Practicing the Psychedelic Revolution
(This essay can be downloaded as a PDF from here. The online version here includes multimedia content)
When psychedelic drugs captured the popular imagination of the West in the 1960s they were seen by opponents as very dangerous. But their proponents saw them as almost sacred and revolutionary. The separation between these two sides took psychedelic drugs to the point of illegality and underground culture, which they occupied for decades. Today, almost 6 decades after LSD was made illegal in the United States in 1966, interest in psychedelics is stronger than ever. But what is it to live a psychedelic life?
To be Psychedelic
In November 1963 world famous British author Aldous Huxley lay dying at the age of 69. In his last hours he requested intramuscular LSD be administered to his failing body. He was given it and soon lapsed into unconsciousness and died. He was very familiar with the drug and had been working with it since 1953. Huxley did not take LSD to sooth or distract himself. LSD does not sooth. It focuses and accentuates, In this case in the last moments of consciousness and we hope that it took his awareness out of its situation (i.e body death) and into the absolute. A psychedelicist does not fear death. Death is understood as a dissolving not an ending.
To be psychedelic is to transverse the common shared boundaries of perceptual reality. These can be visual, social, temporal or physical; all are understood according to the preconceptions we carry with us, and these fall away under the influence of the psychedelic. The Family as the source of life, or the idea that time travels forwards are just two examples of billions. By engaging with the psychedelic, whether in art, music, film, literature or even in drugs, we cross over into a separate experience bought on by an altering of sense perception, a manipulation of our cognitive experience of time and the re-coordination of our relationship to language through our awareness. This awareness has been called involution. Involution includes a reversal of the sense process, whereby sensory impressions become expression and recognition becomes creation. In art, literary expression and music the listener or viewer ‘completes’ the work according to how it suggests or manifests patterns or feelings. .
The psychedelic work is rarely concerned with realism. This is not abstraction but involution, or to reverse the process of sensory awareness and to recreate the world. It is more about the immersive experience of the mind. The experience overwhelms the individual mind and the person doing the experiencing becomes part of something larger that is extra-sensory. With the silencing of the ego, the senses gain an expanded juncture with the world of phenomena and the vibrations of existence. The mind does not just perceive, it becomes. Not as a reducing valve but as a reality producing neural network.
It is not possible to be in a psychedelic state all of the time, but it is possible to be psychedelic all the time. To be continually manifesting mind in the world. There are many ways to do this. But if we pay attention to the spiritual traditions that are concerned with manifesting mind in the world, there are levels of mind that move well beyond the ego, that self-centered point of awareness, and the personal into the realms of a Global Mind, a single form of consciousness that is attuned with the much larger cosmic picture.
Psychedelic consciousness is a birthright. The historical record shows us it is an ancient dimension to human culture. It is the ability to manifest the mind in material and perceptual forms. This can be done as art. It can be done in life. If the mind is manifest in ordinary waking consciousness the flow of awareness that underpins what we call society is reversed. Instead of taking in information (either from school, a boss, media, the government, a police officer or a parent) and then either adjusting behavior or acting according to that information, the mind becomes the source of information and behavior or actions follow. To manifest the mind in life, or the world, is to live psychedelically.
There are systems that can enable and discipline the manifestation of consciousness in the world and beyond. Yoga is one, shamanism is too, and meditation is another. By Yoga I do not mean the once a week or even daily yoga class at your local center. I mean the union with the absolute principle as a result of attainments through mind, body and soul exploration and exercise according to the systems laid down by the linage of yogis and yoginis over the centuries. In the words of an early European master, Aleister Crowley, the goal is “the union of self-consciousness with the universe”.
The breaking through from ‘received consciousness’ to psychedelic consciousness costs nothing and the means to achieve it are all around you. You do not need to join a class or live in an ashram to climb this ladder. Even taking drugs is optional. You mostly just need a strong and maintained desire to change. You need discipline. You need to stop and breathe. That is the beginning. Listening is the next step; not just with your ears, but with your entire being. You will need a teacher, which is something external from your own awareness that provides a focus as an alternative to your own mental chatter and burdensome habits and beliefs. But the teacher can be many things: your child, whom you love with an ego splitting devotion, or it could be your own heart or even be a long haired aesthetic sitting on a mountain in the Himalayas. Often your teacher will find you and not the other way round. Where you look will make a lot of difference to what you find. There are many ways of escaping from the fixed flow of absorbing the information of the world and to start moving towards making conscious decisions for acting upon change. That is the manifestation of mind in the world. But what is mind?
What is Mind?
