The Man Who Turned on the World
6. London on My Mind
London 1965It is always interesting to come back to London (why do we love the places we are born in ?) and see how you react to the people. Here I am no longer 'the traveller', but a resident, which is something you realise the moment you step outside Heathrowabroad, you can treat the outer world as mere reaction; at home this is impossible. When an Englishman looks at London he is seeing in its masonry the reflection of his race, like a clean slate, with his own face on. He may not like what he sees, but it is a place he may nod to and really feel he knows. Here, then, I am at the mercy of my own particular form of existence; here I am responsible in a definite way, just a citizen like everybody else....
Accordingly, I exchanged the consciousness of Millbrook as rapidly as possible for that of the resident. Through the far-sight of a generous friend, I soon became the lease-holder of a large, comfortable, Pont Street, Belgravia flat, with high ceilings and thick walls. It was here that we opened the WPC ('World Psychedelic Centre') with Desmond O'Brien, a Lloyd's underwriter and Etonian, as President; and, later, Joey Mellen, also ex-Eton and a graduate in law from Oxford, as its Vice-President.
I had brought with me from America a quantity of LSD, about half a gram, or enough for 5000 sessions, part of an experimental batch made available by courtesy of the Czech Government laboratories in Prague, who had taken over as suppliers after Sandoz stopped selling it anymore, that is, after the Leary-Alpert Harvard storm. But as far as Britain was concerned, there were as yet no provisions for LSD et al. under the 'Dangerous Drugs' Act. The possession of this drug did not become an offense until the summer of 1966, when Britain fell in line with American legislation in this matter. But it was through this loophole in the 1965 legal situation that the WPC was able to operate in an open waythough we had to watch anything else, particularly hash, for which we could be busted (and eventually were, just five months after we started). But for the time being, and encouraged by the accelerating interest in psychedelics amongst our Chelsea neighbours, we believed that London would indeed become the centre for a world psychedelic movement.
In a city where world-feeling is expressed in the form of an impulse for empirical expansion, our 'message' was simple: If you can't capture the world, then try to conquer the heavens. For the idealism of the conquistador would be changed to that of the mystic, the man who conquers nobody except himself. 'The energy which, a little while ago, was able to fill universal space is now condensed into the confines of the individual self; for isn't it said that what is without, is also within ? It is just that the eye of insightthe eye that "gets in" where reality "gets out"has atrophied in man during the past few thousand years; man is blind to the world inside himself and needs the help of three eyes instead of two to gain true wisdom of his own individuality.' We wrote it; we may even have believed it sometimes: and 'acid is to help us see '.
Now we could believe with Camus that 'real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present'. And since it happens so rarely in a lifetime that one ever gets the chance to give one's all to something, or someone, we felt a tremendous sense of involvement now that we had pledged ourselves to spread the psychedelic doctrine. And in one of our earliest manifestos, we wrote
'Man's vision of the future is his recreationthe fulfillment of it is his procreation. The essential ritual is procreationcreation.
But the nagging question in such matters was how were we going to communicate this message with the rest of the world?
Some of us had began to wonder if the solution did not lie in the direction first suggested by William Burroughs (in 1961): 'The forward step must be made in silence. We catch ourselves from word formsthis can be accomplished by substituting for words letters, concepts and verbal concepts, other modes of expression: for example, colour.'
And silence is golden for those who live in the land of gold. But from the revolutionists' point of view, the huge monopolies of power and influence could be seen in 1964 to have become places synonymous with intellectual bankruptcy and spiritual (religious) emptiness. To take one example, the situation with regard to the University Establishment. They could be seen to be institutions of intellectual servitude: 'Students have been systematically dehumanised, deemed incompetent to regulate their own lives, sexually, politically and academically. They are treated like commodities with a price-tag, so much raw material to be processed for the university's clientsbusiness, government and military bureaucracies. Teachers have been relegated to the position of servant-intellectuals, required, for regular promotion, to propagate points of view in harmony with the military and industrial leadership of our society.'
The silence of responsible opinion in the face of such calls to integrity, and ultimately even to sanity itself, all but amounted to a scandal; and certainly a scandal wider in its implications than any freedom movement growing up around psychedelic drug-use, which the mass media promptly called 'abuse', and saw LSD made into a 'dirty' word, like masturbation or VD. We couldn't simply bundle the drugs into a bag and bury it, hoping psychedelics could all somehow be forgotten. This was the problemwhat do we do with these psychedelics now that 'we' in the sense of Everyman have them ?
