Glimpses of God and Reality - How To Integrate Psychedelic Experiences of Sacredness
Glimpses of God and Reality - How To Integrate Psychedelic Experiences of Sacredness
Glimpses of God and Reality
How To Integrate Psychedelic Experiences of Sacredness
Click to download this transcript as a PDF (in English only)
Part `1 - Why We Have Sacred Experiences With Psychedelics
8:30 Life’s Intelligence
11:06 Life’s Intelligence Has Many Forms
14:29 The Default-mode Network of Our Brain
Part 2 - A Conversation With Michael
21:06 Start of Conversation
Part 1 - Why We Have Sacred Experiences With Psychedelics
Hi, my name is Steve. I’ll be your host for this podcast.
The podcast is about psychedelic experiences that were profoundly sacred. We’ll be looking at how to successfully integrate those types of experiences into everyday life, and our goal is to make everyday life as fulfilling and as balanced as possible.
We’ll be looking at the current scientific research about why we have sacred experiences with psychedelics. These researchers are quick to say that their findings today are still “primative” and that their research is still “in its early days”. Nevertheless their findings are already providing useful insights into what’s happening in psychedelic experiences of sacredness. These researchers have been studying how our brains filter information, and at how sacred experiences happen when psychedelics disrupt that filtering.
We will also be looking at the experiences of many people who have been integrating psychedelic experiences now for many decades. And we’ll try to learn from their experience how to recognize those same sacred experiences in everyday life.
And finally, we’ll be looking at how having a spiritual experience does not in itself make you a spiritual person. We’ll be looking at how becoming a spiritual person is about continually “doing your work” and what you end up doing with your life, not about some inner experience you should be having, or what you think you might know.
The purpose of this podcast is to provide information for people who have taken psychedelics and who are now trying to integrate those experiences. However psychedelics are illegal, and this podcast does not promote their use. Further, psychedelics are very powerful substances that can harm you if used without the guidance of a trained professional.
People have many different types of experiences with psychedelics. In this podcast we won’t be looking at all those experiences, but rather we will focus on experiences that felt profoundly sacred, and how to integrate those types of experiences into everyday life.
Since 2000, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have been studying the effects of psilocybin. In those studies, study participants were given psilocybin and then guided through their session by a trained therapist. Afterwards participants were given a questionaire about what they had experienced.
The majority of people in those studies said that they had had profoundly sacred experiences. How people chose to describe their experiences however varied:
After their psilocybin session at Johns Hopkins, many study participants said that their experience simply could not be adequately described with words. Most said that words cannot do justice to what they experienced, and that communicating their experiences in words to others is difficult if not impossible.
And after their session, many remained convinced that what they saw was the ultimate reality of everything. And they remained convinced that they had gained knowledge at an intuitive level that was absolutely true.
Remember these last two points because they are central to integrating psychedelic experiences of sacredness:
Yet psychedelic journeys always end and their profoundly sacred experiences fade. And you find yourself back in the everyday world, which can feel much less sacred and much less true.
In this podcast we’ll be looking at how the sacredness experienced with psychedelics and the sacredness of everyday life are the same sacredness being experienced at different levels of intensity.
This podcast was put together by InnerPeaceFellowship.org. Our group has been exploring how to integrate psychedelic experiences since the 1960s. This podcast is based in part on what we’ve learned and the mistakes we’ve made.
After taking psychedelics in the 1960s, most of our group studied with eastern holy men and women. Some of us lived with saints from east. Others chose to live alone in the silence and stillness of high, remote mountains.
Our group met in the 1970s when we came together to form a community of several thousand to explore inner peace through meditation. Today most of us have been practicing meditation now for over 40 years. Some of us had careers and raised families while meditating two to four hours every day. Others have lived in reclusion and still meditate for 6 hours every day.
We’re friends and neighbors who’ve been sharing one another's successes and mistakes for a lifetime, and our community continues to explore, to learn and to grow.
Our philosophy is about how to gain self-knowledge while remaining empowered.
Self-knowledge comes from the fact that you know better than anyone what increases or decreases your inner peace; that you know better than anyone what brings you closer to what’s sacred; and that you know better than anyone what is actually working in your life.
To gain self-knowledge you must learn to trust yourself, to trust your experiences and to trust your instincts and intuition. And the self-knowledge you gain through learning to trust yourself is what then enables you to retain your power and not become disempowered and controlled by others.
Our experience has been that sacredness, inner peace, and goodness increase as you become more aware of what’s obvious; not through searching for anything that’s lost or hidden. The actual story of life on Earth is so astonishing that sacredness increases as you become more aware of how life has evolved. Inner peace increases through training yourself to have more silence and stillness. And goodness increases through following your instincts about how to get along with others.
