
On the day of the session, we would get to the prison early, and after chatting to the guards as we moved through the different locked doors to the prison hospital, we would assemble the group of perhaps six inmates; and then all take the psychedelicwhich included, of course, ourselves, since only by taking the drug with them could their fear and suspicion and paranoia be averted.
The physical setting was the best we could do under the circumstanceswe spread mattresses all over the floor, played taped pop and Indian music, made sure that the session would not be interrupted by visitors or guards and thus that the atmosphere would be relaxed and open and permissive.
We found that it was best not to really do anything during the session, except be there and give reassurance to anyone who started getting paranoid or fearful; everyone was best left free to explore whatever material came up, whether it be entirely personal or involve personal issues with any of the others present. We found that in a benign, supportive, friendly session and with a favourable mental set on the part of each subject, the drug produced a detachment from everyday thoughts and actions which was correlative with an increase in degrees of reflectiveness and insights into normal behaviour patterns and in turn opened up the way for the construction of alternatives.
For those of us responsible for conducting the sessions, our orientation was, to quote Gerald Heard, the British philosopher who first introduced Aldous Huxley to mescaline, ' . . . concerned but not anxious, interested but not engrossed, diagnostic but not critical, aware of the seriousness of what is being conveyed and all the more incapable of coldness or shock, aloofness or dismay'.
But what about the inmate, for whom the psychedelic experience came as something not far removed from, if not actually akin to revelation ? I think for the majority the experience was intense and highly emotional, with hallucinations of colours, of positive and frightening scenes; yet it apparently stimulated them to do some thinking about their lives and what they were doing with them. One inmate, who initially presented the classic picture of a 'hardened criminal' of the well-known American variety, emerged from his heavy shell as a sensitive, lonely, child-like human being. At the time when I was feeling highest I had a terrific feeling of sadness and loneliness, and a feeling of great remorse at all these wasted years . . . and of the harsh and brutal things I have done in order to survive at all.... ' Or another, a twenty-eight-year-old coloured brother who was serving a five-year sentence for robbery and had attended a school for retarded children till the age of seventeen: 'I kept saying to myself in thoughtwhere do you belong ? Where do you belong?' And yet another inmate, a forty-eight-year-old man serving time on charges of theft, forgery, larceny and escape with a prior history of thirty arrests, the first one being at the age of twelve:
' . . . before taking this drug my thinking always seemed to travel in the same circlesdrinking, gambling, money and sex, I guess what you'd call a fast life. Now my thoughts are troubled and at times quite confusing, but they are all of an honest nature, and of wondering. I feel somehow detached now from prison life, uninterested in gambling or even talking to the other cons, except those in the group. I think I now know what I want to be and I am sincere in my mind when I say that I want to make it so. Because the drug opened my mind and I got a better understanding of myself and also of the other people in the group, I now feel free to say and discuss things, which you generally do not do.'
(He was discharged a few months after his first session and obtained a job with a construction company; he worked ten to thirteen hours a day and one month later he was promoted to assistant foreman. A few months later he became assistant cook in a large restaurant. Ten years later he was still out and running his own auto body paint shop.)
But perhaps the most interesting of all the prisoners who took part in the project is Jimmy Kerrigan, one of the 'notorious' Kerrigan Brothers, a safe-cracker and part of the Irish mafia, who is still serving out his sentence, even as I write these lines, some twelve years after the events I have been describing. When the project terminated, which it did with Leary's dismissal from Harvard, Kerrigan continued the programme but without using drugs, and started a group within the prison called The Concord Self-Development Group to assist its members to sort out their lives' priorities and to give guidance on job-getting and how to 'go straight'. He got together this group composed of inmates, starting with the ones who had been in the drug programmer who then voluntarily pledged themselves to help each other find a new direction in life that would not automatically lead straight back to prison. I recently received a brochure from Jim in which the aims of SDG are spelled out. It ends with a list of questions that each member has to ask himself, first alone and then with the rest; and 'a hypothetical case history':
l. AM I WILLING TO GET HONEST WITH MYSELF FOR THE PURPOSE OF
NAME: John Doe
AGE: Any years
RELIGION: All religions
EXPERIENCE: Lyman, Shirley, County Jail, Y.S.D. (Youth Service Board)
JOB EXPERIENCE: Restaurant worker, stock boy, dishwasher, labourer
SCHOOLING: 6th to 10th Grade
ASPIRATIONS: No work, rich widow or drift and see the States, steal when necessary
FAMILY TIES: Mother, father, brothers, sisters, loose relationship. Rather travel or 'cut out' on one's own
In Concord, five years, indefinite sentence, feeding off fantasy and delusion for the most part; identified with the 'boys'; satisfied with sense of belonging to rebellious fragments of society; 'real' people are people in trouble, in jail. The rest are 'way out'. No communication via legitimate channels nor respect for norms of community.