It wasand isa bit extraordinary, in Britain of all places, that LSD has been rarely a subject, and even more rarely a successful subject, for our best thinkers (with such notable exceptions as Robert Graves on the subject of 'mushroom' visionary experience, Aldous Huxley, and Gerald Heard, all of whom, perhaps significantly, lived abroad).
The reality of the LSD world was too random and fragmentary for any but the most mentally flexible to identify with it, and the unemotional 'cop-out'synthesiswas impossible. British intellectuals were not going to confuse the LSD experience with their literary 'stream-of-consciousness' techniques for discovering the truth about processes of deep consciousness, eitheryou would hardly call Tom Wolfe or James Joyce an 'acid tripper'! What they were unwilling, or unable, to see was that acid literature and acid thoughts are really only those ideas that deal with high level revelation, mysticism, telepathy, and transcendence of the ego. And to that extent we were a new human game and had a message of universal interest.
The developing cult of Exploring Inwardness had become a new truth, the stable core around which a new radical movement would evolve. Truth and response are not a private affair, for the truth comes to one man for all men, endowing the recipient of it in his relation to his contemporaries with the authority of the Prophet or of the High Priest. But men do not willingly recognise a new voice that cries from the modern wilderness and if they are ever at a loss for a scapegoat, they have their man in him who would seek to remove the distorting web of Maya, the cause of all illusions in the self.
Martin Buber, and a prophet of our time, reminds us that, according to Hasidim, the 'teller of tales', ' the effective exploration of the heart is the beginning of the way in a man's life,' it is the one journey in which 'each man must find his own way for himself'. Or such were my esoteric influences in this period, which fed my vision of a future happier world
Thirteen cartons of books arrived at Pont Street via the S.S.
Samaria from America, a private importation for which H.M.
Customs required a Bill of Lading and a completed form C.3. (Now
you can't get more accurate than that). This was our 'psychedelic
stock' for this 'Operation London'300 copies of the Leary/Alpert/Metzner
The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book
of the Dead, 200 issues of The Psychedelic Review ed.
by Drs. Weil and Metzner, and 200 copies of The Psychedelic
Reader ed. by Gunther Weil. It was not only that, at this
time, in 1965, there was nothing similar originating in Britain,
but such literature was virtually unobtainable here, except possibly
through Bernard at Turret Books in Kensington. It also meant that
we had a Manual for running 'guided' LSD-sessions through which
we could observe the elaboration of 'the Art' as well as various
new art-forms. Now we could conduct intensive group-sessions in
which the group-mind might participate in an ancient Tibetan ritual,
and in the safety of our own homes.
We also had lots of cushions, some excellent tapes and hi-fi equipment, a slide projector, and several chillums.
We began shortly before midnight, moving into the new temple room with a kind of piety and seriousness you find in acts of faith, when we all took our place in the 'Magic Circle of Liberation'. After a short silence, we passed round the bowl containing grapes impregnated with acidabout 300 micrograms, or what is considered to be a relatively high dosage, likely to last from between eight to twelve hoursthe sympathetic discharge would follow in about forty minutes, indicated by enlarged pupil diameter, rise in body temperature, increased heart-rate, variable blood pressure, and sometimes a moderate amount of physical trembling. Yet they are no stronger on the body than the effects of a game of tennisonly thinking makes them so.
During this first period, the period of 'countdown', when the psychic energy first begins to be felt, there is a growing sensation within of thousands of delicate threads moving about the body, subtle lines of force which tremble like Pampas grass, as if some thing had opened inside and they were all streaming out. It is as though one's body is dissolving and floating away, and the 'essence' of Me was being liberated to join the 'essence' of everything else about me. One feels open to a total flow, over and around and within the body, and one becomes more and more conscious of these threads of energy, of their vibrations, like harpstrings giving forth their individual tones. There is something purely physical about it, a sensation, something felt rather than recognised, a matter for intuition, not intellect.
This sensation lasts for perhaps ten to fifteen minutes (though one is hardly conscious of the passing of time). Then the threads seem to collect themselves into a single vibrant strand, circular, coiled like a snake; and then like a snake it slowly begins to unwind, moving almost imperceptibly up the spine, which feels like a hollow tube, gathering in force and intensity and bathing the body in a silvery light and very, very sensual indeed. And one's pale introspective self sits in the boon of these tingling strings, sensitive to the least vibration beyond time, beyond place, rocking to the motion of all that is.... The dominant impression is that of entering into the very marrow of self as if each of the billion atoms which compose the body under normal circumstances is summarised and averaged into crude, discriminate wholesale impressions which are now able to be seen and savoured for itself. The impressions become more intense. The vibrations turn into coloursbrilliant blues, purples, and greens with dashes of red and streaks of yellow-orange.
