b. 1952
resides in New York City
raised in Rhode Island

The Ethereal Bean

              I had my first trip when I was fifteen at boarding school in rural Connecticut. My friend Howard had a brother who’d gone to Hawaii and brought back some Hawaiian baby woodrose. Howard gave the stuff to me and Andy, another classmate, and he volunteered to act as our straight overseer when we dropped it. We decided to trip after the end of Christmas vacation, in January 1968.

            We were very methodical. We prepared ourselves for a voyage into the unknown and cocooned ourselves in Andy’s dorm room, which was adorned with day-glow posters, Indian bedspreads, mandalas, and other Buddhist-related images. We put two mattresses on the floor and an Indian fabric in the window to insulate ourselves in absolute privacy and comfort. We had fruit and Fig Newtons to eat.

             We took it according to instructions from the pharmacopoeia in the back of Naked Lunch. We were familiar with Buddhism and psychedelia through the East Village Other and the writings of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg and The Autobiography of a Yogi, a lovely book by Paramahansa Satchinananda (CHECK AUTHOR). It was a truly organic product we were dealing with, a dusty musty little bag full of crumbs. The seeds were contained in little pods about the size of acorns. There were eight pods, each containing four little seeds. At around ten in the morning, Andy and I swallowed sixteen each.

            (I think Hawaiian baby woodrose was still legal at the time. I later went into a florist in New York City and asked for some, and the guy said, "Oh, I know what you guys are doing" and demurred).

            After an hour I began to feel light and giddy and my internal thought processes were whirring as I became increasingly oblivious to the passage of time. Jolts of energy ran through my upper body to my head. As each jolt subsided, I went deeper inside my cranium. The room and all the tangible objects in it appeared to be composed of the same matter, so I was making not the usual distinction between a wall, a floor, a window, and a bed.

            Andy was undergoing the same perceptual transformation. We took occasional peeks out the window, and it seemed as if the whole world was made of the same matter, which we could see was also energy, as everything was pulsing and throbbing. When my eyes came to rest on one of the bedspreads, the wall billowed as though filled with air, becoming carnival-mirror fat before undulating down to size again. But we were too excited by the big ideas to focus on the hallucinations, and just kept talking in a deliberate, pleasure-filled way.

            We started talking about how the stars and the planets and all the air in between was made of the same stuff, that our guts and brains were made of the same stuff, that our very thoughts were made of the same stuff, that all was one. It wasn’t that the actual look of things had changed so much, but what we were seeing was given new interpretation in our scintillated minds. You don’t often consider that you’ve got nerves inside your head, but we were experiencing a delicious bath on the inside of our skulls. It was the most sensuous cranial event I’ve ever experienced.

            We perceived all matter and life as part of a continuum that extended from our minds to the most distant chunk of cosmic debris in the universe. The only variation between different entities was the quality of energy it possessed. There was a tangibility to thoughts and ideas and conversely, an ethereality to the tangible.

            I felt empathetic with all manner of things. The physical world had taken on an anthropomorphic character. It was evident that the living and nonliving world were made of the same building blocks. I felt fond of various objects in the room. The terminology of endearment applied to things is rooted in that impulse. A stool was much more than some object fashioned from a dead tree, but a "dear little stool," a friendly thing. Viewing it with such tenderness, I was also acknowledging the work of the craftsman who’d made it. Kindness was the prevailing instinct we perceived in the manifestations of the physical world that we so admired.

            Evil didn't ever cross our minds, perhaps because we’d carefully insulated ourselves from such thoughts. We’d heard about people's bad trips and ensuing panics, but once aloft, we were never worried about it.

            We were amazed by the stream of inspirations that the drug was releasing from us. We’d had no idea that all of these cosmological twinges and neurological twangs were in us. Andy observed that we were actually reinventing the wheel in the sense that none of our revelations were new, but that the amazing thing was our direct experience of these truths. The entire universe is, in fact, comprised of electrons, neutrons and protons, which are indeed energy particles in constant motion. But instead of merely intellectualizing these facts of relativist physics, our senses were now suffused with them.

            Andy introduced the concept of reincarnation and we explored the notion that people come back again and again, evolving over time. We spoke of those who hadn’t moved so far up this path as “low-lifes.” (It was presumed that we were pretty far along.) We had it figured out that when you died, you would pass some undetermined period of time absent for a while, and then come back as a whole new person. If you messed up, you’d have to go back and if you improved your act you’d come back a step forward. (I wish I could believe all that now.)

            In our cosmology, there was no God who had a superconsciousness with a motive, though we did also use the term “godhead” to describe the Ethereal Being. “Godliness” was the possession of a high quality of energy rather than being very handsome or powerful or whatever superlative you might ascribe a deity from one of the big religions.

            Every little thing in the universe was doing its bit in a crazy balance that was humming along. A box in the corner of the room was as important as anything else. Levels of “importance” according to a Western materialist-utilitarian perspective, seemed to disintegrate.

            Andy and I called the energy continuum the “Ethereal Being, “ though, on reflection, it wasn’t so much of the ether, but a tangible feature of the physical mechanics of the universe. As if to underscore that very physicality, Howard would chime in with some pronouncement about the “Ethereal Bean.” He’d grown increasingly excited by our conversations and definitely felt left behind. Although Andy and I wanted to stay the evolutionary course and refrain from acting on any pesky egotistical impulses, we could hardly resist giggling smugly and said to Howard, “Yes, yes, of course, the ‘Ethereal Bean’....”        

            Finally we tired and went off to sleep around midnight. For weeks afterwards, the three of us had an excited dialogue about the experience. I never did have another trip as revelatory or thrilling.

            It went to our heads a little. We felt that we’d received a kind of enlightenment that nobody else at the school had had, so that we were now the elite spiritual corps. We became a bit self-satisfied and detached, which wasn't good from a practical point of view. We were scruffy hippie types and when we spoke of low-lifes, we were referring to anyone we didn’t like, such as jocks or a math teacher with a smarmy, square worldview. Yet, one was still humble. There was so much evolving that needed to be done. It wasn't really acceptable to dump on others. That wasn’t going to help you get to the next plane.

            We believed that yogis who could levitate were wielding the power that we felt we’d unleashed while on the drug. (It never occurred to us ask ourselves, if the guy can get off the ground, why can't he fly around like Superman?) I pursued Buddhism for a while, but was turned back by the bizarre, fetishistic rituals on behalf of lifeless corpses described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. How could a funeral march using human bones as musical insturments be a path to enlightenment?

            Andy, on the other hand, is still a practicing Buddhist, though he had some rough years when his father, an M.D., put him in a mental institution to cut him off from psychedelics. He’s since taken a graduate degree and become a successful electrical engineer.

             I think there’s a definite reality to the Ethereal Being, but I don't know that it's one for which I've found any practical use in my work. Suddenly feeling that all matter is one was a powerful feeling, but it didn't enable me to solve, for instance, complex or even simple problems. If you want to know how to do math, you have to study it the old-fashioned way. There aren’t any shortcuts.

            In painting, you may suddenly have a moment in which you see a way to take the picture where it will knit together just right and manifest a higher beauty. That overview is a kind of superconsciousness, but I've never heard of the pill or the plant you can swallow to actually execute such visions.

             Still, I always get a little rush on a beautiful June Saturday morning, when I can literally feel the molecules of the plants dividing and the flowers and vegetation coming out. l still experience a special frisson on a warm spring day, when the splendors of the Ethereal Being are throbbing all about.