For more details about our approach, visit our web site InnerPeaceFellowship.org.
Life’s Intelligence 8:30
Psychedelics allow us to look deep inside our self at things we cannot usually see. To understand what’s happening with that, it’s helpful to understand how the intelligence of life works both within ourself and in every living thing.
Life on Earth came into existence about 4 billion years ago. That first form of life was a single cell, and all life on Earth today – ourselves included – was reproduced from that first single cell form of life.
The above photo is of your oldest living great grandparents. They are lichen called cyanobacteria growing here on dead clumps of itself called Stromatolites. Cyanobacteria first came into existence around 3.5 billion years ago and they are the second oldest life form to have ever lived on Earth. Mistakes made as the DNA of cyanobacteria reproduced itself is what produced most of life on Earth today.
That first single cell form of life contained DNA. DNA is in all living things and it contains the instructions for how life develops, functions, grows and reproduces itself. DNA has been reproducing itself over and over and over for almost 4 billion years. As you listen to this podcast, your DNA is busy reproducing and rebuilding every part of your body. You’re able to relax and listen to this podcast because what’s causing your heart to beat and your DNA to reproduce itself is happening automatically without you doing anything.
And the astonishing thing is that DNA learns. The way DNA learns is that sometimes mistakes happen when DNA reproduces itself. When those mistakes happen the result is that the DNA that gets reproduced is different. Those different DNA then competed with their family members for survival, and if the different DNA wins that struggle, then they become a new form of life. That is how DNA learns – through mistakes, and trial and error. And it was through such mistakes and trial and error that all life on Earth arose from that first single cell form of life 4 billion years ago.
In this podcast, those instructions of life contained in DNA will be called the intelligence of life, and sometimes the intelligence of nature or simply human nature. That intelligence of life comes hardwired in every living thing on Earth including you and me, and it provides the instructions – the actual coding – for how life develops, functions, grows and reproduces.
Life’s Intelligence Has Many Forms 11:06
There are about 8 million different species of life on Earth today. The intelligence in the DNA of each of those species has developed differently and so the intelligence in each species is somewhat different.
For example, black bears can smell food 18 miles away and eagles can see clearly about 8 times further than humans. Each year the Barred-Tailed Godwit flies nonstop from the Arctic Circle to Christchurch, New Zealand, a 7,000 mile journey over open ocean without resting. And when they start arriving, the churches there all ring their bells to welcome them home. When it’s time for salmon to spawn, they swim thousands of miles through the ocean and then hundreds of miles up rivers to the one tributary where they were born and there they lay their eggs. For humans to successfully travel such distances requires sophisticated navigational equipment that provides the intelligence that comes instinctively in the DNA of birds and fish.
Bears and eagles and birds and fish, as well a many other forms of life on Earth, have forms of intelligence that humans do not have. What that tells us is that human intelligence is simply not aware of everything around us.
Humans are not aware of all the smells that a bear can smell; we’re not aware of all the things that an eagle can see; and we are not aware of what’s needed to navigate open ocean with our instincts only. We simply are not aware of much of the information that is around us; information that is vital to the survival of other forms of life. And the reason we’re not aware of everything around us is that over millions and millions of years, human DNA has learned to filter out much of the information around us that is not necessary for our survival.
But now imagine if suddenly you could smell everything that a bear smells, that you could see everything that an eagle sees and that you could sense every bit of information around us that the 8 million other species do sense. Imagine if suddenly you did became aware of all the other information around us that normally we’re not aware of.
Your senses would be so overwhelmed by all that additional information that you could not survive.
Luckily however our DNA has learned how to filter out information around us that’s not necessary for our survival. And our DNA has learned how to allow into our awareness only information that is necessary for our survival. And that is why we are not overwhelmed and why we do survive.
The filter in us that filters all that information around us and lets into our awareness only what is necessary for our survival is called our default-mode network.
The Default-mode Network of Our Brain 14:29
Our default-mode network was first identified in 2001 by researchers at Washington University. Our default-mode network is located in our brain. It manages all the information in the different parts of our brain much like the head of a large corporation coordinates and manages the entire corporation.
What researchers have found is that our default-mode network is most active when we’re thinking deeply, or when we’re lost in thoughts. That point is very important to integrating psychedelic experiences, so I’ll repeat it: our default-mode network is most active when we’re thinking deeply, or when we are lost in thoughts.
Now psychedelic experiences can be quite raucous. So you might think that activity in the default-mode network would increase when on psychedelics, but that’s not what happens. What happens on psychedelics is that electrical activity and blood flow in the default-mode network drop off greatly, and the default-mode network becomes quiet.