Reduction of fear, fantasy, and hang-ups, via open discussions in small group, with trained inmates (A A's; Harvard Experimental Group; Legal Medicine) who wish to pass it on. Crash programme (classes two hours; once, twice, or more often per week) towards self-development, consideration of proper goals and attainable achievements tailored to variable individual potential. Readiness for follow-up outside programme. Finally, acceptance of social norms with respect for self and others in all areas worthy of same.
It seemed to me then, as indeed it still does, that LSD can be useful if it helps a person free himself of his habitual patterns of thought or some kind of 'absolute' sense of identity in order to see aspects of his life and reality as it concerns him personally. It is useful for what it can yield in terms of self-understanding, and is fruitful if it causes someone in a bad life situation to exert himself to overcome it and learn how to adapt the new insights to his needs. I think that perhaps for the majority of the thirty or so prisoners with whom [ had sessions at Concord, something happened during their experience that took them beyond the falsifications of rote-consciousness and, in time, led them individually to achieve a simple awareness and even affirmation of the world. There is a little light burning in each one of us which is something we are all too inclined to forget, though with sometimes quite terrible consequences. And if a psychedelic-associated programme is shown to help 'hard-core' cons regain the lost light of that which makes them truly human, then it is sad when politics and unconscious attitudes work against those who would like to share something of their experience and knowledge in precisely these human areas. If we call a man an animal and then put him behind bars, we should not, after all, be too surprised if later he reacts against us with ferocity; it is perhaps significant that Charles Manson spent over fifteen years inside various jails before he let the society of plain and ordinary people know precisely what kind of animal they had turned him into, though our admiration can be given to such men as George Jackson, Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton, Jimmy Kerrigan who, despite absolutely dehumanising conditions over long periods of time, were nonetheless able to detach themselves sufficiently from the 'prison system' and keep some kind of light of humanity burning within themselves, sufficient at any rate to preserve their sanity. Perhaps mankind needs to discover a new culture of humanity before it is all too late in a world that finally submerges into deepening chaos, which will only happen if we find alarm-clocks sufficiently powerful to wake us from the sort of sleepwalking existence which nowadays passes for 'normality'.
Enough, enough; let us pass on or rather back to the Harvard of
1962 and try to understand how LSD helped spawn a 'generation
of visionary maniac white mother country dope fiend rock and roll
'Science is a social system which evolves roles, rules, values, language, space-time locations to further the quest for these goalsthese answers. Religion is a social system which has evolved its roles, rules, rituals, values, language, space-time locations to further the pursuit of the same goalsthe revelatory experience. A science which fails to address itself to these spiritual goals, which accepts other purposes (however popular), becomes secular, political, and tends to oppose new data. A religion which fails to provide direct experiential answers to these spiritual questions becomes secular, political and tends to oppose the individual revelatory confrontation.'
He found it hard to see how his resultswhich read: seventy-five per cent 'spiritual revelation'could be disregarded by those who were professionally concerned with spiritual matters and individual religious development. But disregard them they did.
Thus, far from convincing everybody that the New Religion is really dedicated to the idea that we should only think of ways in which to bring-each other up, not down, he only succeeded in putting up people's backs. The problem was to find a sufficient number of people left who would listen to what he had to say. And part of this difficulty was due to a lack of austerity in the presentation, which alone guaranteed- public discussion though not necessarily of a kind calculated to produce either consensus or rational inquiry. Yet despite Leary's various resources of honesty and intelligence, his quest for understanding must in some sense be a frustrating one. Whatever his ideas or ideals, no two authorities seemed to agree with one another and each would be the first to declare that he alone spoke with authority. 'Lots of blacksmiths whose monopoly is threatened.'