To discuss mind requires us to define mind. Mind is not the brain as the creator of awareness, as Dr. Peter Fenwick states, “the brain does not create or produce consciousness; rather, it filters it. As odd as this idea might seem at first, there are some analogies that bring the concept into sharper focus.” The brain can be thought of as the organizer. Mind is awareness. This does not mean it is just what you ‘think’. It is more the experience of being. While I can think, I am also aware of many things I am not thinking. The acceptance of these often external forms is the formation of Mind, for example the understandings we carry with us when we walk down a street often result in automatic actions and decisions, such as not walking on the road or knowing how to negotiate pedestrian traffic in a ‘polite’ way. Thinking is just one function of mind. The awareness I have of my body and the information my body sends to my brain; such as the experience of pain or sexual excitement are also dimensions of my mind. Other functions of the mind include memory, creativity, imagination, and language. Language is also a common way to access and alter the mind, but there are many others. Drugs, education, music, sex and love, art, exercise, and mediation are all ways of altering mind.
There can be levels of mind outside individual awareness. The psyche is just a lens through which we experience existence, as interconnected expressions of the larger ‘World Soul’ or ‘Universal Mind’ or Brahman. While the atman (‘breath’) is the “the self-existent essence of human beings, the observing pure consciousness or witness-consciousness” of an individual, Brahman is an unchanging, universal spirit or consciousness which underlies and permeates all things. The conscious connection of atman with Brahman can bring about startling realisations. The entire configuration of atman and Brahman as well as the material world of which we are part is all mind.
To examine the manifesting of mind I have chosen the following themes:
These points for manifesting Mind can be found in many traditions and practices, which are still available to people today and that can be integrated into daily life.
The temporal nature of all things is common in many traditional knowledge systems and cultures around the world. Most of them are pre-industrial. It is important to remember that the concept of clock-time, the linear calendar and the working week are all fairly new to human civilisation.
Traditional Indigenous cultures are grounded in the idea of maintaining cohesion in the cosmos through rituals, ceremonies and art. These acts bring impermanence into cycle whereby the return and repetition of seasons, movement and activities are used to shape the awareness. These are always embodied practices, with the body and its senses functioning as the pivot between the world and the spirit realm. This demanding activity requires training to access and maneuver through many layers of experienced reality. This intensely complex system is not something that can be taken up or understood by anyone outside the realities that it produces. For this reason we can only turn to the teachers, elders and custodians and try to learn what we can in terms of principles but not necessarily as practices. This plane is not an easy place to inhabit. It is better to work with your own mind than with the complex spiritual inheritance of other cultures. This is not abstraction, it is not realism, there is no fiction and non-fiction, there is only a becoming, a bringing into the world of mind through the traditions of songs, dances, images, diagrams, music, maps and rituals. However there are a number of key components that can be found in Indigenous practices that allow impermanence to be incorporated into life.
All existence is cyclical. You can also acknowledge this and make it part of your life. Many Buddhist practices are about manifesting consciousness so as to maintain outward cosmic order. Impermanence, called anicca (Pāli) or anitya (Sanskrit), appears extensively in the Pali Canon as one of the essential doctrines of Buddhism. The doctrine asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is “transient, evanescent, inconstant”. All temporal things, whether material or mental, are compounded objects in a continuous change of condition, subject to decline and destruction. All physical events and their mental equivalents are not permanent. They are not constant; events come into being and dissolve. Before they dissolve they are manifest in the world from the source of mind. All manifestations can be transcended through consciousness or the manifestations of mind.
From the temporal emerges the idea of transcendence. Transcendence is the basic ground concept from the word’s literal meaning (from Latin), of climbing or going beyond, albeit with varying connotations in its different historical and cultural stages. In religious experience transcendence is a state of being that has overcome the limitations of physical existence and by some definitions has also become independent of it. This is typically manifested in prayer, séance, meditation, psychedelics and paranormal “visions”. For psychedelic awareness the notion of transcendence needs to be applied to thinking from within the human scale, in order to bring about change in daily life. By manifesting mind, from inspired or psychedelic means, is to transcend daily life.
One school of thought that has already spent considerable time working on transcendence is northern or Mahayana Buddhism.
In Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattva practices of the six paramitas, or transcendent perfections, guide the practitioner. These are a path to enlightenment, the fruition of the bodhisattva way, and a means to benefit sentient beings. They are transcendent because the subject, object, and practice of the perfections are all free of self, which is known as the threefold purity.