One gradually becomes aware of movement, a rocking type of movement, like on the crest of a wave, yet the body does not move at all with an overwhelming acceleration one is turning around and around, swirling, then shuttling back and forth like a piece of potassium on water, hissing, sparkling, full of life and fire.
This experience may be likened to an emotional-reflective visual kaleidoscope experiences involving these three components keep dissolving continuously from one pattern to another. Emotionally the patterns ranged from serene contentment and mild euphoria to apprehension which bordered on, but never quite slipped into, alarm. But overwhelmingly they involved (a) astonishment at the absolutely incredible immensity, complexity, intensity and extravagance of being, existence, the cosmos, call it what you will; (b) the most acute sense of the poignancy, fragility, preciousness, and significance of all life and history. The latter is accompanied by a powerful sense of the responsibility of all for all intense affection for the others in the room importance and rightness of behaving decently and responsiblyof trying to remain 'open' and cool in all areas simultaneously.
As the 'guide' for this first Bardo session, my job was to look after the music, the pre-recorded taped messages from the book, and keep the participants in the flow. The set and setting are positive, supportive, anxiety-free so that the reaction will be ecstatic, insightful, and educational, just as when the set and setting are clinical, experimental, non-supportive, and impersonal, the reactions are invariably frightening and confusing.
Shortly after dropping the acid, I played a tape of Buddhist Cakra music, followed by Concert Percussion by the American composer, John Cage. I then read from the Psychedelic manual:
About one hour had passed since we ingested the drug, and we were well into the first Bardo. We were beginning to confront the awesome illumination of the metaphysical void and new energy transformations. The instructions from the manual acted as necessary guideposts. We were learning how to spin in neurological space. Psychedelic equals mind-opening consciousness. Psychedelic means ecstatic, which is to stand outside our normal patterns. It means going out of your mind, your habitual world of contingencies, space-time coordinates. And the key issue: 'Anything that exists outside exists there inside'. The human brain is analogous to the galactic onethere are some ten to thirteen billion cells in the brain, about the same number as there are stars in the universe where the planet earth is invisible. The problem of consciousness-expansion is the same as the external inertia to get off this planet. The brain is 'hooked' to the external world. Put a person into a sensory-deprivation tank for very long and he is overcome by 'withdrawal' symptomsanxiety, tension, physical discomfort, and paranoia.
Next I played some music by Ravi Shankar and some bossanova. Interval of fifteen minutes. Then some music by Scriabin and part of a Bach cello suite. Interval. Some Debussy, and Indian flute music by Ghosh. Interval. Bach organ music and some John Cage 'space' music. Interval. The Ali Brothers and Japanese flute music. We also looked at slides projected on to the ceiling Tantric yantras, Vedic Gods, the Buddha, Tibetan mandalas.
I suppose that the room in which we had gathered would appear eccentric to most modern mindscandlelight, flames, incense, drapes flowers, bowls of fruit, but to us it all seemed harmonious, natural and very appropriate for the experiences we were undergoing. The session was not to be thought of as some kind of show, a piece of theatre, an entertainment, but a demonstration and a sharing of novel energy levels and unusual forms of perception. And the decor was to assist the voyager in his experience, a sort of ABC of internal language. It was a device to help one go outside routine modes of experiencing, beyond learned or familiar concepts, so that one wasalbeit brieflyno longer aware of oneself as a social figure, but as another entity. We stood outside the familiar self, outside parochial worlds of experience, outside London outside the idea of being English/American/Danish.
In this sense, the psychedelic experience was not something invented by the Sandoz Chemical Company, but has been known since Vedic times and for which an enormous literature exists. In the West we seek to explain mind in terms of a science called psychology, which is externally oriented towards action and behaviours. But here one faced the fact that in the last analysis everything is internal, everything happens in your own mind.
