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psychedelicadventures.com

 

Methodology and Perspectives Used in the Making of This Book

  To give credit where it is due, the beauty and terror of the material related in this book really come more from the experiential viscera of human beings than from the substances that conjured them. The psychedelic is, after all, only a catalyst. When seen in this light especially, the extraordinary phenomena of psychedelic experiences arouse a sense of wonder at the radiance and intricacy of the human mind. Using this perspective, it might be more instructive to consider the agents that induce altered states as more messenger than message.

The attributed catalysts for the trips described in this book are the following psychoactive substances:

LSD
Hawaiian baby woodrose
Morning glory seeds
DMT/5-MeO DMT
|DPT
Ayahuasca/pharmahuasca
Psilocybin mushrooms
Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric) mushroom
Peyote/mescaline
San Pedro cactus
MDA/MDMA (Ecstasy)
Nutmeg
2C-B
Cannabis (hashish, marijuana)
Opium
Datura
Ketamine
PCP
DXM
Salvia divinorum
Calea zacatechichi
(Mexican bitter grass)

See Appendix: A Concise Index of Psychedelic Substances  for basic chemical and botaniccal descriptions.

              I use the term psychedelic for the whole lot. The word, coined in 1956 by Aldous Huxley’s Canadian colleague, psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond, means “soul [or “mind,” as Osmond preferred] manifesting” from the Greek psyche (soul or mind) and delos (to reveal). Some of the drugs in this broad category, particularly the sacred plants used by indigenous peoples since antiquity, are referred to as entheogens, a term coined in 1979 by scholars R. Gordon Wasson, Carl A.P. Ruck, Jonathan Ott, Jeremy Bigwood, and Danny Staples, which means “generating the god or the divine within.” MDMA and the reportedly skin-sensitizing and aphrodisiacal 2C-B (Venus) are called entactogens (creating a sense of the “touch within” or “generating touch” -- a word coined by Heffter Research Institute co-founder Dave Nichols). MDMA, often referred to as an empathogen (“generating empathy,” coinage attributed to psychologist and Leary-collaborator Ralph Metzner), is often discounted as a true psychedelic because it doesn’t break down the final frontier, the ego. But since it dissolves internal barriers to feeling and insight, and lives up to the soul-manifesting definition, I choose to include it in the category.

            I’m most comfortable with the term psychedelic, because it has the broadest applications, not being a precise medical term. Some atheists and others object to the term entheogen, because they don’t believe in “God” or the divine per se, whereas they do acknowledge the human psyche and the power of substances categorized as psychedelic to amplify and catalyze it. The term hallucinogen, which is used in the medical community, raises objection, because it implies that the sole function of the drug is to conjure false or chimerical images. Among some, especially those given to the sacred plants, the very term drug is offensive because it connotes that the substance is artificial, soporific, stuporous, deliriant, or anesthetic, and prone to recreational abuse – thus dismissing its potential revelatory value.

            This book is a compilation of narratives drawn mostly from taped interviews conducted between October 1994 and October 1998. The selection of stories included here was based on the strength of their psychic resonance and literary merit and not by any pre-determined agenda. My only criterion for recruiting the confidences in the first place was that the experiences described be “unforgettable” to the narrator, ranging in character “from the sublime to the terrifying.” With few exceptions, the trips described in these pages were taken in informal and illegal settings.

            I recruited several dozen participants through word of mouth and the posting of an author’s query on the psychedelic-related Websites of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the Island Group, and Lycaeum; an author’s query in the New York Times Book Review (which was most fruitful); and through the placement of classified ads in the New York Review of Books, The Village Voice, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. I also did a mailing to about thirty-five notable and accomplished figures involved in psychedelics, a few of whom graciously agreed to participate. Setting up appointments to meet respondents at various locales around the world was made immeasurably easier by the relatively new communications technologies of e-mail and the laptop computer.

            A collection of psychedelic narratives from people in every culture of the world have required a great deal more time, resources, and effort than I could muster. The demographics of the circa one hundred and twenty participants (fifty of whose narratives are presented in this book) are primarily of European extraction, with plenty of Jewish folk and a handful of Latinos and African-Americans. Citizens of the US, Canada, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, France, Italy, Hungary, and Australia, respectively, almost all are viably employed denizens of the greater middle class (not poor, not rich) or students with a similar background, with a few exceptions. Men outnumbered women three to one. The heterosexual/gay ratio was about the same as there is in society at large, though revealing one’s sexual orientation (or income, for that matter) was not required. The age range ran from eighteen to over seventy.