Leary felt that LSD's significance lay beyond all social analysis and all psychological categories and, since the drug experience was completely unique, a new model was needed, a new structure. It presupposed a readiness on the part of those who used it to undertake a series of new departures, perpetual readiness to expose oneself to new mental dimensions, even to new forms of 'reality'. In that sense, no two sessions are ever the same; each one provides an entirely personal, and at times, highly idiosyncratic encounter with the self, with each person becoming his own explorer. So that each session acts as a bridge between one reality and another, and to the internal voyager represents perhaps an attempt to penetrate into the deeper reality below the externals of egocentric consciousness. And thus the voyager returns, bringing back an inventive fertility and diversity of experiences to talk about, to illustrate, through art, through words, through music, through being.
As a serious writer, Leary had to throw away the chance of seducing readers or listeners with too ready-made a view of human categories. Again and again he demanded that the reader, too, open himself to the new and unfamiliar, as indeed he had done himself. He began to speak of 'Man's Fifth Freedomthe freedom to use your own head and on your own terms', and of 'The Politics of Consciousness Expansion'. And the more he used words, the less the clarity of expression. 'We must entertain nonverbal methods of communication if we are to free our nervous system from the tyranny of the stifling simplicity of words,' he wrote in an article published in The Harvard Review. He wanted the freedom to live close to the hermetic and the incommunicable and even to the refusal of all language. Certainly, within those of us using LSD, it was developing a new sensibility, a new awareness, there was something wholesome about it, something healthy and vital. It had laid claim to new areas of its own, and we wanted to share our knowledge with the world. Verbal tricks were out. We had to make of our language an entirely new instrument of communication, something to be undertaken in the spirit of renewal, with a kind of reverence which you find in acts of faith. The freedom we sought was not the freedom to say or do what we liked, but freedom as a value (internal freedom), something intangible yet also somehow more real. We saw that the traditional means for expanding or contracting consciousness such as the printing press, the television screen, the radio transmitter, the movies, were restricted by law and remained under government control. How then were we to change this situation? For the purposes of describing the psychedelic experience in 1962, he had no language, no trained operators, just a vision that a new language would inevitably develop to transfigure every one of our social forms.
'It is possible that in twenty years our psychological and experiential language (pitifully small in English) will have multiplied to cover realms of experience and forms of thinking now unknown. In twenty years, every social institution will have been transformed by the new insights provided by consciousness-expanding experiences. Many new social institutions will have developed to handle the expressions of the potentiated nervous system.' (Leary).
Perhaps because poetry is most responsive to the change of human sensibility or awareness, and is the only true advance guard of language today, much of the new 'visionary' poetry is written in lines of simple word associations, that is, with the poet taking his ease among words; he prefers a limpid image which floats rather than runs, an image more natural than precise, and in general strives for a direct, less intellectual expression or emotion. He sees the manipulative verbal machinery for what it is, an ego-oriented, aggressive, goal-oriented, fear-ridden, guilty, unconscious use of language. According to the American poet, Gerde Stern, 'In a world of simultaneous operations you don't have to be first to be on top. We are dealing with word as it exists in our own world as an object in sight and sound. This is a unique role for the word, which before our time has been a thing of thought and breath or written and printed on paper, more of a private experience than in public media like billboards, signs, radio and television. Most people still long for a world of one-thing-at-a-timeness.'
But it was not only true for poets. Artists, too, were having to readjust their work to match their new insights, find new forms of expression, use novel techniques to describe this brave new world of sensory experience. They needed an art that would reflect a deeper layer of consciousness; colour and especially shape or form became in themselves more meaningful than any object they might represent. 'Photographic' imitations of appearances were less interesting than patterns of colour which have a power to move us and in ways which we little understand. The psychedelic artist was 'aware' of sensory patterns in the intense way that the Tantric artist is; that is, he created his art out of whatever it was that he had discovered within himself, which in turn was commensurate with an increase in degrees of reflectiveness. The artist who 'turned on' to his own psychosomatic body wanted to recreate this experience immediately in visual terms which electricity made possible. He was no longer surface-bound to a piece of canvas or to imitations of the world of external appearances for he had become more universalnow he could soar off into these new sensory realms of human experience. He understood the meaning of such words as 'liberation' and 'freedom', not only with reference to his own life but in the life of his art. And he knew that the visible form would have to be a direct expression of the 'electric' 'pulsating' centre of which he had become aware. Thus it might seem to those who saw art as simply 'images' or aspects of nature, that the psychedelic artistwho flooded the room with colour, movement, sound, and lightwas unconcerned with outer form, and of course they were right. For psychedelic art is expressive of an inner rhythm, like that of music. And the spectator who is not possessed of a self-conscious similar to the artist's, will never understand what response is expected of him. For the psychedelic artist is learning how to make himself part of the mystery of his own being by 'seeing' it, living in it; here can be no sense of separatedness, no difference between 'Me' and 'Thee''We are all one,' he says; 'the art, the spectator, and the artist are one. Threefold Always.'