There were still the instructions of the Third Bardo to follow, and crucial to this session, because they gave instructions on how to re-enter one's normal state of consciousness and thus the everyday world
Recognition, in this sense, does not lead to liberation, but is liberation. He who really knows (that is to say, vitally, not merely theoretically, with his intelligence) that he is one with the entire universe, is beyond all fetters by virtue of this knowledge. The world no longer binds him to it; because, having once been above or outside ordinary existence, he sees the things of the world differently, from a different point of view, and they no longer possess the same power over him. This 'seeing differently' means at the same time recognition; recognition, therefore, does not only condition, but is, liberation. In his deepest being man is spirit, and the more he recognises this, the more firmly he believes it, the more chains fall away from him. Thus, it could happen that, in accordance with the teachings of the Bardo Thodol, complete recognition overcomes even death. All it needs is a believing soul, which is what is meant when we talk about the power of faith. Ordinary people will only be able to believe when they are convinced simultaneously that the content of their faith is also objectively real: that Krishna was really an Avatar, that the Bible is really the Word of God, that Christ saved humanity from death in the historical sense. The visionary, on the other hand, knows that faith in the religious sense, and believing-to-be-true in the scientific one, have nothing in common with each other, that religiously it is completely indifferent whether Christ existed or not, and that the true visionary who is spiritualized, employs faith as he would an instrument. Ramakrishna, for instance, was, for a while, a Christian and also a Mussulman; he wanted to know the effect of these ideals; and in the meantime his faith was so strong that Mahomet as well as Jesus appeared to him in the spirit. For the rest, he kept to the worship of Kali, the heavenly mother, as being the cult best suited to his nature, for he knew that no one form was intrinsically adequate to divinity.
In the session we have just considered, it was collaborative, and the planning increased the likelihood that each person would have the sort of experience he wished. Thus his internal freedom, his control over his consciousness is increased. The readings from the Tibetan Manual were to bring about 'recognition'; that is to remind the voyager at the moment of ego-loss that he is prepared; to insure that he will flow with the process trustfully. While the Buddhist language may strike the Westerner as 'far-out', keep in mind that this is only one of many manuals and instruction sequences from which the prospective voyager can choose, and that the esoteric quality of the language serves as a mnemonic device, that is, say, a sharp memory tap so that the former instructions and resolutions can be recalled.
If we agree that the human mind was born free but everywhere it is in chains, it will take a miracle to free it: because the chains are magical in the first place. We are in bondage to authority outside ourselves; and to exorcise these chains is the great work of magical self-liberation. And the one way of doing this is to activate the soul. Then the eyes of the spirit would become one with the eyes of the body, and god would be in us, not outside. God in us: entheosenthusiasm: this is the essence of the psychedelic experience.
And how, you may wonder, shall we recognise the individual who has thus freed himself from the bonds of appearances, the man who has liberated himself and now walks the earth?
'He who returns in the flow of spirituality
'He stands apart
Again and again I must think of these verses from the Tao Te Ching, for they remind me of so many of the hippie voyagers I meet on the trail, who live at a different level as the result of extraordinary internal experiences, which alone affect men. With Jesus, they can say: I have, like my father, all life within me.
They are 'different'.
The milieu of 'swinging London' in 1965 appeared to me like the best possible caricature of the Edwardian world, that mighty institute for the threefold passion of independence, indulgence, indifference, which gave soul to their esprit and their art of living. Real love was unknown to them, they had no serious interests of any kind- the whole of their existence was spent in grooving, getting high, making the scene. And yet many of them were intelligent and profound and their profundity was not impeded by their life-style; on the contrary, it gave them a means of expression. And for this reason the frivolity of this period occasionally gave an impression of gravity and profundity which struck me as being strange and made one dream.... It was a period when people paid attention to dress, and clothes were no less essential than their bodiesit was a means of expression, and their dressed condition mirrored in their consciousness the outer expression for themselves. 'By changing his clothes he changes the man within.' The mode of dress assisted in expressing certain traits of his being. In this way the process of dressing-up can not only heighten or lessen the individual's power of expression: it can indeed bring about self-realisation.
How did I come to make this observation ? Shortly after I moved into the Pont Street apartment, a couple of my friends took me aside and suggested that I get some new clothes, costumes of the Chelsea of the mid-sixtiesEdwardian jackets, embroidered in gold and silver, and silk shirts with huge collars, velvet pants and blue suede shoes, and so forthand thereby prove that the spirit of this age is the spirit of its wearer. It was a method of clothing oneself with a certain purposeexpressing certain traits of one's being which in the ordinary course of events remain in the background. It is a mode of dress to reveal what the individual is; it alters, as it were, the centre of his being. Such an individual, they argued, is more himself than he is otherwise in his 'real' existence.