Now remember the Johns Hopkins questionaire we looked at earlier. In that questionaire people who had sacred experiences on psychedelics often said that their personal self had dissolved. Well, when researchers at Imperial College studied people on psychedelics, they found that the biggest dropoffs in default-mode network activity happened when people said their personal self had dissolved. Their personal self dissolved when their default-mode network became most quiet. That suggested to the researchers that our default-mode network could be the actual physical counterpart of our personal self.
So what exactly is the personal self that dissolves on psychedelics? In our experience, our personal self is that character in our thoughts who talks about what could happen next or what has happened in the past.
Strangely however when our personal self dissolves on psychedelics, the experience of being alive seems more intense, not less intense. So how can that be? Our default-mode network is now quiet and less active. So why are we experiencing such increased intensity?
One researcher has suggested the answer here is that “while the boss is away the kids do play”. Researchers at Imperial College found that when the default-mode network shuts down on psychedelics, other parts of the brain that suppress emotions, memories, wishes and fears become more active. And when the default-mode network shuts down on psychedelics, parts of our brain that don’t ordinarily communicate directly with one another start talking with one another, often with bizzare results.
So then, what about when you’re not on psychedelics? Can anything quiet your default-mode network in everyday life? Can anything quiet your personal self from chattering away inside your head so much? Luckily the answer is yes.
Researchers at Yale University found that the default-mode network becomes less active when people meditate. And in people who meditate, they also found that their default-mode network is less active during daily activity compared with people who do not meditate. This finding suggests that people who meditate are having fewer thoughts during daily activity compared with people who do not meditate. It suggests that for meditators, their personal self diminishes and the chattering character in their head chatters less, and sometimes not at all.
Our staff has meditated for over forty years on average and that finding fits with our experience. During everyday life the chatter of our personal self has diminished, and sometimes that chatter goes away completely. And while those experiences in everyday life are more subtle and less intense than on psychedelics, they are quite pleasant.
This concludes Part 1 of our podcast. We’ve looked at only some of the information we offer for integrating psychedelic experiences of sacredness. We offer much more information about this on our web site InnerPeaceFellowship.org, including free instructions for learning how to meditate. Thanks.
”Factor Analysis of the Mystical Experience Questionnaire: A Study of Experiences Occasioned by the Hallucinogen Psilocybin”; Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2012) 51(4):721–737; MacLean, Leoutsakos, Johnson, Griffiths; Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The Questionnaire was developed by Walter Pahnke (1963, 1969), who referenced the work of W. T. Stace and Abraham Maslow.
“Searching for a baseline: functional immaginnng and the resting human brain”; Gusnard D.A, Raichle, ME; Washington University; Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2001 Oct;2(10):685-94.
“Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity”; Judson A. Brewer, Patrick D. Worhunsky, Jeremy R. Gray, Yi-Yuan Tang, Jochen Weber, and Hedy Kober; Yale University; edited by Marcus E. Raichle, Washington University St. Louis, St. Louis, MO; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; December 13, 2011 108 (50) 20254-20259; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1112029108
“The entropic brain: a theory of conscious states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs”; Robin L. Carhart-Harris, Robert Leech, Peter J. Hellyer, Murray Shanahan, Amanda Feilding, Enzo Tagliazucchi, Dnnte R. Chialvo, David Nutt; Imperial College; Front. Hum. Neurosci., 03 February 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00020
“Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin”; Robin L. Carhart-Harris, David Erritzoe, Tim Williams, James M. Stone, Laurence J. Reed, Alessandro Colasanti,Robin J. Tyacke, Robert Leech, Andrea L. Malizia, Kevin Murphy, Peter Hobden, John Evans, Amanda Feilding, Richard G. Wise, and David J. Nutt; Imperial College; www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1119598109/-/DCSupplemental.
Michael Pollan; How To Change Your Mind; What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence; Penguin 2018
Michael Pollan; “The Trip Treatment”; New Yorker; February 9, 2015
Jeffery A. Martin; The Finders; Integration Press; 2019
Portions of this page were adapted from David Christian’s Big History Project.
Part 2 - A Conversation With Michael 19:25
Next in our podcast is a conversation with my friend Michael. Michael and I have been neighbors since the early 1980s when we each moved to our small midwestern farm town here in the US to help start a community of several thousand meditators.
Michael started exploring psychedelics in the early 1960s. Here he talks about how the sacredness he experienced with psychedelics profoundly changed his life, and how he then integrated those experiences over many decades.
