LSD, aesthetic arrest, and transformation

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Robert G.
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Post by Robert G. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I was listening to the audio download "Interpreting Symbolic Forms" and was really struck by something Campbell said. He describes patients given shots of LSD and being transfixed by the marvel of ordinary objects. He equates this with aesthetic arrest, the revelation of art. As someone who has done far more than the 90 shots of LSD that Campbell describes, I hold with Gregory Bateson's characterization of the LSD experience as "interesting, but finally trivial." (And I must add "dangerous" as well, those doctors should be ashamed of putting those people at risk like that.) There seems to me to be no value to artificially induced states, whether induced by drugs, physical disciplines, meditations, etc. unless they lead to a transformation of behavior and/or experience. Unless I am able to integrate them to my life and make them meaningfull to me, all these induced states show is that my perceptions are dependent on my biochemistry. Not exactly a surprise, and a long ways from a revelation into spiritual truths.

I feel this puts me at odds with someting Campbell often said, that proper art is static, not kinetic. The object is supposed to enrapture one in itself, not elicit change. To produce aesthetic arrest. Is this finally trivial too? I mean, isn't it simply being caught by the processes that are going on within your consciousness? Isn't the important thing the contents of those processes? It's like saying that lawmaking is more important than the people it serves, the factory is more important than what it produces, the mechanisms of your car more important than the travel it makes possible.

I think it's in the beginning of The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology that Campbell mentions the "rapture of sheer (and mere) being." Is that all the mystic experience is, plugging our brains back into themselves to experience their own processes? Self-obsession to the extreme. If so, what's the difference between that and taking drugs? If not, then what is it?

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<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Robert G. on 2004-12-06 01:47 ]</font>
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Post by porcupine » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

That was a fantastic post there Robert G. I think there is some great food for thought in your questions. I certainly don't have the absolute answers, but you did get me to thinking.

The first Campbell quote that came to mind, and it as usual is one of my favorites, is "The drug addict drowns in the waters in which the mystic swims" The other motif that comes to mind in regards to the mystic experience is the story of the moth and the flame. For that one eternal moment the moth who is so lured by the flame becomes one with it. There is no more object and subject. I can see meditation, martial arts, and possibly the taking of mind altering drugs as the moth who circles the flame. One may even feel as if they are passing through the flame as well as encircling, but if this is the case then certainly damage will occur. Of the three aforementioned methods, drug taking does seem to be the least rewarding method of achieving a mystical experience. The question is why?

Of course there is a difference in being a drug addict and taking a drug now and then for the sake of the experience. I remember now Campbell mentions the LSD story when talking about Eleusius. He said that something in the way of an epiphany took place there, and that this story is related in the book The Way To Eleusis. Something about a recipe for a drink that used argot.

I was walking with a friend in the forest this summer and we speculated about the prohibition of drugs versus regulation. This dichotomy is interesting to consider both in government and in one's personal viewpoint. Of course there are lots of drugs and I think it’s important to call them by name. Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, THC, PHP, LSD, ETC. All of these things alter your consciousness and they all have a varying degree of impact on your system, but they are all drugs. Most people don't drink coffee solely because they like the taste.

So of course there is a hang up about drugs in most societies and they have to declassify some to make them acceptable. Without getting off topic here, the point I'm making is that prohibiting yourself from drug use is something of an illusion. To a certain extent, everyone uses external substances to alter their consciousness. The word "drug" has negative connotations because society wants to make rules and apply morality to something that has only to do with one's own state of being. Anything can be used to alter your state of mind including food, money, and power. I'm sure many people would take issue with that, but I don't really care, I'm just making a point.

Personally I've never tried LSD but it’s not because of any moral reservation. Going back to my conversation with my friend in the forest, one of the conclusions we came to was that evolution takes place through mind alteration. Recognizing that the human brain is among our greatest distinction from animals, it only stands to reason that a change in the brain is essentially evolution. Some may see it as devolution but that's another story. In the primitive days, when everyone was milling around the campfire, what individual caveman came around and painted those animals on the wall? My guess is it was the one who ate the magic mushroom. Probably the Shaman. Not only did he expand his own consciousness, he expanded the consciousness of the entire group by communicating his epiphany on the wall. Who expands our consciousness today? Mostly the artists, the musicians, the poets. Scientists too, but aren't they a boring lot compared to the former.

As you can see, you've inspired me to go off in a million directions without ever getting to your ultimate point about self obsession. I suppose one has to ask the question what is the difference between self obsession and rapture with God? As Campbell said, eternity is not something that happened long ago in a far way place. It's inside you in the here and now. All the Gods all the devils are in you. So the difference between one with God and oneness with oneself is..........?