Accordingly, I let myself be persuaded to exchange my jeans and sweat shirt for a new wardrobe, and Michael Rainey's shop 'Hung On You' sent round a huge pile of fashionable clothes and a bill for £600. There were about five of us staying at the apartment and we divided the clothes between us. I ended up with a pair of flared pin-stripe trousers with an enormous belt and silver buckle, several silk shirts and ties, and a couple of hand-embroidered jackets. Now I was at one with the fashion of my times. The only problem was a psychological oneI was embarrassed to be seen in them and consequently I stayed indoors, ignoring all invitations and gradually reverted back to my jeans and sweat shirt much to the chagrin of those for whom clothes had great significance. There was also the additional factor of the cheque, which bounced, and I felt somehow uncomfortable wearing these expensive clothes as a result.
My associations in this period with a select group of young aristocrats and artists and musicians and writers, responsible for influencing sharply the patterns of the New Vanguard of British culture and intellectual life, was felicitous in the extreme; but it cannot be held solely responsible for making a revolutionary of me.
l was certainly surrounded by a number of high-powered anarchists. My partner, Desmond O'Brien, was already achieving renown as one of the most far-out LSD exponents in London and had ever been described in one publication as 'Mr. LSD'; and our Vice-President, Joey Mellen, one of the first persons to trepan himself, had already embarked on a career as a priest in a new order which was to make him a distinguished figure of great importance to English evolutionary religion. In addition to my colleagues, associates of the World Psychedelic Centre included such notables as Victor Lownes, who co-founded the Playboy empire with Hugh Heffner; Julian Ormsby-Gore, the film maker; Alex Trocchi, the philosopher-writer; Michael O'Dwyer, the art gallery owner; Julie Felix, the singer; George Andrews, the poet; Jo Berke, the psychiatrist working with Ronnie Laing- Feliks Topolski, the painter; John Hopkins, the writer; Nick Douglas, the painter; Kim Ella, the singer; Ian Sommerville, the multi-media expert; Roman Polanski, the film maker; Bart Hughes, the high priest of the trepanation movement; Sir Roland Penrose, a director of the Tate Gallery; Hugh Blackwell, the writer; as well as Roger Lewis, Billy Bolitho, Virginia Lyon, Steve Groff, Mark Warman, Olivia de Haulleville, Shelley Cholst, Maggie Russell, Shirley Scott James, Bill Burroughs, Bobby Davidson, Donovan, Paul McCartney, Jim Arender, John Eason, Nicholas Gormanstone, Christopher Gibbs, Suna Portman, and Victoria Ormsby-Gore, all of whom made outstanding contributions to the current London scene.
They exemplified a constellation of attitudes that were of great importance to the cultural-artistic life of London. They represented perhaps the seminal non-conformism of England's mid-sixties intelligentsianot the evangelical non-conformism of such as the Millbrook sect, but an intellectualized form of psychedelic enlightenment, of which popularised Learyism was largely a culminationthat freed so many of England's educated people from the rigidity of social and class and cultural patterns which had outwardly been solidifying into right-wing Toryism. Their rebellion was typical of this period; the Establishment was the enemy, the representative of the rigid patterns they felt needed to be violently rearranged.
These exotic friends were supplemented through their contacts; and affiliations developed with such places as St. Martin's School of Art, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, where we conducted a 'Workshop in Consciousness Expansion', and such literary figures as Professor Neville Coghill, Norman Mailer, and Philip O'Connor.
And yet there was a problem, a self-indulgence of mine which earned me some social suspicion, if not also social ostracism, and which led methough against all my instinctswell over that line which divides the normal from the abnormal.
I refer, of course, only to my taking of methedrine.
It was not illegal to take methedrine, provided that one has a prescription, signed by a registered medical practitioner; and one could legally receive regular supplies of this (or any other 'hard' narcotic) drug, provided that the physician prescribes for an 'addiction'.
In 1965, not only was my purchase of methedrine legal: friends bought their heroin and their cocaine with no more trouble than that with which they purchased their cough syrup. I took my methedrine in the 'pure' form, as a liquid, being the form in which the drug is most easily assimilable. And in doses that medical descriptions of the typical methedrine-addiction syndrome indicate to have been heavy ones, about seven injections a day.
But that I had a serious addiction, a description of my nervous activity makes clear: the restlessness, the ability to work for days without adequate sleep, and even without rest at all; the abrupt changes of mood; and the equally abrupt collapse into somnolence not far (if at all) removed from a torpor bordering on coma these, to those who have studied the effects of methedrine addiction, are the unmistakable evidence of heavy and prolonged indulgence in a powerful narcotic.
I also smoked pot and hashish constantly, and tried every chemical I was handed. I also took acid about three times a week and in dosages in excess of 500 micrograms. I never slept, and after about two months I had turned myself into a sort of zombie. Every now and then I injected myself with dimethyl-tryptaminea fast-acting psychedelic of short durationto jack myself back into life again.