The sacredness experienced with psychedelics can be experienced in everyday life. However the sacredness experienced in everyday life is not as intense or as flashy as it is on psychedelics. Directly experiencing sacredness in everyday life has been called enlightenment, awakening, the peace that passeth all understanding, etc. However those terms often cause confusion, and that confusion can actually become a barrier to directly experiencing sacredness in everyday life.
Researchers at Sophia University have studied hundreds of people who are considered enlightened and awakened. Their study identified two main characteristics that those people shared: First was that they had a sense of fundamental well being. Second was that the amount of thoughts they once had had noticeably diminished.
It seems that contentment and happiness in everyday life are pretty good measures of your connection with sacredness.
(Laughter) … about American sports
When I did the script [for Part1 of this podcast] I really wanted to think a lot about what I was going to say. But I thought here we’d just chat.
Well, if you were doing an interview to get at something, you could have a whole bunch of pointed questions that you wanted to ask. But those are usually for political interviews.
So I thought I'd ask you about your early days in California. As you know, the podcast is about integrating psychedelic experiences, but its focus is on psychedelic experiences of sacredness. Because it seems like there's a whole world of experiences people have with psychedelics
and an attempt just to focus on any one of those would be a job. So the idea was to focus it on sacredness.
In the Kool Aid acid test, I think it was Tom Wolfe who wrote this wonderful book about that whole era. He pointed out there were two schools in psychedelic use. One was the Leary and Alpert School, which was meditative. You make yourself a controlled set and try to have as inward an experience as possible. And the other was Ken Kesey’s idea, which was you go for the Kool Aid acid. You get on a bus and you go out and party. Right. So those were the two kinds of diametrically different philosophies of taking acid that started up in those days.
There was a
can I go … I want to go change my glasses. I’ve got the wrong glasses on.
I’ve got the glasses I use for …
So talk a little bit about that. Talk about your early days in California.
Well, I could talk about how I got into this.
First of all, I'm a born skeptic. In fact, the earliest memory in my life is going into my parents bedroom on Christmas morning. And I'm reaching up and holding on to the doorknob to stabilize myself, right. And they're sitting on their beds. And over in the window there's this Teddy Bear, sitting in the open window. This is a Southern California, it's Christmas, it’s not cold.
There’s no snow.
Yeah, and they saying, Santa Claus brought you this teddy bear. And I remember very clearly – this is my oldest memory that I have – saying [to myself], “That's not true. They're playing this little game. (Laughter) They want me to agree with them. Right. And if I don't, it'll hurt their feelings, and so I'll play along with this.” But I knew darn well there was no Santa Claus. And that this was a kind of little game, a little lie that people were telling for some reason. I didn't really understand why.
Yeah, but they were doin’ it …
So that's my earliest memory in my life. So I'm kind of born a skeptic. And I got interested as a kid in science fiction and science. And so it seemed to me that scientific inquiry, the scientific method, was the best way of understanding truth. I was always interested in wanting to know what the truth was, what's real, What's the story? And so it seemed like science had the best handle on that. And these religious traditions all were just a set of beliefs that people had. You had to have faith in them. And it seem to me that that's not what I wanted to do. I wanted to have the direct knowledge. And the best way to get that was science.
Then when I went to college I started out as a physics major. And I was saying to a friend there, you know all these religious traditions are just bullshit. There's nothing to it. And he said, wait a minute. Let me give you this book. And he gave me Huxley's book The Perennial Philosophy. And then he said, here's a couple other books like this, read about it. So suddenly, I got introduced to this idea that there was a whole mystical tradition of direct experience that I'd never heard of before. I'd never been exposed to that before. And so I said, well, that's another matter because instead of just taking something on faith, these folks are claiming that they have direct, personal, real experience of this. And so I don't want to reject that as craziness because they sound pretty real to me. And then you can also find that it's just not one person but throughout the whole of human culture, there's this tradition of people having a direct experience of reality. So that was my basic idea, that I wanted to know directly what the truth was.
And so when in the early 60s, I had a friend who came by … he was a college friend and he came by and brought me on ampule of LSD from Sandoz Laboratory. The real, genuine stuff. I don't know how he got it, but he had one. And he just left it with us, right. With Diane and I. And so I said I'd like to see what happens with that. So I tried it. And suddenly I had an expanded ability for my senses. You know, my senses were much more sensitive. I could see more colors. My mind expanded my ability to think. It wasn't anything radical, any radical change. But that was interesting.