1. Generosity: to cultivate the attitude of generosity.
2. Discipline: refraining from harm.
3. Patience: the ability not to be perturbed by anything.
4. Diligence: to find joy in what is virtuous, positive or wholesome.
5. Meditative concentration: not to be distracted.
The final category, Wisdom is the determinant within psychedelic transcendence. Wisdom includes what is termed ‘primordial mind’ which is the primordial and non-dual knowing aspect of the nature of mind. Psychedelic awareness is non-dual whereby the subject and object are considered as a single experience.
Yama Durga Puja from Diskit Gompa, Ladakh (Excerpt) : Jim Barrett : Free Download, Borrow, and…
This is a one hour segment of a three day Yama Durga Puja. The first few seconds is audio from one of the many…
Much of ‘normal’ daily life in post-industrial Western capitalist cultures is actively positioned against manifesting consciousness. Rather, life for most of us is about consuming the material products or following the instructions that emerge from the consciousness of others as organised by wealth and power. The worker produces the good or service according to the requirements of the owners. The good citizen follows the laws and necessities of the state and their employers. This is not manifesting consciousness. It is the obedience to the consciousness of others with the fact of impermanence largely ignored. To resist this impulse is to resist the dominant cultural system of our time. In this sense the psychedelic individual is engaged in a revolution without leaders.
Within the structures of consumption, ownership, wealth and power there is always a suggestion of permanence. This claim to permanence can be attributed to the symbolic configurations that compose or support consumption, ownership, wealth and power. By symbolic configurations I mean systems like language, economics, history, religion, nationalism, politics and philosophy. These are not the material sciences or maths, which measure and extrapolate material reality. These are developed systems that codify reality based in human societies. Bypassing or altering these system can change reality as it is understood within human societies. If there was no sense of general applicability over time — i.e. permanence, then these systems would not be able to operate as the governing systems within society.
As a counterpoint to permanence, and as an example of transience producing mind, we can look at an event that occurred in Egypt in the first decade of the last century. On April 8, 9, and 10 in 1904 an independently wealthy 29-year-old Englishman by the name of Edward Aleister Crowley made contact via his wife Rose with what he believed was a “preterhuman intelligence” named Aiwass, whom he later referred to as his personal Holy Guardian Angel or Higher Self. Rose channeled a voice which Aleister transcribed into a text for an hour each day from midday or the sun’s zenith.. The couple were in Cairo Egypt on their honeymoon, posing as royalty and living a life of bourgeois luxury.
Was Aiwass a projection of Aleister’s subconscious? Or a change of his mind as a filtering valve? It may have very well have been an expression of a higher intelligence. It does not really matter. In both cases it remains a manifestation of mind and transgressive of social reality. Charles R. Cammell, author of ‘Aleister Crowley: The Man, the Mage, the Poet’ believed the Book was an expression of Crowley’s personality:
“The mind behind the maxims is cold, cruel and relentless. Mercy there is none, nor consolation; nor hope save in the service of this dread messenger of the gods of Egypt. Such is Liber Legis in letter and spirit; and as such, and in consideration of its manner of reception, it is a document of curious interest. That it is in part (but in part only) an emanation from Crowley’s unconscious mind I can believe; for it bears a likeness to his own Daemonic personality.” (quoted in Regardie, The Eye in the Triangle p. 487).
Journalist Sarah Veale has also argued that Aiwass was an externalized part of Crowley’s mind, and in support of this hypothesis quotes Crowley himself as saying:
“Ah, you realize that magick is something we do to ourselves. But it is more convenient to assume the objective existence of an angel who gives us new knowledge than to allege that our invocation has awakened a supernormal power in ourselves.” (Kaczynski, 542).
If magick is the “Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”, as Crowley stated, then the process of performing magick begins with making Will conscious in the mind. Therefore the act of magick is the manifestation of mind in the world according to Will.
Another method for manifesting collective mind in the world is shamanism. Shamanism is a vast and divergent set of practices that involves a practitioner who is believed to interact with a spirit world through altered states of consciousness, such as trance. The goal of this is usually to direct these spirits or spiritual energies into the physical world, for healing or another purpose. The manifestation of spirit is ongoing and changing; it requires rituals to intersect with the ‘supra-reality’ of the spirit world, which is often expressed as art. In fact Art, as a complex symbolic system, is supremely transient.
‘Shamanism’ today includes many recent concepts and practices. Researchers have found that practices invented by Michael Harner in the 20th century and explained in his book ‘The Way of Shaman’ are now present in the practices of contemporary Siberian shamans. But the principles behind shamanism in all its many forms, stretching back into the prehistoric past, are consistent with the mind manifestation of a psychedelic life. It diminishes individual identity, connects people to a larger form of mind and it disolves the social self.