Naturally, this 'hard' drug-taking led to a complete disorientation of my life, which was now chaotic in the extreme, and I spiralled further and further down until I was caught in a mental prison of anxieties, paranoia, frictions and most despairs of consequence. It was all very, very frightening, and I began to think that I would remain forever hung up on an endless chain of manic-depressive emotions. It was ironic, really, that after all those lessons in meditation, all those disciplines and yogic exercises those trips under LSD, those austerities and years of metaphysical reflection, the mystic dreams, quiet days, the idea that there was no need to achieve anymore or to go about and do things and make things happen, I was now at the mercy of a non-miraculous addiction.
In vain I tried to kick the habit, but it was impossible, the monkey was on my back and I could not remove it. I began to believe that it was all somehow a cosmic plot in which I was the victim. I had nightmares which nearly scared me to death. I reached a point where communication with other people was impossible. I saw the whole world conspiring against me. I was literally out of my mind and living in some kind of hell of my own making. And, worst of all, there was no one I could turn to for help, for there was no one I trusted; such were the effects of this poison I injected into myself.
And the situation at Pont Street became more and more unreal so much so that all my friends stopped coming round and everyone thought I was crazy, which I was, if my behaviour was anything to go by. That is how I appeared to them, what I was for thema stupid, insensitive, unthinking person. What this drug had done was to reveal the hidden monstrousness and infernal depths within my psyche. Certainly, I made conscious efforts to exorcise the sources of my confusion, but in vain. How would I ever rid myself of this methedrine hell, this habit which was killing me? I had plunged into the abyss, gone beyond my limitations, beyond even the confines of my reason which had served me so well. This was the land of madness, of death. How undignified, despicable, meaningless!
Yet, like all addicts, I clung to my drug. I had grown accustomed to it, I had even formed a superstitious affection for it. I didn't want to stop my habit. One fix meant four more hours of life another fix, four more hours of life. I couldn't just let myself go, for this would have meant death, and I still clung stubbornly to life. But there was a sense in which I was already dead. The taking of methedrine implies excess of life, intemperance, and surfeit; it is also a way of killing yourself. This realisation accounted for the uncontrollable terror, the panic, which gripped my soul at nightfall, when I was alone with the alone and lost in a maze of contradictory emotions, when I knew that my addiction was at once tragic, dangerous, terrifying and immoral.
And I was not the only one who thought so. George Andrews, obviously disturbed by what was happening, wrote me a letter:
'Dear Michael, I have been hearing some strange stories about you from a lot of different people. In Tangier I learned to draw a very sharp line of distinction between the psychedelic guide, who is rare, and the psychedelic hustler, who is a dime a dozen. For someone with as much experience as you have had, to be using it the way you seem to be, you have in your hands the Void in crystal form, the lightning of the gods, the jade wine of the immortals. All the flip-outs and bad trips one is responsible for are added to one's daily load of karma. Why make the load even heavier? Why not lighten it instead?'
But the advice could not be heeded. Like a poison gas, the methedrine had become all-invading, and I knew that I was close to death.
I ought to have known better. What a situation to be in! The euphoria of the drug had become my refuge from the real world. It was a barrier between myself and other people, a wailing wall, a wall of separation. And I wondered what would become of me. Was I a helpless puppet in the hands of some unimaginably cruel demon, tugged and pulled on invisible strings, but off from myself, since my innermost being was no longer in control. What was the use of knowing mystical truths ? What help were they now ? That I had to stop injecting toxins into my body was obvious enough. But how must I do this? Never have I, the wanderer, felt such pains of anguish in my soul. It seemed to me at times as though the demon methedrine was at hand to strip my mind of all reason.
I was in the depths of despair, and anguish. Where I should be laughing and playing, I felt horror and disgust. And I did not understand how I had got myself into such a situation, how my addiction was possible. The demon laughs: what is there to understand ? It is something to like and enjoy. It is a matter of course ! Is this the secret?I felt as though in some mysterious manner, in some indescribable sense, I was living in a plastic world where there was neither light nor fertility nor, on the other hand, any wish to understand my former research after truth. The spiritual light was extinguished in the same sudden and mysterious way as it flashed up. The old dregs filled me up, took me to task, threatened to weigh me down; I felt my humanity as something alien, burdensome; worse still than that of the helpless animal in a trap, because I knew how to question the validity of that which was beyond my power to control.