It all comes down to the subject and object again, the duality, the yonder shore, the place beyond the pairs of opposites. The big ferryboat Buddhism and all those wonderful stories that are related in the Sukhavati video. So, if eliminating duality is ultimately an act of self obsession, then embrace it. Perhaps it is part of the sorrow of life that our ultimate salvation comes in recognizing our solitary state. Participate joyfully in the sorrows. Quite a head trip.

In the end it seems to me that the drug is simply a catalyst to a change in perception. Once the perception has been altered, you could dwell on it for a while, but getting stuck there would pose a problem for rapture. After a while the thrill is gone and more is always required. A piece of art on the other hand can also be a catalyst to a change in perception, or cause a recognition of something that is now fulfilled by experiencing the piece, as well as many more things that to me seems to go beyond the scope of drug use.I don't really mind if a piece of art elicits change, as change may be needed as in the way a song can soothe the savage beast.

"My patron saint is fighting with a ghost. He's always off somewhere when I need him most."

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: porcupine on 2004-12-06 13:20 ]</font>
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Post by Ruiz » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi Robert and porcupine!

Robert, all of us are on a quest whether we know it or not! That quest, in psychological terms, is the journey of the ego to unite with the self. It's really a journey of us uniting with ourselves.

In mystical terms, it's our journey to find the god within; to become one with it!(the hero's journey)

Many of us have a very strong ego and we are not letting the unconscious (the god within) participate more fully in our lives.

Many times it was a drug that made us realize we are not all we think we are; the ego is surprised at discovering aspects of itself that it was not aware of.

For example I took a typing class in college and did poorly because I used to focus too much on what I was doing. (put this finger here and that one there)

Then when I didn't give a damn suddenly my typing improved. It's as if I backed away and said "I give up you do it" and presto it did! (the unconscious came in and helped me)

I play music and notice that before a performance I again tell myself "I don't give a damn" and it's as if something in me takes over and does the playing for me. Acute focus is in a way a hinderance because it doesn't let inner ability express itself.

It's probably what many people in sports discover. If you put aside your ego your instincts take over and you perform better.

It's a kind of mystical experience.

I don't use drugs because I love my brain and hope to someday understand the law of relativity. Presently I feel I have the potential but I don't want to blame it on drugs in case I don't get it! :smile:

My point is that drugs can initiate our getting to know ourselves.

So you are correct that we are just tapping into our own processes! But in a way that is what we all need to do so that we don't live a very constricted life. It's a shame that we have all this potential and for many of us it is dormant waiting to be discovered. (gold)

Aesthetic arrest is another example of what the ego discovers on it's way to becoming one with the self. The ego is becoming aware of the potential and mystery of it's being. An experience of aesthetic arrest is usually the key that opens the door to us discovering more about ourselves. (Well if I'm a mystery, I wonder what I am capable of?; lets find out; let's test the capabilities of this instrument of nature)

I'm convinced that a big reason people take drugs is to become a little unfocused and let the unconscious participate more. The problem is that if one opens the unconscious door too wide we are overwhelmed and what could have been a good thing is lost. It seems we do best assimilating the power of the unconscious a little at a time. If not, then as porcupine mentions, we end up drowning! Man has a tendency to overdo things! I'd rather go the natural route.

I don't advocate drugs but I see why they are used so much especially as part of religious ritual. In a way we are removing the limitations imposed by ego and letting the energies of nature express themselves more fully; becoming transparent to transcendence.

I'm speaking practically! When we watch great athletes or great performances on stage what impresses us is the potential of man. What man is capable of! In many ways we see a god or goddess before our eyes! (aesthetic arrest) We become aware of our own self imposed limitations.

I think the Arts are great ways to experience aesthetic arrest without drugs.(to see man's inner potential)

Once the process of inner discovery begins I think drugs are a crutch. A drug was just a catalyst as porcupine said.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Ruiz on 2004-12-09 02:41 ]</font>
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Post by jwoodle » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

In even beginning to talk about what we now call "drugs" I think we need to separate hallucinogens and grass from addictive, hard-edged drugs like meth and alcohol. In my earlier years as a songwriter and professional musician, I found LSD and earlier, less potent forms of grass quite illuminating and useful. I also never saw the three-headed babies or the violence that the government propaganda kept hollering about. With all of its turmoil, the late 1960's was a more innocent time in a way. And many of the songs, poems, humor, and other works from that time were directly inspired by the unlatching, the melting away of the rational mind's hold on creative thinking that was assisted by both acid and grass. Now, I'm aware that Tim Leary ended up as the huckster for acid, and that, along with new laws, helped put an end to the research on the use of small doses of LSD coupled with a good MD Psychiatrist as a new tool for helping terminally ill patients break through the stage of fear as they approached death. To me, that's a downright shame. It might be unpopular to say so, but I maintain that acid and other hallucinogens, used properly, with the right people, at the right time, and in the right place, can be incredibly useful, even today.
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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

On 2005-01-25 01:35, jwoodle wrote:
It might be unpopular to say so, but I maintain that acid and other hallucinogens, used properly, with the right people, at the right time, and in the right place, can be incredibly useful, even today.
Such is my experience as well, jwoodle.