           I did my own transcribing and then edited the verbatim transcripts, making appropriate modifications to maintain the story line, the anonymity of persons cited (where appropriate), and the truth and accuracy of claims and details (where appropriate), while remaining faithful to the essence of the narrative as originally relayed. The results were sent to the participants for corrections and last-minute embellishments. A few of the narratives were submitted by the participants as written texts, which I edited. A legal agreement signed by both parties guaranteed the anonymity of the interview subject, if he or she so wished, and gave me the rights to the interview or submitted material. The names of people and places have been changed to maintain anonymity where appropriate. In the biographical data that appear at the top of each narrative, all complete-name and a minority of single-name designations are authentic, with the balance of the latter being fictitious. All other data is true, if not specific. Narratives are presented in alphabetical order by first name, an arbitrary sequence intended to offer no hint as to what type of story will follow and thus permit random-access reading.

            In one sense, the tales here are fleshed‑out versions of the "trip reports" seen on Websites, which, instructive as they are, tend to be somewhat clinical, truncated, and disembodied. I tried to make the stories full-bodied narratives by and about real people whom readers might feel they have gotten to know a little by story's end. The accounts are presented mainly within the framework of discrete trip events or episodic narratives, though anecdotes and details about the surrounding time and environment and the subject's mindset, lifestyle and patterns of experience are incorporated to provide context, set the scene, explain motives, and heighten drama and color. Some of the stories, those by individuals highly committed to or otherwise taken up with the psychedelic, encompass several months or years in an individual’s on-going relationship with it. Where notable, some exposition is given to explain how the psychedelic experience has been integrated into the narrator’s life.

            The gathering of these voices in one place provides an opportunity for psychonauts to compare notes with one another, to see the similarities as well as the differences in the themes and the minutiae of their trips, from the first “body rushes" through the "trails" and other visual marvels, the "peaking" hours and soul-shaking revelations of transcendent being. The book also offers a chance for the uninitiated to vicariously experience the thrills and traumas of the trip, which can entail soaring states of bliss, heightened spirituality, and a titanic sense of drama and suspense. Many readers for whom psychedelics were only a phase may still wax nostalgic for the shimmering days of yore when they scored a few hits of Orange Sunshine or Purple Mircodot, "dropped" them under their tongues, and kicked back to enjoy the fireworks that ensued. Of course, one strapped on one’s metaphysical seatbelt with the hope that it wouldn't backfire into a bad trip. This happened often enough, though it might have been almost as enlightening as a positive experience: a bitter lesson in the dark light it shed upon the tripper's tender, under-examined psyche.

            For the subjects themselves, the book is a unique forum to lift the lid on some of their most intense experiences and secrets. For many, the process of relaying their tale touched a raw nerve, arousing jitters, tears, or a visible or audible sense of cathartic relief. This confessional dimension gives the book an intensely personal character, making it a sort of vox populi of peak-experiences and coming-outs. Participants were able to go back and excavate key experiences in their lives and reclaim them. I wanted the book to be a refuge for those who saw “God” and were dismissed, and also for those who didn’t attain the Ultimate as advertised but encountered something else that shook them. Their experiences then become liberated from the no-sayers who contend that such altered states are self-indulgent fancy at best and mentally debilitating at worst, and from the self-appointed psychedelic clergy who wag their fingers and say that if you didn't see the White Light, you hadn’t arrived. I see the project as a mining expedition or an archaeological dig to retrieve a storehouse of psych-bytes and memories that might have otherwise been deleted from the hard drive, swept away in time and buried in shame, neglect, or political correctness.

At the beginning, waves of fear came over me at the thought of looking under these rocks again. The things that scamper out can pose queasy, immense, or unreconciliable issues. But then I realized that that was the whole point -- to let the sun shine under the stones of repression, to set the leper-crazies free. So I tried to furnish a safe haven for the weird, the agonizing, the exhilarating, and the transgressional -- with no judgment rendered. Rather than run from such phantasms or hide them in a drawer, both narrators and readers can now hold them up to the light and scan them through a sort of impartial View Master or home-movie screen, as which this book is intended to function. (Check this one out... Now, click to the next...)