This may go some way to explaining the widespread use of psychedelics at pop concerts, for truly great pop music must present a frame to enable the spectator to merge with the sound and the colour, and the musician achieves authenticity by means of the language of 'visual music' expressed in the beauties of his world of electronic simultaneities (Jimi Hendrix).
It would be a mistake simply to dismiss this New High Art as an art of naiveté, mental or logical deficiency, or general benightedness since it presupposes that the spectator has also been able to move beyond his ordinary relative vision and is thus able to get into the invisible forces within his own deepest self in order to 'see more seeingly'. And it is the psychedelic experience that frees one, albeit temporarily, of any 'absolute' sense of identity in order that one may soar off into the flux.
The psychedelic artist would rather see his art as something that arose out of the alembic of self, as a piece of reality salvaged out of the flux, which manifested itself in his consciousness from the hidden depths of his being, somewhat similar to the cave paintings of primitive man, which also arose out of the experience of living. He is trying to express something in a non-conceptual, highly-figurative and often emotive way, through symbols which may themselves be magical, i.e. that have the power to turn us on.
The psychedelic artists had found a means of communicating directly what they had experienced internally. But what of the rest of us ? As Leary put it
'We are, in a real sense, prisoners of our cognitive concepts and strategies. Passed on from generation to generation. The cognitive continuity of history. Our current reliance upon substantive and "closing-off" concepts will be the amused wonder of coming generations.(It was this particular passage which finally convinced the Harvard hierarchy that Professor Leary was now obviously suffering from real hallucinations and that he had to go!)
'The claim was made in 1900 that the motor carriage, accelerated to speeds several times that of the horse-drawn vehicle, would revolutionise society. Impossible to conceptualise because in 1900 we possessed no concepts for these possibilities. But we always have the standard objections to the non-conceptual. First of all, we object to the dangers: high speeds will snap nervous minds, gas fumes are fatal, the noise will prevent cows from giving milk, horses will run away, criminals will exploit the automobile.
I think Leary was most prophetic when he noted one of the occupational hazards of the LSD game'You are more likely to find the evolutionary agents closer to jail than the professor's chair.' It is true, of course, that unlike more traditional occupations, the LSD one is not one in which you normally get smoother and smoother with experience, like a doctor's: it is (to use Leary's metaphor of the automobile) nearer to motor-racing, in that the changes are so rapid, the curves so sudden, and demands an immediacy of response, a quality of sheer nerveattributes not often maintained indefinitely at top pitch. Perhaps it is all part of the pilgrim's progress which, though undoubtedly preferable in many respects to the poverty endured by Renoir and Pissaro, Blake and Artaud, is likely to destroy more talents, in the end, than it nurtures.
And here again, we began to get echoes back from different parts of the world, from people who seemed able to identify with the message we were sending out. I still keep a letter we received from Alfred Schmielewski Yogi, the Siddha Guru from Canada, who had no doubts about the efficacy of psychedelics: 'Psychedelic drugs,' he wrote, 'are the breakthrough of the ages and represent an all-important contribution to racial history. Here seems to exist after a billion years of unconscious evolution an instrument that man can use to establish control of racial unconsciousness. Man can now say that the race can control itself, its unconscious processes. This discovery will be the birth hour of the cosmic history of the human species. With this instrument, man can conquer the stars.'
Another related area, though not necessarily always drug-related, was being developed brilliantly by Ronnie Laing, M.D., in London, and Joseph Berke, M.D., in New York, namely, the exploration of the experience of 'going-into-madness', with madness being seen as 'a fundamental human experience rooted in an untenable intrapsychic and interpersonal situation.' The possibilities for madness as enlightenment could now be discussed.
Joe wrote to me about some of this, and said he was trying to get a course together at FUNY (Free University of New York) in which 'madness will be seen as a key to understanding the entire panorama of "psychopathology".'