It was an impossible situation. It would never have occurred to me a few years ago, when I first started to extend my sensory appreciations and nervous system, that one day I should find myself sitting in the living-room of a Belgravia apartment trying to inject myself with 'speed'; or that if by some freaky accident such a bizarre experience had come my way I should wish to write about it. (Still less that my publisher would condone such an eccentric choice of subject.) But the relation of the individual fettered to earth through addiction with the individual who knows the light of Brahma or Jesus or Buddha, resembles that of the ant with the human being who crosses its path: no matter how certain the ant is by instinct, it cannot help itself when faced by problems which must appear transcendental to its organism. Just so in the case of the addict who attempts to solve the riddle of his own addition. From the angle of reason, it is insoluble. 'Don't you see?' says a well-intentioned friend. 'Just look at the mess you are making of your life ! Stop ! Understand ! ' How can an addict understand ? And even if he wants to give it up, he cannot do so. The intentions he calls forth turn back, thoughts take flight, he cannot grasp the totality of the experience, he is afraid of exploding into a million bits of protoplasm. So he continues. And to ask a psychiatrist or the local vicar to cope with your addiction is as senseless as to ask an Indian yogi to repair a jet aircraft. Today, neither psychiatry nor religion have much to offer in the way of comfort or cure.
Hugh, a friend of mine, also shooting speed, came round to see me. He was desperately seeking to reassure himself that there was some meaning to his life and that this drug could help him find it. He had been up for the last three nights writing his 'Journal' in which he attempted to solve the riddle of the universe, seeing in his crazed eye previously invisible relations and connections between words and worlds, and himself as the sun-like source of boundless energy, ceaselessly giving, ceaselessly pouring out words without hindrance or resistance. He showed me a few pages from his never-ending work-in-progress
'Aquamarine light smoke the slow drift and eddy of youth in blue jeans and a painted facesounds like chandeliers drip glitter and tinkle chime pagodasPont Street and Sunny South Ken sweet sounds of Donovan on a pyramid of people spotlit in a flurry of congasthe black saint dressed in tribal white moans blues and mike yells lights hurt by the finger gleams of lunatic heads creating a collage of movementHEY BABY WHAT IS THIS ?it happens in murmurs and purple planes of light in mauve rhythms in slow syncopated tinsel quivers and glitters in their eyesblond hairstripes and fragrance
It all made coherent sense to me when he read it aloud, but I include it now as an illustration really of the random processes of thought which occur in states of methedrine narcosis. It was also fortunate for Hugh's reputation that, as popular prejudice against speed began to growand the law began to take cognizance of that prejudiceHugh was steadily being weaned from his habit by the undemonstrative, patient and assiduous attentions of his girlfriend.
In my case, three events occurred to shake me out of any feelings of indifference. The first was a telephone call from Texas telling me that Leary had been found guilty of transporting three ounces of marijuana across the Laredo-Mexican border as well as failing to pay taxes on it and had been fined $40,000 and given the maximum sentence of thirty years in jail. 'That s the same what Prometheus got,' the lawyer added, somewhat casually.
The second was a half-page advertisement in the London Evening Standard:
'LSDTHE DRUG THAT COULD THREATEN LONDON. Just for kicks, some famous artists, pop stars, and debs are "taking a trip" on LSDone of the most powerful and dangerous drugs known to man. It produces hallucinations. It can cause temporary insanity. Kicks like this may be bought at the appalling cost of psychotic illness or even suicide. It is banned in America and elsewherebut is still available in London, quite legally. Still more appallingjust half an ounce of LSD could knock out London. Socially, the stuff is dynamite. London Life magazine has investigated LSD fully and has uncovered a social peril of magnitude which it believes demands immediate legislation to stop the spread of a cult which could bring mental lethargy and chaos. London Life reporters have also traced the man who calls himself Mr. LSD. He has given them an astonishing series of interviews. Read all about him, and about LSD, in this week's London Life.'
Mr. LSD was of course our President, Desmond O'Brien, and believe it or notthe reporter was Hugh, whose mind, as I have already indicated, was racing ahead of itself into the higher realms of associative paranoia due to methedrine poisoning. When I telephoned Hugh about all of this, he said that he had been so stoned that he had told the story of what was going on at the World Psychedelic Centre to the London Life editor who was, as it happened, the reporter who first broke the Profumo-Keeler scandal. 'This thing is bigger than the Keeler story,' he had told Hugh. But of course it was too late for me to do anything. There were even advertisements on televisionspirals of colour in and out of focus and a voice saying 'LSDthe drug that could turn on London. Read the exclusive story in next week's London Life.'