At the peak of popular psychedelic usage, from 1966 to 1973, a large number of young people, high school and university students mostly, ingested a lot of pills and substances. Among many of these trippers, the use of psychedelics was a sort of competitive sport, like mountain climbing or sailing around the world. Bragging and oneupsmanship was common, and victory could be claimed in a variety of guises, since only the tripper knew what he or she had and hadn’t seen. In an effort to portray how the trips really went down in the heads of the people who took them, I tried to exert an ecumenical emphasis on honesty and realism, taking care not to de‑legitimize any person's experience, for example, because he or she took "street acid" from Detroit as opposed to LSD‑25 conferred by Owsley himself.

I’ve attempted to make an even playing field for all experiences, whether the tripper was spinning his own karmic wheel, stuck on it, or flung off of it altogether. Some trippers did it “right” and used the substances with ritual and respect, looking for higher values both within and beyond themselves, and their trips paid off accordingly. It’s clear to me that the most successful experiences were built upon a foundation of knowledge and at the very least, respect. But to give the Devil his due, a lot of revealing phenomena occurred when the psychedelic was taken without a thought but for the sparkling, hedonistic kick of it all. Some did it right and had bum trips anyway, while others tripped just for the thrill and still experienced transcendence or learned something valuable. Tripping is much more than a matter of boiling up a pot of vegetation and uttering the right incantations. It's a synergistic reaction between a vulnerable, idiosyncratic personality, a time and a place, and the whole cosmos. No matter how you prepared, a trip’s outcome was determined by your temperament and how it interacted with the set and setting, the “head trips” of your companions, and the elements of fate and luck.

            Psychotropic substances have been both glamorized and demonized, but what really happens when you trip? Do you feel the urge to fly or stare into the sun? The answers may be surprising. I tried to tear away all the Peter Max pop iconography and get down to the real substance of psychedelic experiences. No doubt there will be tenders of the sacred gardens and other fundamentalists who will say I betrayed “the cause” by not presenting only testimony that sanctifies the various “medicines” ingested. And there will be shrill protests from the mothers of the pharmaceutically disappeared, who will say I haven’t made it clear enough that drugs can destroy lives. Actually, in presenting a variety of both negatively and positively received experiences, I believe I have offered a balanced perspective on the subject.

 

* * *

            To compile the stories was a “trip” in itself. Throughout most of the project, from April 1995 to June 1998, I was living in Bangkok, Thailand, where my wife, an international civil servant, was stationed on assignment. From my base there, I circled the globe twice, traveling geographically over several continents, temporally over three decades of memories from psychedelic times, and psychically over the varied terrain of the subconscious. To get “the story,” I traveled to Kathmandu, Delhi, Copenhagen, London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Kona, Hawaii, trekking over old stomping grounds as well as exotic foreign locales, looking up old friends and making new ones.

            In Bangkok I was part of an expatriate community of North Americans, Europeans, and Australasians, which lent an appropriate sense of displacement to the project, a time (and place) out-of-mind character to the proceedings. Those who have left their homeland often have a good tale to tell, some of a psychedelic nature, and a few of them are included here. In Nepal I saw the Himalaya for the first time, taking in the soaring heights that served as the setting for some of the trips related to me, and grabbing the opportunity to reread Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, a literary inspiration for the project, that includes several superb descriptions of the psychedelic experience in the context of his ruminations about Eastern mysticism.

India holds a special place in the imagination of the psychedelic movement, given the compelling spirituality of the ancient Hindu creeds, the tradition of sacred cannabis use, and the perennial appeal of the yogic babas or masters. In 1998 I attended the Kumbh Mela, a spiritual gathering held since antiquity every three years at one of three sites. That year it was held in Haridwar, a holy city where meat and liquor are outlawed, situated where the Ganges emerges from the Himalaya. The event attracted plenty of young Westerners on the adventure circuit, one of whom I interviewed about his experience in Ecuador with the San Pedro cactus (see page XX).

On Shiva Ratri, the most auspicious day of the festival, my friend Jonathan and I ate two charas biscuits filled with a sort of hand-made hash and marijuana pesto (purchased legally at a government shop in Rajastan) and joined the throngs by the river and the parades in the streets. This day would be as psychedelic as any I’d spent in a long while. Om nama Shivia: praise to Shiva. Rumor had it that Ram Dass had come for the occasion, so we kept our eyes peeled in hopes of scoring an interview with this central figure in psychedelic history. We never found the famed American baba, but as we walked through the sadhu camps, I saw one of the most profoundly stirring sights I’ve ever seen: Hindu renunciates – some naked, some loinclothed, some fancifully robed – sitting at their fires, seemingly levitated, looking like creatures of heavenly saffron-orange flame, smoldering coals of God’s holy fire burning brightly. I stood transfixed as aural rivulets of warm, streaming devotion curled through the air, making quarter-tone turns at harsh crossroads of experience before blending into pungent, harmonic verses in the continuous hymn to the pain of being human.