Whilst it was possible for us to observe that the drug research area was one composed of a wide range of sub rosa activity, utopian dreams, mystical aspirations, and ordinary vague enthusiasm, interpenetrated by a certain atmosphere of personal life-renewal, we also believed that young people, particularly intellectuals and artists, were looking increasingly inward and back into their archetypical past, turning, as it were, towards the inner life via the use of mind-altering substances, just as in the thirties many young intellectuals turned to the inner life via the church.
But what sort of church? And what sort of a religion could contain the 'LSD sacrament' ? Increasingly, it seemed, the answers to these questions were coming from the East, most particularly from Tibet, through the esoteric teachings of the Great Mantra and spinning-top sound of the universe: OM MANI PADME HUM.
We found that many of the visionary states expressed in the Tibetan doctrines described states of consciousness which compared favourably with induced visionary states recorded by many of our religious-minded subjects. And in the Mahayana Buddhist text Bardo Thodol, we found a most accurate description of the 'going-out-of-the-body' experiences as well as an entire symbology of 'ego-death' and 'rebirth'; it was, after all, a Tibetan instruction manual for the preparation of one's own death, the offices of afterlife, and instructions for rebirth. We found these Tibetan images and thought patterns conducive to flexible thought, and we began to discuss such matters as incarnation, 'white light', death, without embarrassment. Of this apparent unself-conscious use of highly-charged, emotive, tabu words and worlds, Richard Alpert once told a magazine reporter: 'Two years ago, if a guy came to me, like they do now, talking funny, I would have thought he was nuts. But what is a nut ? They're all on the same journey to the East that we are. They may come as a guy with a beard and a motorcycle or a Tibetan Lama. But we're in communication with everyone asking questions: What does it mean to truly be ? What is man's potential ?'
And of the Bardo Thodol (The Tibetan Book of the Dead), Gerald Heard wrote that it provided a method:
'which can give us essential aid and guidance in and for the most vital and most neglected phase of our lives.... But however necessary it is that our American and, indeed, all our "modernised" societies be taught how to get over our death phobia and so to be freed from the ridiculous tabu-dishonesties whereby we attempt to disguise our rightful exit, we shall not try this method and undergo this training unless we can be reassured on two points, unless two quite sensible questions can be answered, two rational objections be met.
In 1962, the youngest and most typical Westerner, the American, was the most sincere of human beings. His potentialities were unlimited, and in a world of growth they had a right to existence. He was moving into a new age, a new culture of sincerity; the harmony based on heteronomy of the adult society was to become transformed into one based on autonomy, when everyone could do his own thing and not be thought of as either dangerous or crazy, and that all truth which was accepted previously on the strength of authority would in future become personal recognition through the development of personal self-consciousness. If man is to stand on his own two feet, autonomous, completely responsible for everything that he wills, thinks and does, then he must be completely conscious of his causes and reasons. He would have to develop a system of thought that deals with true bondage in a true world, whilst at the same time aim for the spiritual state of no-game, no-ego, the ultimate liberation and the very highest forms of maturity. Only along such a path can a new order develop, the OM-HUM of presence and loving process.
After 150 years of fanatical exactitude in his conquest of the world of appearances, Western man was starting to discover that he could explore inwardness; though of significance he knew little as yet. But having once perceived it as a possibility at all, then he would use his ingenuity to find perfect expression for it, and establish the perfect harmony between essential being and the world of external phenomena. The affective spiritual state was not to be found in the great institutions of theology, which in fact no one inhabits, but there, inside the self. He found in his confrontation with the 'Void', things which alone disclosed the nature of reality to him. He was no longer a stranger to himself, a cipher lost on the face of an inhuman universe, a puppet furnished with a name.