I've touched on this before in other conversations - so, feeling lazy (takes a lot of time and energy to compose some of these posts), thought I'd cut and paste, borrowing words I've said elsewhere (both here and other places in cyberspace), stitching them together into a relatively cohesive and coherent whole.

Sorry if I repeat myself ...

Psychedelics (or entheogens, the term Huston Smith coined, capturing the encounter with the transcendent - God - that these plants and substances open a door to) have been entwined with human development from the beginning.

Terence McKenna, in Food of the Gods, proffers the possibility that the psychedelic mushroom stropharia cubensis appears to have been part of the diet of early man over a million years ago in east Africa: in low doses this mushroom increases visual acuity – which would prove a crucial advantage when hunting and tracking prey over vast vistas of veldt, ensuring our survival as a species, compared to those lacking this advantage.

In higher doses however, stropharia cubensis alters consciousness – leaving open the possibility that sacred mushrooms played an essential role in the evolution of "human" consciousness.

Hippie sapiens? :wink:

Mircea Eliade preferred to believe that psychedelic plants weren't central to shamanic cultures and goes out of his way to find tribes with little reliance on entheogens – but research the past few decades proves these cultures the exception, not the rule.

Albert Hoffman (who isolated LSD-25 from ergot in 1938, not intending to discover a mind-altering substance) and Gordon Wasson make a strong case that the soma in the Hindu Upanishads is amanitas muscaria. We know that amanitas muscaria, nightshade, witchbane, and other psychedelics often played a part in pagan ceremonies, as well as in the "riotous sabbats" detailed in charges of witchcraft during the Inquisition, brought against those in Europe who participated in ritualistic use of these sacred substances

(and, ironically, recent research indicates many who were hanged or burned at the stake were good, innocent Christians who suffered ergot-poisoning after eating bread baked from infected grain -

which now appears to have also played a role in the Salem witch hysteria).

Campbell speaks highly of the spirituality and mythology of the Huichol Indians in Mexico, for whom peyote – a powerful psychedelic cactus – is the sacred teacher plant, ingested regularly and ritualistically. In his Atlas of World Mythology, Campbell supplies several illustrations of Huichol peyote art that beautifully capture the mythology, and he narrates the rites that attend their annual ritual "hunt" of the peyote cactus.

In the tropical rainforest the Yanamamo brew yage, the Quechua brew ayahuasca – same thing, the most powerful teacher plant there is – active ingredient DMT – a liana from which they receive in visions knowledge about other plants (which are poisonous, which are beneficial, how to prepare them, etc. ... ) and about the ways of the creatures and spirits of the rainforest.

Richard Evans Shultes (1915 – 2001), Jeffrey Professor of Biology and Director of the Botannical Museum at Harvard, discovered thousands of plants in the rainforest that natives led him to – plants that have provided literally hundreds of healing, beneficial medicines and drugs to the western world – but he acknowledges that this came not from book learning, but from the consumption of ayahuasca with the Indians, who were able to guide him to crucial plants, as they were guided by the spirits ayahuasca provides access to …

so literally hundreds of thousands of people are alive today because of how the shamans in rainforest tribes use this one psychedelic…

..and then Hoffman and Wasson and others have provided credible evidence that the sacred rites at Eleusis – the Mystery Religion of Demeter and Persephone, of which Campbell writes at length in Creative Mythology – begins with the ingestion of a barley beverage laced with ergot compounds (ergot the critical component in synthesizing LSD) - a likelihood Campbell acknowledges -

which contributed to one of the most beautiful and artistically inspiring mythologies in the ancient world, a sacred cult enduring over a thousand years, with participants including Socrates, Plato, and quite possibly the Apostle Paul

(much of Paulician theology parallels the imagery related to Eleusis and to Dionysian mystery rites).

Shifting from the collective to the personal, i am fascinated by the role LSD has played in raising consciousness – mine, that is... I was a straight-laced, anal-retentive, Aristotelian "A is NOT not-A" objectivist type, before ever i put a Grateful Dead bootleg on the reel-to-reel and popped a purple microdot

and then the paradigm shifted

and the whole universe opened up to realms mystic and transcendent.