My stay in India was enriched by meeting a European woman who had come there several years earlier to recover from a terrible depression brought on by the end of her marriage. She recounted an unorthodox, all-woman peyote ritual in the American Southwest she had taken part in, but her interest in the psychedelic was secondary to her regard for a spontaneous experience of Kundalini energy ignition and cosmic oneness that occurred without inducement or warning. She told of a sudden explosion of pure heavenly fire that went off inside her as she emptied herself of all thoughts and desires at the very nadir of her life. The unexpected spiritual awakening left her trembling and weeping in gratitude for days afterward. After this, she saw the mighty Ganga as her salvation. Vowing to give herself to God, she served as the personal assistant to a swami until his death. Her story underscored the provenance of India as the motherland for the mystical quest, predating the psychedelic movement in the West by several millennia.

One place I came up dry – to my surprise, given its tolerant and progressive reputation -- was my wife’s native Denmark. During a visit there I tried to scare up some trippers to interview, but they teach their kids so effectively that drugs are harmful In this homogeneous Nordic kingdom that it’s very hard to find a person outside Christiania, the hippie separatist ghetto in the middle of Copenhagen who has tripped or has any positive regard for such a thing. I got some inkling of the background for the apparent national antipathy to psychedelics when I contacted Alex Frank Larsen, the award-winning journalist who filled me in on Denmark’s notorious “LSD scandal,” which he exposed in the mid-Eighties.

In a bizarre course of treatment administered by neurologist Einar Geert-Jørgensenan from 1960 to 1974, Larsen related, LSD was given – without their knowledge or consent -- to more than five hundred people suffering from mental maladies ranging from mild depression to schizophrenia. The experiment spun out of control when many of the patients, some of whom had been given their “medicine” forcefully and were left unattended in basement cells, were overcome with upsurges from their troubled subconscious. According to Larsen, one reacted by stabbing her boyfriend to death, some committed suicide in the wake of the treatment, and many remained stricken and haunted for years, some permanently addled. After looking into US Government archives in Washington, DC, Larsen learned that Geert-Jørgensenan's work was “closely followed and secretly supported by the CIA.” Needless to say, the scandal did nothing to enhance the lustre of psychedelics in this wholesome society that seems very content with beer and aquavit, tak you very much.

 In London I was briefed on various dimensions of rave culture by several grad students, a journalist, and a laser technician (see page XX) involved in it. I also met briefly with the late Nicholas Saunders, the entrepreneur and author of several books on MDMA and “alternative” culture, who had made a crusade of making accurate, reliable information about MDMA available. (See Bibliography and Resources, page XX). I came away from these meetings with the impression that the culture that has grown up around MDMA in Britain is considerably more strident and cohesive than its counterpart across the Atlantic. This might have something to do with the feisty, insistent nature of the young over there. I was told that the organization and stealth that go into impromptu raves at unadvertised sites in the British countryside grew out of the so-called convoy or travelers movement that began in the Seventies. One of the great galvanizing events in the history of British youth culture took place on June 1, 1985, when thousands of alternative types intent on throwing a free festival descended upon Stonehenge in an orderly motor convoy only to be brutally turned away by the police. The confrontation, dubbed the Battle of the Beanfield, launched a new renegade society of music and psychedelic-inspired youth that evolved, with the help of MDMA, into the rave culture that blossomed during the Manchester-based Madchester Summer of Love in 1988.

            While I was stateside I felt that a trip to peyote country -- home to that other race of Indians who are spiritual mentors for the psychedelic movement -- was essential in order to document the fact that a viable, aboveground culture has grown up around the ancient tradition for psychoactive plant use in North America. With the aid of a guide named Mark, I made on-site visits to two institutions in Arizona that are focal points for the sacramental use of the cactus: the Peyote Way Church of God (PWCOG) in Arivaipa Klondyke, and the Peyote Foundation in Kearny. I interviewed the directors about the origins and administration of their respective institutions and the personal experiences that led to their becoming point men in the peyote way. Their narratives are included in this book (see pages XX and XX, respectively).