(Excerpt from a post-session Report):
'This was the deepest drug state. Things became confused as to time and sequence. I have almost no recall of what I was seeing at this time, and only feeling was important. I was seeing something. It seemed that when I cried a whole new world unfolded and the fascination with the figure was lost. I became part of a vast universe, drawing my energy from the earth. The order of things and in things became very clear. Love and hate were very important as I entered this state and seemed to be clawing at my back in order to gain control of the very core of me, a brilliant spinning core of energy. From here, probably as a result of being able to cry. I began contemplating the infinite sorrow of being alone. I felt, however, that infinite sorrow was the key to open the door of understanding, like washing the eyes so you could see. I felt if you could suffer an infinite amount of sorrow and be patient enough to wait an eternity, you could understand the meaning of things. However, for me in this state, finding the real meaning of the world no longer seemed important, but only being part of it myself, a dot in the cosmos, and feeling the complete harmony of everything, both inside and outside, and knowing that because there was such complete order I did not have to worry about myself. There was a sense of a lack of gravity and I was spinning, or rather spinning and floating at the same time around the earth, something like a satellite. I felt comfortable here in spite of the knowledge that from here I could not communicate with others because all people were One and a part of the vast energy of the world, as I was. Energy simply is; it exists but has no capacity or wish of communication; it has no way of communicating. Death of the body was not important here. It was a very wonderful feeling to be able to give my energy back to the earth where it had originally come from.'
Clearly, after such an experience there could be no return to a culture based on authority and blind surrender to a regime where personal opinion is largely erroneous. Courage and truthfulness, and they alone, accelerate the processes of evolution. It is in the nature of things that even our mistakes must turn into blessings, which presupposes a morality in the universe somewhere. And any crudeness is largely due to our sincerity. We do not know, as they do in Bengal, how to unite externally metaphysical truth and telling lies, or, like the Chinese, how to maintain outer face without breach of faith, without even questioning to what extent it corresponds to inner personal truths. Accordingly, loyalty to one's own private beliefs and empirical truthfulness are among our highest ideals.
We had a lot of convincing testimony by people, impressively intelligent where academic and worldly achievements are concerned, which encouraged us to believe that in LSD we had a new chemical tool for human expression and development.
Although the comments and reflections are quite diverse, we felt on the basis of our evidence that, in the aggregate, the appeal is one in which humanistic values prevail. So far from the LSD experience necessarily being the withdrawal of the mind from reality, it brought it, for certain people, once again into an enriched everyday life. And for some of us working with LSD at Harvard during this time, we believed we had found a means, on a manageable scale, with which our Western kind of civilisation could be renewed by the discovery of new mysteries, by the undemocratic but sovereign power of the human imagination, by the undemocratic power which makes poets the unacknowledged legislators of mankind, the power which makes all things new. We could feel somehow that we were involved in nothing less than 'The Great Work of Magical Self-Liberation' of the Tibetan doctrine when the eyes of the spirit would become one with the eyes of the body, and God would be in us, not outside. Entheos: enthusiasm: that was the essence of our 'unholy madness'. And how far Harvard was from that ideal was the measure of the defeat of the American Dream.
It seemed the more we studied the reports, the more we realised that no quick rational explanation would suffice to cover the range of the emotional power of LSD on the human psyche. Everything suggested LSD had a different meaning for different people, a different meaning for different professions, and even a different meaning for different social classes; people seemed to take it to fill their own particular needs.
The only intellectual danger, it seemed to me, was a tendency on the part of many subjects afterwards to convert the 'inner world' they saw into a cosy fiction. Yet the moment of illumination, the creative vision, the ecstatic encounter, the experience of true insight, is essentially brief; once achieved and expressed, one is again back on square one, a victim, like everyone else, to the merciless vision of our sceptical intelligence, or ambushed by stagnation (stasis) and depression. I also had personal reservations about the claims made on behalf of LSD that it was the key to the religious or mystical state or could lead to a truer metaphysics of being. In 1962, despite perhaps a hundred LSD sessions, I could still say with Flaubert, that 'I am a mystic and I believe in nothing', or echo the modern French existentialist, Coiran, who said that 'Once we have ceased linking our secret life to God, we can ascend to ecstasies as affective as those of the mystics and conquer this world without recourse to the beyond.' For there is no evidence that LSD ever made nor marred a saint. Certainly, 'turning on' was interesting for its usefulness, for what it could reveal in terms of a creative understanding to those who used the psychedelic experience for their own purposes, and could benefit from such knowledge. But real courage and a tremendous sensitivity of mind is needed if one is going to hurl oneself into a madness that is not sacred, since the real temptation, it seemed to me, is to link the psychedelic experience to God and prepare to return to that Garden of which, through no fault of our own, we have lost even the memory. But if reality still counts for something, then the psychedelic voyager had to become a practical dualist, whatever be the non-dual philosophical doctrines to which he intellectually subscribes. It is true that at certain peak moments during an intensive LSD session, it is only the Clear Light of the Void that alone Is. One transcends at such moments the dichotomy set up in one's mind between 'inner' and 'outer' worlds of experience, and sees reality only from the standpoint of the mystical vision, of the Brahman; and may experience life beyond all dualism. But after such a trip, when the mountains are again the mountains, and the lakes are again the lakes, there is still the empirical world to be dealt with; it doesn't disappear like the Cheshire Cat, leaving only an insane grin on your face.