So I said, Well, maybe that’s something that could help provide this direct experience. So I tried to find some other place to get LSD and there wasn't any. It wasn't illegal. But nobody had it. So a friend of mine, who was interested in the same kind of thing said, well, maybe we should make it ourselves. So we went into the big library, and in Los Angeles, the big public library in downtown. And because they have the whole US patent system records there. And we looked up the patent for making LSD, starting with lysergic acid. And so we got this patent, and we followed the instructions. So it's quite elaborate. You had to mix two chemicals in an inert atmosphere at minus 20 degrees centigrade. And hold it there for half an hour and things like that. So we figured out how to do that. And we did it. It wasn't an illegal drug at that time. And so we had a bunch of LSD. I had all this LSD, more than I needed for anything. (Much laughter)
So that began this little adventure with psychedelics.
And at that time, Alpert and Leary had just begun this organization called IFIF - the International Foundation for Internal Freedom, it was called. And we joined it, right. We joined up as founding members of that organization. (Laughter)
Because we thought this was a very interesting thing, because it seems like it could produce an expanded awareness of consciousness. And I thought that was that very interesting.
But as time went on, I didn’t, I wasn't …
I was the Alpert and Leary version. I was interested in introspection. I didn't want to go out and party. I thought that would be nuts to do LSD that way. I wanted to go within and have some deep introspection. So that was my style. I had some very nice experiences and went along. But it just seemed to me that it wasn't, you know …
The idea when LSD first started out was, number one, why don't we just put it in the water supply, right? And then, as I observed people who were involved in this psychedelic movement, I saw the problems: people jumping out of windows, and having bad experiences. It didn't seem quite like it was working out so blissfully as one would think. The first idea of the revolution didn't seem to be working out.
So then I had this one experience, which absolutely changed my entire life. I had a direct ex … I can’t …. The problem with these experiences is that you can't describe them. You can only describe them in poor metaphors. But this experience was one where my experience of myself settled down and expanded so that it became everything. The whole universe. It was the foundation of the universe. What I was internally was the foundation of the universe. And my local identity was still there. But it was like another level had opened up that I hadn't seen before. That was there, behind everything. And it was my own consciousness. That's not quite the … there's no way to describe it. Consciousness is not a not a good enough word. There is no word good enough to describe it, except it had some characteristics. And the characteristics were infinite happiness, infinite bliss. More happiness than is possible to imagine, more satisfaction than is possible to imagine. And I had this direct sense that if you could open up your awareness to that anytime you wanted, or even live that way, your life would be … you would not have any desire to harm anybody, you wouldn't be motivated by sex, by drugs, by power, by money. That stuff be completely trivial and unimportant because you already had the deepest level of satisfaction that the human nervous system can experience. This bliss. And a lot of traditions call it that. But bliss is not a strong enough word. There's no word for it that works. You know, that's the really difficult thing, except that you can describe some things about it. Like in Buddhism, you know, the Sanskrit root for Buddha is (bōōd), which means awake. It means awakening. And so this experience is like you've been asleep, and you've awakened. And you've woken up from some dream and you're having an experience you never had before that’s so much larger. And everything you've had before was some very small vision of what life is and what the human nervous system is like, and what you can do.
The other characteristic of this is that it is so real. The idea that it could have been some hallucination or some imaginary experience is just not the case. Anybody who's ever had that experience will know that that’s just not the case. That's just not a possibility. Because it's the most awake, powerful, real experience you've ever had in your life. And so there's no doubting it.
And the other thing about it is that I saw that I was everyone. You know the Golden Rule is do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Well, this is the foundation of that. You’re doing unto others because you they are you, right, you are them. Why would you want to harm yourself? Right. You want to help other people, and help them in the sense that the whole universe is helping everybody. The whole universe is supporting all life and everything that's happening in it. So you kind of see that.
The other question that people would say about this is, How do you know this wasn't just some crazy thing that happened. That this is some kind of an illusion. Well, I think it's William James or somebody the makes this point. He says the way you can tell the difference between a psychotic experience and one of these experiences of enlightenment is how it affects your life. So the enlightenment experience means that your life changes, that you start to become a person who is more like the description of the people in the scriptures who are saints. You move in that direction, immediately without having to do anything. It's not a struggle, it's just part of your nature, it’s automatic because of the experience you’ve had. So that happened in my life. That very next day, I went down and rented the biggest trailer I could get, backed it up to my house, and loaded it up with all the junk and all the stuff. I completely cleaned out my life and kept just the stuff that was essential and beautiful, and wonderful, and threw away all the junk and started over. So I kind of redesigned my entire life and started over. I was never able to get over that experience.