This prompted an exploration of shamanic visions - a quest lasting years, that included sampling a wide range of psychedelics, from magic mushrooms (psilocybin, amanitas muscaria), mescaline, datura, DMT and a variety of other entheogens, natural and distilled – even morning glory seeds (takes a few teaspoons - not from commercial seeds, which are inactive, but gathered from the flowering plants ... heavy trip, with a marked hangover, like datura … ).

I learned the most from mushrooms and LSD, ingesting shrooms dozens of times, eating acid roughly 200 times (yes, i kept records – hard getting past that anal-retentive tendency)

…and then, on the most personal level, LSD literally saved my life. Long story that is told elsewhere – but I was given a few days to two weeks to live without radiation or surgery;

I opted for neither, deciding instead to get in touch with the realization that I was going to die, so holed up for a few days and ingested all at once 100 doses of incredibly potent LSD – enough to turn on over 200 people -

tripped for three days, and read lots of Joseph Campbell (after the first eleven hours or so)

and though physical healing was not my conscious intent, the power of this intense mystical experience completely changed my trajectory. It took a few weeks before I realized all symptoms had simply disappeared

and everything I am today

every intuition and understanding I have

every word I write

flows from that moment – that instant when I surrendered to the inevitable, and partook of a psychedelic communion…

The work of Joseph Campbell, Stanislav Grof, and others suggests an intimate relationship between entheogens, dream, and myth – a connection many have experienced.

Doesn't mean I'm endorsing the use of psychedelics, or advising others to take LSD to find God – there are many other paths to the Transcendent that take longer, but are less demanding on the body and have less in the way of distracting fireworks

… but psychedelics do represent one portal that has proven significant in the lives of many, past and present.

Of course, we know so much more about psychedelics today than we did in the sixties

(thank goddess! ... so many silly rumors - like the front page report about six students staring at the sun on LSD until they went blind that an official admitted making up days later – we all remember the urban legend, but how many remember reading the retraction, or the news that the source of the false report - Dr. Norman M. Yoder, commissioner of the Office of the Blind in the Pennsylvania State Welfare Department - was fired and admitted to an asylum as a result, which for some reason didn't get the same coverage as the original report...?).

From the wild assertions "the establishment" (there's a term that brings back memories!) published in the sixties, it would be safe to assume that my mind turned to mush long ago

(that does seem to be the dynamic in play, but i chalk it up to natural processes...).

Yet many researchers have explored the subject – particularly Campbell's friend, Stanislav Grof, one of the pillars of transpersonal psychology, who legally monitored several thousand LSD trips as part of his research in Czechoslovakia and the United States - and have found it a valuable tool for self-realization and individuation, with stages in the psychedelic experience closely paralleling the unfolding of Campbell's "monomyth".

Joseph Campbell himself expressed surprise in the sixties that hippies were spontaneously using The Hero With A Thousand Faces as "sort of a triptych" for the psychedelic experience. Though he never indulged himself, through his studies he realized that entheogens access first the personal unconscious, and then reach into the collective unconscious of the psyche (a gross oversimplification), much the same as myth and dream

and, indeed, in my experience the dream state and the psychedelic state are of the same order.

I've recorded hundreds of dreams and dozens of psychedelic experiences - and, in fact, i believe the practice of recalling and re-membering my dreams provided the tools and discipline needed to recall and process details of the acid trance

(those who only rarely have taken psychedelics find they are a lot like dream - one remembers the experience as exquisite and incredible, but only a handful of images stand out once the eight-to-twelve hour "trip" ends, and the rest is dim and vague as dream the morning after - but over time i found its possible to bring more and more back across the threshold into waking consciousness).

The general pattern noted among users of psychedelics is an intense period of heavy use - maybe a few weeks, or months, a year or two - or, in my case, a decade, though that's rare - and then use peters off. Alan Watts, another Campbell colleague and friend, acknowledged LSD’s value when asked, but pointed out he rarely indulged anymore, for "once the call goes through, you hang up the phone." True enough, i rarely partake, occasionally consuming mushrooms in a ritual outdoor setting once every couple years, if that

(and then there’s the occasional Dead concert – seems they had something to do with psychedelics – and hey, they were friends of Campbell’s as well ... ).

Acid, mushrooms, and other entheogens propelled me into a realm of myth and magick - and most of the years since that period have been spent processing those images, those visions, and connecting them to "real" life – i.e., waking consciousness.