The very nature of the psychedelic experience makes it capable of producing apparently impossible effectshallucinations are things which are impossible, which can yet somehow be felt as real. LSD exerts an influence over consciousness by virtue of its proximity in the blood stream, but there is nothing whatsoever about LSD; it cannot exert volition on its own; indeed, there is a case for saying it is itself unconcerned.
Consciousness responds to its influence. This is analogous to what is called in chemistry catalytic action. The catalytic substance influences another by its presence but remains unaffected itself. LSD is in this sense an efficient but not instrumental cause of heightened self-consciousness; but the real powers of consciousness are will, knowledge, action: these are the great triangle of energy, which is something known to every Tantric yogin.
There was an attempt by Leary, Alpert and Metzner to start a new religion based on the psychedelic experience, which found its theoretical expression in their authorship of The Psychedelic Experience, a manual based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. They had adapted the classic work of Evans-Wentz on the Bardo plane, according to Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English rendering; but in such a way as to turn it into a guidebook for psychedelic sessions. It contained technical comments about: The Period of Ego loss (First Bardo): The Period of Hallucinations (Second Bardo): The Period of Re-entry (Third Bardo), following the Tibetan model.
'The first period (Chikhai Bardo) is that of complete transcendencebeyond words, beyond space-time, beyond self. There are no visions, no sense of self, no thoughts. There are only pure awareness and ecstatic freedom from all game (and biological) involvements ('games' here are behavioural sequences defined by roles, rules, rituals, goals, strategies, values, language, characteristic space-time locations and characteristic patterns of movement. Any behaviour not having these nine features is non-game: this includes physiological reflexes, spontaneous play, and transcendent awareness). The second (lengthy) period involves self, or external game reality (Chonyid Bardo)in sharp, exquisite clarity or in the form of hallucinations (karmic apparitions). The final period (Sidpa Bardo) involves the return to routine game reality and the self.... For the unprepared, the heavy game players, those who anxiously cling to their egos, and for those who take the drug in a nonsupportive setting, the struggle to regain reality begins early and usually lasts to the end of their session.'
In other words, its authors suggested that we die, creatively speaking, when we cling too fast to the definite. But if you cling too long to any idea, even to the idea of LSD as a means of human transcendence, it can become a chain like any other. There were times when I felt we had forged an 'LSD chain' around all our necks; our problem was were we ever going to remove it? The Tibetan idea of 'ego death' leading to 'conscious' experiences in the after-world, with the possibilities inherent in that situation of selective re-lives, was a very appealing one, though it reminded me a little of the Irishman of 102, who, on being asked the secret of his longevity, said that we should 'choose our parents very, very carefully'. It seemed that the spirit generated in the generation of the early sixties was of a certain hopefulness in the possibilities of consciously making of their future something beautiful rather than brave. The origins of the Movement are thus in the loving direction of concord, better human understanding, and brotherly love.
owns nothing but the whole.
might stand for our motto at that time. Sublime optimism or sublime nonsense ? Who can really say for sure ? And for the rest . . . let me just add the only man who managed to live without money was Robinson Crusoe. Therefore, Practical Dualism Always! ought to be the slogan of our new psychedelinquent youth movement, I believe.
Soon enough, the summer came, the conjunction of my planets suggested change. For a little rest and recuperation I went to Jamaica, accompanied by my girl-friend, Karen, with whom I had been living for most of my time in Massachusetts. Tim, Richard Alpert, Ralph Metzner, George Litwin, and indeed the majority of the other members of the Harvard Psychedelic Project, took off for Mexico, more precisely, to coastal Zihuatanejo, there to start an LSD colony along the lines outlined in Aldous Huxley's book Island. It was history's first organised LSD youth colony. And a report from George Dusheck appeared in the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin, part of which I reproduce now:
'Dr. J. J. (Jack) Downing, a top San Mateo County psychiatrist and LSD experimenter, was among twenty Americans expelled from Zihautanejo by Mexican authorities June 16.