And the third and final straw was an article in the Sunday tabloid, The People, that was headed in one-inch lettering.
'THE MEN BEHIND LSDTHE DRUG THAT IS MENACING YOUNG LIVES.... The drug is LSD-25Lysergic Acid diethylamide. It is by far the most dangerous drug ever to become easily obtainable on the black market.
A 'paranoid', according to Bill Burroughs, is someone who has some idea of what is really going on. In this sense you could say that I was a 'paranoid'. I had read the newspapers and realised that my time was up, that the police would now be on to me, so I split London for the country, though with little or no idea of where I should go or what I would do.
I rented a car through Hertz and set off for the North, to Durham to be exact, arriving there late one evening, and very, very stoned indeed. I still had several dozen ampoules of methedrine, about two ounces of hashish and a similar quantity of good grass. I spent a couple of days in Durham retracing familiar places of my early childhood, visiting family and generally grooving around. London seemed a memory only as I wandered the narrow streets and alleyways surrounding the Cathedral, a place that had become somehow unreal in my imagination, a place I did not wish to return to. But in my paranoid state (one of the real dangers of modern life), I began to suspect that the Durham police were on my heels, so I left as suddenly as I came, this time for Yorkshire and the open moors.
For the next three days I just drove and drove and drove, staying at country hotels and leaving early in the morning. I think I must have clocked up 2000 miles since leaving London. My drug intake had also increased, so much so that there were times I had to park the car because I could not see the roadmy vision was blurred and distorted, and I had difficulty remembering how to change the gears or which pedal was the brake and which was the clutch. My paranoia level also increased and to such a degree that I thought I was being followed by the police (such are the delusions of the advanced methedrine-taker, who sees danger even in shadow). But the most amazing experience occurred on the fourth night. I was cruising through the lanes and by-ways of the Lake District in the early hours; there was no traffic on the roads and the countryside was still and motionless, when, suddenly, the mirror lit up and I experienced a sort of panic. Police. It could only be the police at this time of the night, and they had somehow got on to me. I immediately accelerated and sped through the lanes like an express train, swerving round corners, darting through empty villages but still the light in the mirror. I could not shake my pursuer, probably a cop specially trained at the Police Driving School, I reflected. Faster and faster I sped. And still the light in the mirror. Sheer panic. I was trembling all over. Terror gripped my soul. I was like an animal being chased by a pack of dogs, with no hole to dive into. Then I saw an open farmyard, and turning into it, I drove through the potted yard until I came to a narrow path overgrown with grass. But it was straight and somehow I managed to keep on the path. I must have driven three or four miles along this bumpy grassy path when the headlights picked up a gate blocking the path, and for a moment I was tempted to accelerate and smash my way through it, as they seem to be able to do in the cheaper American movies. But I stopped, and very fortunately so, because when I got out of the car to open this 'gate' I discovered that it was a barrier fence with a drop of about 100 feet to a river below. And that the 'path' was not a path at all but a disused railway track with the railway lines removed. My next discovery was equally surprisingthe 'light' I had been picking up in my mirror and which I had believed was the light beam of a pursuit police-car was only the reflection of a full moon ! I was being chased by the moon. And it was this extraordinary hallucination that brought me back to some kind of sanity again, and I slowly backed my way to the farmyard and on to the road again, where I parked the car and fell asleep, thankful that I had had such a lucky escape from certain death.
At dawn, when my head was a little clearer, I decided that I had had enough of this fantasy existence and, at a leisurely speed, drove back to London and to my flat in Pont Street. Strange! Back in the face of this flaming world I am reminded of the serenity of the Buddha. And my mad car ride was like a dream, induced by all the drugs; I had been to hell, but the flames had done me no damage; they were as harmless as shadows.
A new dawn breaks. Once more, as on the first day of creation, I am born. The laughing moon, insecure and pale, hurries away from the flaming sun in a sweeping curve. The silver has changed into a dull red. The black background which but a few hours ago threatened to absorb me, reveals itself now as a grey crust of dross. And I am back in reality once more. A thought strikes me: must addicts all contend with a nisus to self-destruction ? In my case, it is only bad temper that keeps me going the blessing of Siva. Bom!
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Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Major Studies of Drug and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - The Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse
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Guide to Heroin - Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin
LSD, Mescaline, and Psychedelics
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American Society for Action on Pain
Let Us Pay Taxes
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Reefer Madness Collection
Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
DEA Ruling on Medical Marijuana
Legal References on Drugs
GAO Documents on Drugs
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