Tonight at 5pm Pacific, 8pm Eastern I’m a guest at a webinar on the topic of psychedelics and Buddhism hosted by Allan Badiner, author of the book Zig Zag Zen. I contributed to the new edition of the book, although I have not received my copy yet.
Those of you who have read Hardcore Zen may recall that I did not speak very highly of Zig Zag Zen in that book. Actually, I remember thinking the book itself was kind of cool in terms of its graphics and what-not. But far too many of the essays contained within it were written by people who imagined that a Buddhist “enlightenment experience” and an acid trip were pretty much the same thing.
I’ve taken LSD four times. All four of those times I took it in the spirit of consciousness exploration that the many of the people who wrote essays in Zig Zag Zen talk about. I did not do acid for recreation or to escape boredom. I was serious, man!
Here’s my take on it.
We are living in reality. Yet our bodies and minds can’t perceive or conceive of the fullness of that reality. So our brains take already degraded sensory input and organize it into a conceptual framework that serves most of us well enough to get by. We learn to align our conceptual picture of reality with that of those around us by listening to their descriptions of their lives and comparing them to our own. Through a process of sharing with each other what we imagine is going on, we refine and reinforce that conceptual picture. We define adulthood as the age at which the majority of people get some kind of reality picture together that fits the consensus well enough that they can cope with other people without a whole lot of assistance.
This consensus way of looking at reality is not the only possible way to look at it. If you go to other countries, you’ll find they have a different consensus that works for them. But you also find that there is a larger consensus view held by most human beings no matter where they come from. Most of us stop there and figure that consensus view is reality.
But it’s not. If you ingest certain substances, these substances can change the chemical balance in your brain and you end up seeing things differently. Reality remains as real as ever, you’re just processing it differently. By processing it differently you may end up noticing aspects of reality that you normally do not. The change from one way of looking at things to the other when brought about by a chemical substance is very abrupt and shocking, which can lead you to believe that you have had a very amazing revelation.
Meditation does not work this way.
Nobody really knows yet precisely what happens in the brains of long-time meditators. I’ve seen some theories that say chemical changes take place and that some of these are like the changes that occur when you do drugs. I’ve never done a chemical analysis on my own brain but I can tell you what it felt like.
Around ten to fifteen years into my life as a daily meditator, I began to notice that the world was starting to look different. I’m not using the word “look” in the conceptual sense, as in the sentence, “Things look different when you know all the facts.” I mean that things really looked different, as in, “Things look different when you wipe off the cream pie that Moe just smashed in your face.”
Colors were brighter. My visual perception was sharper. The same was true of other senses as well. I heard more clearly, smelled more smelly-ly, tasted more tastefully and I could feel stuff I never felt before. I mean “feel” in both the sense of emotional-type feeling and the physical sense of touch. It was kind of like I’d been living my whole life with a burlap bag over my entire body and somehow that bag had been removed.
The only other time in my life when something like that had happened before was when I was on LSD.
Yet in every other possible way it was entirely different from being high on acid. I didn’t see trails everywhere. I could still drive a car or go to a business meeting and not giggle the whole time. What’s even better, I was not scared out of my fucking mind the way I was the last time I had tripped. It also did not go away 6-8 hours after it started.
My understanding of time was also, in some ways, like it had been when I was on LSD. Now seemed infinite. The past and future were clearly unreal. But, unlike when I was on acid, I could still make sense out of what people said about the past and future. I could, for example, figure out when I needed to be at the dentist. If you’d asked me to do something like that while high on LSD, I could not have made any sense at all of the question.
I don’t regret my acid experimentation. I think the LSD explosion of the 60s and 70s had more positive than negative effects overall – Revolver is a great record! I am glad things have loosened up such that researchers can once again legally work with these substances. I hear that LSD is very effective on cluster headaches, and as a sometime sufferer of those myself (though not in a while, thank God), I welcome anything that can help.
But psychedelic explorers who make great claims for what they’ve learned about reality while stoned do not impress me at all. They get way too excited, for one thing. Which is an effect of how drugs work. They shoot you off into the stratosphere without a parachute and that’s pretty exciting. But it’s too fast and it’s over too quickly for anyone to get much of a sense of what’s going on. And if you have to depend on a drug to make this stuff happen, well that’s just lame and lazy. Sorry. But it really is, kids.
I’m unimpressed by druggies for many of the same reasons I’m unimpressed by those who seek out so-called “enlightenment experiences” and then make great claims for them. It’s too exciting and unusual.
I like exciting and unusual things as much as most people. But in the end, that’s not where my main interest lies. I find the supposedly mundane and ordinary world too endlessly fascinating.
Why the hell are we here at all? What is this? The very fact that I’m sitting here at an apartment in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles typing this on a laptop… that’s a-may-zing. Brushing my teeth on a random Thursday morning is an incredible, improbable, weird, wild event.
Nothing is ever boring at all if you start paying attention.
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE
September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP
September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED
September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT
October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova
November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT
April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
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