The other thing that happened in that experience is that these ideas would come to me. In the Zen tradition there's a sutras where the Zen Master says, “Everybody has a good and learned friend inside them. And you can learn from listening to that good and learned friend.” So it was kind of like that. It’s was like from my own deepest self, good ideas or wisdom was flowing. And one of the things that it said was, “You know, this experience that you're having is because you introduced this chemical to your nervous system. This is a very powerful thing. It's shown you what the human nervous system is capable of being. But there's no way of knowing what it's doing to the biochemistry of your body. It's experimental, it has no tradition behind it. There’s no long history of it. And if you keep taking this you might be interfering with that delicate biochemistry that supports that experience. So if you want to get there and live there, you've got to find something else to do. You have to find some way to culture your nervous system to gradually make the nervous system naturally be able to produce that experience. Because one of the other things about this experience was that it was seemed absolutely normal. And natural.
What was next?
What was next was I said okay, I need to find some tradition. I said I don't want to take any more drugs. Because I could see also – one of my visions was – I could see this whole drug thing – the future of it – sort of contracting down instead of expanding up.
You'd gotten the best bit.
I’d gotten what I was looking for. Now I want to know how to live that. How to make that happen. How to sustain that. What's the way to get there. So it turned out I found out that there was a Rinzai Zen master who had been coming to the town I lived in. So I studied with that guy for about a year and a half. But I can say that the meditation didn't do much for me. The Rinzai Zen meditation is pretty hardcore. They teach you to sit in a certain position but they give you no instruction on what to do. When asked what should we do, the Roshi says “I could tell you but later on you'd hate me for it.” So we did that for a while but that wasn't working for me. It just didn't seem like I was making much progress.
So then we decided we were going to change our lives and move out of Southern California, out of the smog, and move out to the country and do something we read about called homesteading where you go and try to live closer to nature and raise your own garden and raise your own vegetables and just live a life that is more connected with nature. Because that seemed to be the one of the most helpful things to do: to be immersed in nature. So we did that and that was in 66. And then we heard that a Roshi, I mean a guru, was coming to town and we went and heard Maharishi speak and started TM and that seemed to work better. Immediately when I started doing the TM program this tension I had, which wouldn't go away with the Zen program, just completely relaxed. So I found it a very effective technique and got involved in it and am still doing it. Been doing it ever since. I'm not much of a true believer in any organization however.
We’re 50 years out now from those days. And the interesting thing is that you and I have been friends for quite a while now. We're amongst a community of people that have gone a lot of different directions with this.
It’s nice, this town. I like it because it's a community of saints. The people here have a deep, underlying appreciation and desire for truth. For spiritual truth and awakening.
What I find interesting in that is that there is also a multitude of expressions. So that this person whose personality is such and such has come through the last 30, 40, 50 years, and they are expressing [their spirituality] this manner. You and I can have a conversation like this for hours because we are using many of the same expressions. But nobody is expressing their “truth” the same as the next guy. We all started out using the eastern lingo, if you will. But it goes back to what you're saying that whatever that experience was that you had, if you try to describe it with words, it's confounding.
This level of reality, there's no good … It's beyond words, and even conception. It comes before thought, right. Thought is something that arises from it, not something that can encapsulate it. So any metaphor you have about this reality is just a metaphor. And so that's a very powerful idea. Because it means that lots of different people's interpretation and thinking about, and description of the same experience can be widely different in some way, but still be about the same thing.
And the problem with organized religion is that people start saying, “My image of God is the real one, and yours isn't. And I'm going to kill you over it.” I mean, that seems so completely nuts. I mean if anybody has any idea about what G O D could possibly mean, how can they think that they could encapsulate it in an idea? I mean it's just nuts.
I hear you, but I'm much more forgiving about that at this point in life than I was early on. We were living in small groups up until not very long ago. And all the same stuff was happening: you were getting sick and dying. Terrible things were happening. So you were trying to get some control over your life.
There was a lot more violence then.
There was a lot more danger.
Yeah, a lot more danger.
People died early. And it was a scary business.
And they'd all war with each other for scarce resources.
Right. And so your group thinks that you're going to avoid these calamities by sacrificing something to the God that lives up on the mountain, and everybody decide you are going to do it. And that all works fine because the effect of that is – I guess it’s called the placebo effect – that when you decide strongly to believe that God lives up on the mountain and you have an intention to be whatever, a good person or whatever. Those are very strong psychological forces have been well documented.
Right. And so you’re using this language, and all this stuff is going on. And then all of a sudden people start to ride horses and they get over to the next village. And there they are using different language [about God]. It’s like, hold on! What’s going on here?
What I'm saying is that I think that all religious traditions can come out of the same reality.
Well, they must.