'Dr. Downing himself has treated about forty alcoholics with the mindboggling drug at San Mateo County General Hospital, with "hopeful" results, as the News-Call Bulletin reported last January.
'He was not, however, a member of the International Federation for Internal Freedom, sponsors of the Zihuatanejo LSD colony. Dr. Downing was there, in his own words, "as an observer and investigator of the group treatment situation.... "
'The colonists were sedate, professional people, he reported. "There were no beatniks among them," he said. "The majority of them were successful people, who seemed to have a religious or self-improvement motivation in being there."
' "Zihuatanejo is a middle-class Acapulco," said Dr. Downing. "The very rich go to Acapulco, those moderately well off go up the coast . . . about 120 miles north . . . to Zihuatanejo."
'There Dr. Timothy Leary and Dr. Richard Alpert, both former Harvard psychologists, set up a Mexican branch of IFIF, headquartered in Boston.
'The colonists, screened from thousands of applicants, paid $200 a month for food and lodging, lived in one of several bungalows above a beautiful white beach, dotted with palm trees and cabanas.
' "There was an open-air dining room," Dr. Downing observed. "The funicular, a little railroad going down to the beach, didn't run, so we had to walk. There was lots of fresh fish, caught in the bay by Zihuatanejo fishermen. The staff was friendly and casual. The setting is lovely."
'There are four rooms to a bungalow, he said. One of these was set aside for group LSD sessions. Every morning two to five persons would gather in this room, with Hindu prints on the wall, and Hindu woven prints on two double mattresses and boxsprings on the floor. The LSD companions, including one member of the IFIF staff, would swallow liquid LSD and plunge into the dream world of visions, mind-expansion, self-awareness and mystical ecstasy.
'The staff consisted of Dr. Leary, who was busy most of the time screening applicationsmore than 5000 were received from all over North Americaand fending off the curious officials of the Mexican immigration service; Ralph Metzner, a pharmacologist, and his wife, Susan, twenty-two.
'One of these sat with the LSD group, taking the drug also, so as to be simpatico. Those who take LSD and "sail", as the saying goes, believe that only users can understand those who are taking it.
'The dosage was heavy: 100 to 500 micrograms. More than 300 micrograms is considered an overwhelming dose by most experienced pharmacologists and psychiatrists. There are twenty-two grams to an ounce, and a million micrograms to a gram. Thus, enough LSD to cover the head of a pin can send one off like an Atlas rocket.
'As the hours wore on, the group . . . possibly consisting of an actress, a magazine writer, an alcoholic businessman, and Mrs. Metzner . . . would exchange visions, cry out at sudden insights of omnipotence and glory, listen to a motley collection of records. Gradually, towards four or five o'clock in the afternoon, the effect of the drug would wear off, and the drug therapees would emerge one by one into the bright Mexican evening.
'For those not taking LSD, the day was relaxed and endless: Breakfast at 11.00 a.m., lunch at 3.00 p.m., dinner at 9.00 p.m.
' "The atmosphere was highly unusual," Dr. Downing reports. "People accepted one another without suspicion or anxiety. They seemed very open, very relaxed."
'Even when immigration officials, embarrassed by stories of the LSD Paradise in the Mexican press, moved in to close the IFIF colony on June 12, nobody was upset.
' "Dr. Leary was very calm. He went to Mexico City to seek a modification of the order, but when he failed, took defeat without bitterness," said Dr. Downing.
'They all left for Mexico City on Sunday, June 16, on a special DC-3 chartered by immigration officers. The Zihuatanejo experiment had begun on May 1.
' "Six weeks is too short a period to measure any results," said Dr. Downing. "It must be regarded as a ruined experiment. My own view is that Leary and Alpert have developed techniques of potential value. But I do not agree with them that LSD should be available to all who want it. It is a potent, potentially dangerous drug, and should be used on an experimental basis only, by qualified professional researchers."'
Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, life had become quite idyllic for
Karen and myself; we had rented a beach house at Seven Miles,
in the grounds of the Copacabana Club, a popular hang-out and
dancing place for people from Kingston. There was a garden ablaze
with flowers, and hanging-plants around a veranda, from which
we had a view over the ocean and of the Blue Mountains behind
the house. There was also a small pool for a swim after coming
back from surfing.
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