There was an article in the newspaper recently stating that ‘retro’ drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms were back. This is an interesting development because the psychedelic drugs are traditionally less popular than the stimulant / party drugs but they also have very different effects. The term ‘psychedelic’ is made up of psyche – meaning ‘mind’ and delos – meaning ‘clear’, so psychedelic could be interpreted as ‘manifesting a clear mind’. This makes sense to me as in all of my psychedelic experiences, on everything from mushrooms to mescaline, I felt absolute clarity about where I was and what I was doing regardless of how bizarre things actually were. Afterwards however, instead of clarity I had years of confusion and symptoms from flashbacks to permanently altered optics. Later still, once I had understood that you need to work with a drug past, I found some clarity again but of a different sort. I realized that those drugs made me understand that there is more to the world than what we see, that it is only the inner journey in life that is important and that there is definitely a spiritual aspect to existence.
Many psychedelic drugs are also categorised as entheogens – psychotropic substances that ‘give birth to the god within’ – and some scholars even argue that the psychedelic experience derived from entheogens (such as daytura, psilocybin mushrooms or ayahuasca) is the historical basis of religion. This is because these plant-based substances ‘ecstatically transformed ordinary consciousness and led to the conviction of the immortality of the soul’ (Lamborn Wilson, P. Ploughing the Clouds : the search for Irish Soma. City Lights, SF 1999). Entheogens have been used for thousands of years in the religious or spiritual traditions of many cultures (by shamans or trained initiates) to structure individual relations with spirits. The shamans believed that the psychedelic plants were spirits or Gods and that they could manifest or disappear at will (ibid). Interestingly enough the knowledge and use of these substances did disappear (with some exceptions) for centuries. But then they came back in a big way in the West in the counter-culture movement of the1960s. I don’t know whether the comeback was the plants’ idea or not but there is no question that the experiences derived from psychedelic drugs made many Westerners turn to spiritual teachings and seek enlightenment.
By then the West had developed into a modern, rational, and scientific culture addicted to proof and our spiritual side had been buried. This represents imbalance and organisms, whether on an individual or cosmic level, are designed to strive for balance. The return of the psychedelic drugs initiated a swing in the opposite direction which started to correct the existing imbalance. At the time though I didn’t see it like that. We had no knowledge of or respect for the worlds the psychedelic drugs showed us and I think many of us misunderstood the opportunity for change or the information that they presented. We kept using drugs for far too long with no goal, context or guidance. In his book Breaking Open the Head, Daniel Pinchbeck (who took far more trips than I ever did) discusses a case where a person had taken psychedelic mushrooms and during his trip two huge mushroom spirits appeared and asked why he had eaten them. He said to get high. They seemed annoyed and told him that if he did it again they would kill him and then left. On a mescaline trip my friends and I took, we were shown the presence of a powerful being but we totally ignored this and spent the time carrying huge rocks around.
Far more powerful than mescaline or magic mushrooms was LSD, the drug which created the most change in most of us. LSD didn’t deliver messages from the ‘green nation’ as the plant- based psychedelics such as mushrooms might have done, but it did force open the mind to things far beyond the safety zone of the lineal, rational and logical world. Even now I can’t look at a tree for more than a minute without it morphing and shape-shifting. This is a result of my LSD use and I now think the true journey begins after the tripping has finished. We have to process and learn from the psychedelic experiences we have had or we are going to have a lot of stranded and lost travellers. I was lost for years after my drug-taking days ended. After facing the intense discomfort of withdrawal, I then had to deal with an agonizing emptiness when I attempted to live in the straight world. I thought I had done something wrong in the past with drugs but if I put my head down, closed off my heart and did what everyone else did, I’d find happiness. But post-drug life for me was the feeling that my soul was lost, my body was in pain and my mind was ungraspable. The only people who were happy about anything were my family. In their eyes I had come to my senses, was able to function as a normal citizen and, as I didn’t take them outside their comfort zones, I wasn’t a threat anymore.
Mood- and mind-altering drugs are used in psychiatry to alter people’s perception of themselves or the world and it wasn’t until I understood and accepted the fact that my use of recreational drugs had also wrought some permanent change and that I had to work with this, that I regained any happiness. My spirit had been freed by the drugs and now couldn’t live in captivity. This forced me to look beyond what Yogananda called the ‘chicken-coop’ life. I had to accept that after exploring astral realms, I would never be able to find excitement or happiness via sport, barbeques on the weekend or renovating a house in the suburbs. I am not condemning this life. According to the Dalai Lama our mission in life is to become happy, and if a house provides fundamental happiness then a life aimed at improving its appearance is logical. But drugs had permanently wiped these parameters for happiness from my being. I felt disjointed, misplaced and very weird. I couldn’t even put it into words and didn’t want to as there was no point. Society didn’t have the tools or language to deal with such conditions. All the interesting cross-disciplinary research into the psychedelic drugs stopped in the mid-sixties, before any true insight into their potential or nature was established, and going to a doctor would have meant antidepressants, tranquillisers and sleeping pills. This might have made life in the coop bearable but my subsequent study of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Body-Mind medicine and contemporary spirituality made me see that my problem wasn’t from this world. My problem was spiritual, or other-wordly. Legal drugs wouldn’t change my situation and I had to find the means myself to reintegrate body, mind and spirit and once again experience the full potential of REAL life.
Psychedelic drugs do provide a conscious experience of the unconscious, of the dream state, the imaginings of spirit, but they force this state by separating body and mind. To recapture that state – the excitement and wonder – and travel into those realms you need to integrate the mind back into the body. This enables us to expand consciousness while remaining functional in this dimension. I truly believe that there aren’t any other options for people who have taken lots of psychedelic or other drugs. I think the psychedelics do show freedom of the spirit but once that freedom is tasted, any return to the box can trigger depression and inertia. You can numb your senses with medication to forget about the short experience of freedom or find a way out of imprisonment. Your body is your immediate prison and its your mind which enables you to destroy these walls to reunite with your soul. So the first step is engaging with the body by allowing the Chi to flow freely throughout the organs. From the Energy Medicine perspective a bodyworker can work towards this by applying pressure to blockages in the Energy Field. Acupuncture achieves the same end. Self-administered practices such as Yoga, Chi-gung or Tai- chi put the body in a very specific position to apply pressure on these blockages and energetic obstructions to ensure the free-flow of Chi. Perseverance of the practice in addition to other factors such as intelligent diet and routine will lead towards body, mind, spirit union and self- realization – or knowledge of one’s true self based on experience. Self-realized we feel emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually at one – we are in a state of ‘perfect existence’. Drugs can provide a glimpse of this end goal in an instant. While I would never advocate the use of drugs I do believe that if you have had that experience through drugs, you do have the advantage of having glimpsed the future and you need to catch up to that future. In terms of thepsychedelics, you want that clarity, that vision and that knowledge of your role in the cosmos again but in a fully conscious, present manner. Then the spirit becomes the body and the body becomes the spirit while the mind acknowledges the experience as it is. Achieving this is a thrill far beyond any that a drug can provide. In the thirty years since the psychedelics ‘came back’ our society has changed dramatically and as drug use continues to escalate more and more people will subsequently be forced to break down their prison walls and acknowledge the true nature of the universe and themselves.