It’s a peculiar thing. I know that drugs harmed my body. (I’m a child of the Sixties, you see.) And through the years I’ve lost several friends who died because of drugs: I know, and even knew then, that I was lucky. Today I would not recommend them to anyone and I worry about the many young people I know who do indulge: especially because there are much more dangerous and deadly substances to worry about today than what we had to deal with back in the day. And I do feel a certain amount of guilt for being part of the reason for the popularity that recreational drugs continue to possess, and all the horrifying gang-related violence that has become associated with them (if this was going on at the time, and I’m sure to some degree it must have been, we didn’t know about it: it was in the shadows, and we were just oblivious flower children).
And yet, for all that, I’m grateful for having been part of this experience, and for all the changes it brought about in my psyche and in my life. I really wouldn’t change my personal drug history even if I could: frankly, I shudder to imagine what sort of person I would have become if the drug years hadn’t intervened. Perhaps I’d still be living in some sort of private episode of ‘Leave it to Beaver’. I remember Carlos asking don Juan, who had just informed him after many years that taking hallucinogenic drugs was actually not part of the usual sorcerer’s path, why he made him take them?? And don Juan replied (I’m paraphrasing), “because you’re an idiot, and there was no other way to get through to you.” I can relate.
It was the hallucinogens that were the most interesting, LSD, mescaline, psilocybin. I found that when I was tripping I would go through three distinct phases. In the first phase, all the wild psychedelic stuff would occur: walls would turn into fabulous moving colors, clocks and tables would melt like I was inside a Salvador Dali painting, playing with candles and watching the wax drip would seem like an extremely deep and meaningful activity. Then, in the central phase, especially when I was with others (and I rarely tripped alone), there would be a huge rush of hysterical energy, everything seemed beyond wonderful and utterly hilarious, and we would simply explode with love and energy and laughter and total abandon. And then the final stage would come on, and this was really quite exquisite in its way. This was when a spiritual sense would overtake me, I’d feel a oneness with all of life, I’d feel a great love and oneness with all people, I’d feel, deeply, that Life and Spirit and God mattered – and most importantly, I knew without question that the reality of the world was not at all the way it appeared when I was ‘down’. Eventually, I would feel this truth and awareness slipping away, I would forget the wonderful secret, and as the drug wore off the world would again become its usual fake self.
This is why, for many of us in my little circle at least, the next transition was toward spirituality. We became enamored of eastern religions, we meditated, we did yoga, we became vegetarians, we faithfully threw the I Ching. The drugs continued to help for a while, though there was an increasing movement toward purity of body and getting high without them. The music helped too, from George Harrison introducing Ravi Shankar, to the strangely spiritual sensations wafting through the music of the Grateful Dead, to Yes, to Dylan, to John McLaughlin, to Led Zeppelin, and on and on (Damn the music was good!!!) And sure enough, in the well-known tradition of “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”, all sorts of remarkable people started showing up.