To the psychedelicist, the individual is an illusion or perhaps better, a misunderstanding. It is actually solidarity with the cosmos that drives and ultimately produces awareness. How such a perspective works in daily life requires some consideration. The concept of Self in society can be understood as a mix of perception, memories and identity, attributed over time. However, none of these processes are stable or constant. To find a constant in life one must bypass the self.
“The very process of knowledge depends on duality. I can know you because I am here, inside, and you are there, outside. You become an object. But I cannot know my self because I cannot make my self an object. I cannot encounter my self in any objective way. I cannot put my self in front of me. And if I could put my self in front of me then that which is put in front of me would not be my self. How can that which can be put in front of me be my self? Really, the inner one which will look at it will remain my self.” — The Unknowable Self from Osho
But rather than trying to observe the self, as an objective entity, we should be trying to remove the separation that gives us the impression it is observable. We do this by giving up. But it is not so easy to get the ego to give up, or memory to reverse, or the heart to open or the mind to trust. This requires a system, that allows a person to follow a proven and perfected structure, tested over time. There are several to choose from, and there are new ones emerging. So-called ‘Spiritual’ practices can be helpful. But even in these areas you can meet Dogma, Objectification, Greed, Ego, Hate and Fear. None of these will help you. They are the hungry ghosts. In my own experience, Yoga was a very helpful system for lessening attachment to dualistic separation and objectification of sensual reality.
Yoga means union. The union of mind and body, of self and experience, of observation and observer, and ultimately of universe and personality. You can spend your life studying and practicing Yoga. In fact that is the idea. Yoga is life. But we are not talking about your local yoga salon, where some hot guy or girl can get you to bend your body and feel well. We are talking about the complete dissolving of your mind into your heart into the world into the universe. There is not ‘toning up and then going back to your job’ in the pure yogic path. It is the essence of material reality being stripped away one attachment and concept at a time. Leaving you as nothing but a beam of light before nature. There you find silence. Silence transcends the world. It reverses the flow. As a Baba told me in India:
“Just make silence, the idea of turning off the ego machine and listening with your whole being. Become the harmony that is chanting the mantra, the names of God. Surrender to cosmic Bhakti (Love). Live with balance in nature. Avoid the conflicts and chaos of desire. Realise what you need and travel through what is called days and nights. The moon is soma juice for all plants and from thoughts and actions you create us. Switch off and make the flow go the other way. Then tune consciousness through levels of perception to new states of ecstasy. What is really you is eternal and has been. We are all ascending into energy but there has been a breakdown. There has been a blockage along the way, a disturbance in the flow. Thoughts are self-fulfilling, so what happens if you stop thinking? Reality makes itself. Do not be distracted by your mind. Silence is penance.”
Bhakti is love. Not a personal love. It is a harsh but warm feeling of desire for union with the cosmos for betterment. An acceptance of all things as equal and untouched. That is the psychedelic — undifferentiated acceptance without either judgement or participation. Just still observation and complete love. The drugs can show it to you, but they cannot give it to you. Not permanently. You have to earn “the union of self-consciousness with the universe”. It is a long and demanding path. But it is the only thing you are really supposed to be doing here on earth (yes, capitalism is a lie).
A psychedelicist is a person who practices the psychedelic life. There is great variety in the psychedelic life. This essay is an attempt to give some basic definitions for what a psychedelic life can be and what it can mean to be a psychedelicist in society. It is based on 30 years of practice and thought, but that all really amounts to almost nothing. It takes life times. The revolution is real.
“Alienation from nature and the loss of the experience of being part of the living creation is the greatest tragedy of our materialistic era. It is the causative reason for ecological devastation and climate change.
Therefore I attribute absolute highest importance to consciousness change. I regard psychedelics as catalyzers for this. They are tools which are guiding our perception toward other deeper areas of our human existence, so that we again become aware of our spiritual essence. Psychedelic experiences in a safe setting can help our consciousness open up to this sensation of connection and of being one with nature.
LSD and related substances are not drugs in the usual sense, but are part of the sacred substances, which have been used for thousand of years in ritual settings. The classic psychedelics like LSD, Psilocybin and Mescaline are characterized by the fact that they are neither toxic nor addictive. It is my great concern to separate psychedelics from the ongoing debates about drugs, and to highlight the tremendous potential inherent to these substances for self-awareness, as an adjunct in therapy, and for fundamental research into the human mind.
It is my wish that a modern Eleusis will emerge, in which seeking humans can learn to have transcendent experiences with sacred substances in a safe setting. I am convinced that these soul-opening, mind-revealing substances will find their appropriate place in our society and our culture.”
— Dr. Albert Hofmann, Thursday, 19th April 2007