And the people who found them usually have the deepest experience of that. But as [their deep experience] becomes more codified, then people discover conflict rather than unity from it. They become less unified. They begin to use it as a way to compete with each other. So that's the loss of that reality. And I think of it as the concept of idolatry. Idolatry isn't just mistaking statues for God, right? People don't try to eat pictures of food, they know better, right? It's thinking your ideas are the real thing, you start worshipping your idea. And when you elevate that to that level, then that's the true meaning of idolatry. To avoid idolatry you have to understand that what you're talking about is beyond any conception. That that level of life is beyond conception. And therefore you don't own it. Your ideas don't own it. Nobody owns it. No metaphor can own it. Nothing can own it. It’s That. There's no good words for it. Nobody's come up with a good … everyone has a different word for it like Brahman, or Atman, or Tao in Chinese.
The problem as I see it is that we became really good at making words and abstractions make our life better. So you get a piece of bronze, and you get some fire, and you bang this stuff around, and you go kill bigger animals, and pretty soon you're building Apple computers. And this thing of the concepts and ideas is brilliant for having to work less and putting food on the table. It really delivers the goods. But then you go back to this area that we're talking about, which is that you want to have that kind of primal experience of sacredness or reality that we're talking about. And some guy comes along and says, “Well, you believe these words and we're gonna get you there. Give us 10% to fix the building, but let's go.”
We're programmed to think that words are going to make it work, when in fact what people were after and are still are after is the experience. So when you and I started meditating 40 or 50 years ago, we all of a sudden had an experience we'd never had. It wasn't a bunch of words. There were some words that came along with it that tried to describe it. But the actual physical experience of having your physiology sorted out or feel better, and have some happiness and some bliss in your life. We’d never experienced that. We were brought up in the Protestant traditions, and we lit the candles, and we were good boys, or at least we tried to be. But then all of a sudden these Eastern traditions delivered the goods. We're just coming out of this period of … maybe the way to say it is, Imagine what it going to be like in 1,000 years?
Here's the interesting thing. If you've had an experience of enlightenment, you have some notion of what the human nervous system is capable of experiencing. There have been people on the planet, lots of them, there's a lot of tradition, a lot of writing about it, who have lived that experience. So it's there. My direct experience was that it was normal …
… that it was the normal way to be, the natural way to be. Far more natural than the stressful vision of life that one might have without it. So the question is, it seems that to solve any problems that we might have as a species, we need to have that experience start to blossom in more people, in more human beings.
You once said that if someone asked you if you were enlightened, you'd have to, in all honesty, say yes and no.
Correct. I'd be lying if I said either thing.
I mean, I've got a long way to go to get back to that deepest experience that I've had. But it was interesting … I went to a six month course. And during that six months course, I got back there. I would meditate all morning usually and in the afternoons. And gradually I watched my physiology just settle down. And suddenly, I could start to see my thoughts. In Buddhist scriptures, sometimes they say that thoughts are like clouds going across the sky. And my thought process had become quiet enough and my awareness had been quiet, my physiology was quiet enough, that I could see the thoughts as things out there. And between the thoughts, there was silence. And the more that happened, the same experience of expansion would appear [as appeared in my deep experience on psychedelics]. So when I would go out and walk – there was a walk and talk every day – I felt that I was the street. I was the environment. I wasn't just confined to my physiology. That wasn't as powerful as that first experience [on psychedelics]. But it was the same thing. And so I could see that that was there. One could see that all you had to do was let your physiology settle down and you'd see it.
I'm suggesting that meditation, some form of meditation as long as it's non directive and you’re not TRYING to meditate [is a way to experience that without psychedelics]. The secret of meditation is letting go. Is just accepting. Is being completely, totally objective. Absolutely saying okay, whatever is there that's there. I'm accepting it. I'm not going to try to change it. I'm just going to completely and totally observe it. In my experience …
Can I add something? Because this is the point I should add it. In the training of psychedelic therapists, that point is hammered home over and over to the therapist, which is to convey to the person having a psychedelic experience to just go with it. Don't fight it.
The thing is that what a person needs to do is accept things exactly how they are. Not how you want them to be, but how they actually are. And it seems to me that meditation is good training for that. And for just living a normal life. I'm no longer trying to get enlightened. I don't think about it. I meditate because it makes me feel better physiologically, I get some deep rest, some stresses relax, that clears up my physiology some. I like [meditation] that way. But it doesn't matter whether I'm meditating. What I am is the same whether I'm meditating or on the trail or trying to fix my electric vehicle. (Laughter) I've gotten everything apart and I've dropped something down where I can't reach it, and I have to figure out how to get it out. Those kinds of things are fun to me. And as I get older, I get more forgetful. But I think it's funny. I’m not at war with myself in any way. I've kind of accepted my existence for how it is. Now I have a pretty pleasant life, and maybe that would be different if I didn’t.