            Any trip to the American Southwest conjures the specter of the Indians’ exile in their own land, what writer Jon Savage calls the “shadowy absence that’s always present in America, the exterminated native race.” En route from Tempe to Aravaipa at five in the morning, Mark and I got out of the car in the old frontier outpost of Fort Thomas to check the road signs by a group of small mobile homelike installations near the rail crossing. As I stood in the dark, I heard the most eerily anguished utterance I’ve ever heard in my life. It sounded like some neutered, slaughtered soul, stricken with utter resignation and loss, so unearthly that I couldn’t tell if it was the voice of a ghost warbling on the wind or a real person braying in eternal torment. Even if it was only the voice of the desert trickster, the coyote, for me the ethereal wail vocalized the mortal wound that whites have dealt the Native Americans by ripping their heartland away from them. In the context of my mission to encounter the peyote religion on its own soil, this seemed especially poignant to me. Mark took in one faint earful and we drove off in a hurry.

            Incorporated in 1977, the PWCOG – “the oldest tax-exempt all-race peyotist church in the United States” -- is situated on a hundred sixty acres in the isolated Arivaipa Valley on the “back side” of Mount Graham, a sacred site of the Apaches. Mark and I were welcomed warmly by Church founder Immanuel Trujillo (Mana), whom Timothy Leary once called an American hero. Mana responded to my request for an interview by saying that he couldn’t possibly have learned enough to begin talking about his peyote experiences, because “I ain’t dead yet.” Nearly everyone in Arizona I talked to about peyote, including a roadman and three families of practitioners, said that it was a place to go, not a story to tell, a continuous journey of discovery, with the accent on “continuous.”

Exempt from taxes, the Church is financed by a cottage industry, Mana’s trademarked ceramics enterprise. Members exercise “ritual labor” to produce the decorative ceramics which are sold at museums around the country. According to president Matthew Kent, who, along with his wife Annie Zapf, helped Mana launch the Church, their guideposts were “the Mormons -- a homegrown American church -- and a little pamphlet that Tim Leary and Ralph Metzner put out called ‘Start Your Own Religion,’ a 1964 classic.” The PWCOG requires members to adhere to some dietary rules (no alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or white flour) drawn from the Mormons’ Word of Wisdom, which declares, among other things, that “strong” and “hot drinks” are “not for the belly,” while “all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man.”

As for the sacrament itself, Church practice is the spirit walk, which involves fasting for two days prior to drinking a brew of peyote-button tea and sitting down quietly alone in the wilderness. Mana decided that the open-air solo rite was the best way for individuals to connect with peyote, especially for non-Indians who do not share the culture of songs, drums, and pipes that comprise the communal road meeting held inside a tepee. An Apache-French “half-breed,” Mana has long championed the opening up of peyote to non-natives, in part to confer the legal right to the sacrament of his own grandchildren, who have less than twenty-five percent Indian blood, once a uniform requirement for legal exemption from prosecution. The belief that “no one should have to adopt someone else’s culture to partake in the sacrament” is a key impetus for the church’s creation.  

            To visit the Peyote Foundation near the Superstition Mountains, you have to call ahead to Leonard Mercado so he can raise the bridge gate over the Gila River to let you across. Leo, a former deacon in the PWCOG, launched the Foundation in 1996 after his peyote plants were confiscated in a SWAT team-style raid by Pinal County authorities acting on an errant suspicion of marijuana plantation. The Foundation holds NAC (Native American Church) road meetings and serves as a clearinghouse for information about the cultivation, practice, and legal status of peyote. Leo often faxes judges around the country to explain legal procedures for handling confiscated cacti.

“Something told me that if there was any microphone I could use to ask God a question, it was peyote,” he says, by way of explaining, in part, his ordeal-tested commitment to the peyote way. Apart from a sincerity of purpose, there is no demanding protocol for participation in road meetings held at the Foundation, where, for instance, an alcoholic coming off a binge is welcome to seek solace and guidance. “It’s the medicine not the rules that confers the healing,” Leo affirms.

            Prior to moving back to the US in 1998, the final stop in my Bangkok-based west-east itinerary was on the volcanic terrain of the Big Island of Hawaii, where I met with the affable and hilarious Terence McKenna at his home on a verdantly foliaged mountain. The results of our discussions over two days are presented in this book (page XX).   