I ended up on my 80th birthday up in the hospital having a colonoscopy with the prediction that it was going to be colon cancer and I was going to have to have my bowel resected. So that was a pretty uncomfortable kind of thing. But somehow, I don't know what it was, but it didn't upset me like I think it should. I was uncomfortable. I didn't like hospital bed, the sheets. I wanted to be home in my comfortable bed and stuff like that. But I wasn't scared about it. I said, Well maybe this is it. This body is gonna drop, right?
This body’s going to disappear and when it's going to happen, or how it's going to happen, I don't know. But I know that every day my life is happier than it's ever been. And I don't know why. I don't feel I deserve it. (Laughter) I don't think I've earned it (laughter). Right? (Much laughter)
It's like that Kris Kristofferson song; “Tell me Lord. What have I ever done to deserve even one of the pleasures I've known?” You know, that line kind of gets to me. I say, I don't deserve this. And then I think, well I shouldn't be saying that because I'm rejecting what nature has provided for me and I don’t want to do that either. So then I laugh about it.
We've been phenomenally fortunate.
I'm not looking to gain enlightenment anymore. I'm not worrying about it, I'm not trying to do it. I'm just living my life as happily and fully as I can, and trying to make every decision that I make good, and life supporting, and helpful to other people as much as I can. Starting with my dear wife, who I cause the most trouble for, and help the best.
You don't want to look outside if you're looking for happiness. You want to look inside. You want to be able to accept what you are and what you have and what you've got, and whatever is going on in your life, and deal with it. Right? If you've got a problem, you’ve got to face it, you got to deal with it at that time. And that's the only way through. That's the only way that you'll ever find happiness. You can't escape, you can't get out, you can't go anywhere else. Wherever you go, there you are is the old saying.
I've started to look at problems as great opportunities for more enlightenment. To solve that problem is a great [opportunity]. How do I fix this issue? How do I make this thing work? What parts do I need? Who do I talked to? What's the solution to make this thing happen? What's the right path to take to solve this problem? Fix it yourself? Get somebody else to fix it? Because I'd like to fix things myself anytime I can. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it.
How to get there, how to gain enlightenment? I don't know how to do that. I've practice Zen and TM and yoga and things like that, but I can't really … What you're finding out is what you always were, right. So it's, it’s … it's mysterious.
I really have gotten a lot out of TM. It's a way to learn how to be. What you’re really doing is just finding a way to do nothing. To really do nothing. Not try to make anything different happen. Not try to have some this or that. Just accept everything. Just be. It's a way to learn how to be. And it teaches you how to do absolutely, completely, totally nothing. (Much laughter). Which is very hard to do strangely enough. (Much laughter). Because I know, because I tried for years to do it, and it was very hard. I failed at it. (Much laughter)
I will start now … just close my eyes, sit there and do nothing.
Just be. Just do nothing. Just whatever’s here is here.
“Sitting quietly doing nothing, spring comes and the green grass grows of its own.” Beautiful Zen poem. Describes it perfectly.
When I kind of fall into the place where I consider I want to be, and I’m the most – I don’t like the word deep so much – I’m just completely relaxed, then there’s nothing watching it. All there is is a singular experience of …
Being. And it seems to be in the area of my chest, even deeper, further down in my body. And there’s just that experience of that. That’s it. There’s nobody watching it. There’s just that. There’s just that being. It’s that if you try to do something to get there you’re not going to get there sort of thing.
It basically teaches you how to take things as they come. Thy Will Be Done is the same idea. It teaches you how to be. The purpose of meditation is to teach you how to be. And I see it as the most scientific possible point of view. If you think about science as trying to be as completely accepting and objective about everything as possible without putting your own biases, you’re suppose to look at things as they are.
The notion of finding something hidden. It’s all here. There’s nothing hidden. It may not be as intense as it was during my psychedelic experiences. But the wonderousness of being is ever-present. There’s nothing hidden that I gotta go find. I might have to get some crap out of my nervous system so I can settle down and appreciate it more, or I may be completely motored up and doing nothing but thinking and I don’t even notice anything around me that’s beautiful.
Non-enlightenment is part of the story. Right? (Much laughter)
Thinking that you lost something.
You have a flashy, wonderful experience and then you come back to being more “normal”. Maybe you can’t quite come all the way back to the same way you were before but still that ordinary life that you have – that not-being-fully-enlightened-yet in the sense that there could be something deeper that you could go to – that’s part of the story of life.
So that concludes our podcast. Thanks for listening
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