 

* * *

            The issue of whether I condone the ingestion of scheduled substances must inevitably be addressed. I should state, by way of elaborating on the disclaimer, that I could never sit here and say that with all the variables in the respective chemistries of the individual human body and the psychoactive substances themselves, the medical uncertainties that persist about long-term use; the cultural and ethical taboos and legal proscriptions, the potentially mortal perils of black-market sources for illegal contraband, and the lack of reliable identification, dosage and quality control and regulation for illicit substances, that it is a good idea to go out there and take a banned substance like it’s your birthright. But I could also never say that what some of these drugs do in ideal, informed and appropriately “controlled” circumstances, and even sometimes in less than ideal conditions, is inevitably and invariably “bad” or “harmful” or “wrong,” because the record simply doesn’t bear that out.

            The aim of this book is to report what really happened within a fascinating, psychically resonant domain, to see what it suggests about the human mind and spirit as magnified in the funhouse mirror of the psychedelic state. That many of the stories are colored by the fact that a criminalized substance was ingested is not to glorify or condone the breaking of the law, but simply to make known what was not known previously, to shed light on an under-reported reality, as well as the ineffable itself. That any law was broken is purely incidental to the story.

            It is my belief that psychedelic drugs should not be ingested in an illegal, uninformed setting. They should not be taken outside an enabling environment that can proffer the benefit of medical, psychiatric, spiritual, or shamanic guidance by learned figures schooled in the dynamics and practice of the psychedelic voyage and even accredited as such. Further, the chemical hygiene and appropriate, medically-determined dosage of any substance consumed should be confirmed by authorities on such matters. Far from being a libertarian on the issue, I believe that almost all potentially useful psychotropic drugs should be legal but intensively controlled and regulated, so as to be administered in constructive, medicinal, and healing ways.

            In the age of Prozac, there is demonstrated medicinal value in psychotropic drugs – for tightening or loosening screws in the mind, where appropriate, and fine-tuning a biochemical balance in the brain. Such psychopharmacological progress was based upon unmistakable scientific evidence that the performance and mood of the mind can be influenced by subtle changes in its chemistry. Of course, there’s a fine line between use and misuse of chemical interventions. The potential for abuse, mischief, and even evil is monstrous. There has to be some regulation to keep the stuff out of wicked hands, like those of military/spy organizations, for instance. Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain’s Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond (1992) documents how the US Government co-opted a drug it would ban for psychiatric, spiritual, or recreational use, in order to test its potential as a mind-control tool, with civilians and military personnel – some unsuspecting -- as guinea pigs. The murderous cults of Aum Shinrikyo in Japan and Charles Manson in California reportedly used a regimen of LSD to warp the minds of their followers into compliance with evil edicts. Human history is rife with instances of the misuse of magic and technology. We ought to take care that psychedelics are used wisely, with retribution for those who don’t.

            To wipe away the grime of criminality associated with some psychedelic usage, and to formalize practices that might otherwise be naive and even dangerous, knowledgeable figures might be recruited to indoctrinate trippers in the subtle skills of navigating hyperspace. Virtually every responsible tripping expert recommends advance preparation and “basic training” for a psychedelic experience, through meditation and/or study, and, after that, guidance through at least the initial experiences by a responsible psychiatric or shamanic figure. Such a secure and instructive context was largely missing when the kids of the Sixties and Seventies took to the psychedelic skies and singed their wings in the flames of the Other World. “In an effort to integrate the yearning for spiritual exploration with present-day society concerns,” the Council on Spiritual Practices in San Francisco has formulated a “Code of Ethics for Spiritual Guides,” which outlines the responsibilities of those who might serve as “facilitators” of entheogenic and other encounters with the divine in light of the “risks” attendant with certain “primary religious practices.”

            Of course, one might question the whole idea of “preparing” for a psychedelic experience at all, a process that can be likened to gearing up for a tornado to rip through your home. The punchline of a trip is often enough that you can’t take it with you. Still, the storm is more likely to be appreciated by the person who builds his own house than by the one who just lives in it. There are volumes of lessons about life’s dynamics worth incorporating before you watch the cosmos engulf your puny, insignificant self and wash across your windscreen during the ensuing metaphysical twister. There’s no sense in submitting yourself to an experience that can strip you down to your “nothing” unless you know it can happen and that you can fill the void imploded into you with something more life-enriching than it held before. Of that there are no guarantees, so who you are going into the experience -- how supple and healthy your spirit and sense of self – makes all the difference in how you come out.

 

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