The images i encountered on my vision quests

(and, alas, not all were vision quests - a part of me first took LSD "to party, dude," anticipating having a good time - certainly wasn't expecting to encounter God in all Her manifestations, an experience more sublime overall than pleasant ... but i did seek out an experienced guide before embarking into the unknown)

correspond to the imagery encountered in Campbell - and triggered a lifelong fascination with myth ...

... which isn't necessarily a bad place to begin. Though by no means the majority, I imagine more than a few associates began their journey with a jump-start from a teacher plant.

There is a plethora of literature available today reflecting on the psychedelic experience. For a comprehensive history of LSD, Jay Stevens’ Storming Heaven is thorough, concise, and compelling. Several recorded lectures by the late Terence McKenna are available over the web: his book, Food of the Gods, looks at the sacred history of psychedelics, and several of his other works examine chemical and neurological aspects of the experience. Anthropologist Jeremy Narby explores the shamanic use of yage, or ayahuasca, throughout Mesoamerican rainforest cultures in The Cosmic Serpent, and journalist Daniel Pinchbeck examines the use of psychedelics in contemporary shamanism in Breaking Open the Head.

Huston Smith (yes, the widely respected religious studies scholar who wrote The World's Religions) was present at the birth of the psychedelic era, and provides firsthand accounts of the pioneer research into LSD involving many of his close friends, including Alduous Huxley, Timoth Leary, and Bill Wilson, the co-founder (with Dr. Bob) of Alcoholics Anonymous. He examines the sacramental value of entheogenic plants and chemicals in Cleansing the Doors of Perception (note the title is an intentional riff on Huxley's classic).

Zig Zag Zen is another volume which explores the spiritual aspects of psychedelics, with contributions from Stephen Batchelor (Buddhist author), Huston Smith, Peter Matthiessen (novelist, naturalist, explorer, author of The Snow Leopard), Terence McKenna, Charles Tart (one of the founders of transpersonal psychology), John Perry Barlow (Grateful Dead lyricist and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation), Lama Surya Das (Buddhist teacher and author), Joan Halifax, (anthropologist and friend of Campbell), and many others.

There is also Ram Dass’s classic work, Be Here Now, which uses mythic imagery as a guide to the experience.

And Stanislav Grof's books, The Adventure of Self-Discovery, Beyond the Brain, and The Holotropic Mind, uncover a structure to the psychedelic vision quest, and explores the transpersonal aspects of higher dosages

(including telepathy, out of body experiences, the appearance of imagery from mythological belief systems foreign to the subject, and the substantiation of memories of the individual birth trauma, as well as past-life experiences later validated).

Though these are valuable resources, especially for those interested in researching the psychedelic experience, please don't think that I am actively advocating the use of psychedelics, anymore than a post about meditation or Zen implies Buddhism is a path that must be followed . Rather, i'm describing my experiences, individual and collective, of this phenomenon and relating it to mythic imagery - but I find there are many, many avenues to transcendence.

Psychedelics present just one path among many. Frankly, I'm more likely to favor other approaches today for a variety of reasons - but like you, jwoodle, I believe it is important not to discount what the entheogenic experience offers.


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Post by jwoodle » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Dear Bodhi_Bliss

Thanks so much for your deeply personal and comprehensive examination of hallucinogens as a potential tool in freeing oneself from the restrictions of the rigid conscious mind's perception of reality. I too, have enjoyed Ram Dass's "Be Here Now" years ago, as well as the humorous, creative, and insightful works of Alan Watts, R. D. Laing and others. I think your take on the matter is accurate, and your recommendation to move beyond the use of such mind-altering drugs towards an unaltered state of being are valuable to all who might read these last few posts. Thanks again!
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Post by Trevor_Joe » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Great post !

Insightful and interesting.

Ruiz your take on this matter I find most interesting. For you seem to me, to have gained the insight without the possible consequence !

Your reference to how you achieved union with typing is excellent. I wasn't surprised to see that you are also a musician.

The release and union obtainable through playing a musical instrument, be it voice, drum or whatever, is very close to the connection that can be achieved through mind altering substances.

Once the doors have been unlocked, there's no longer any need to keep unlocking them. They remain unlocked for all time, no matter what device was used to achieve this !

For that reason I feel that it is not only unnecessary, but dangerous to continue to bend our brains with mind altering substances.

I've been there and done that, and I feel that it would be counter productive to continue with the experiment, as Leary did.

Whatever tool is used to achieve the understanding of our potential, is valuable. But given my time over again, I would choose NOT to take the drug path, now that I am aware that the same result can be achieved through other means, such as music !

Under strictly controlled environments, with trained guides to assist, it is certainly possible to use mind altering substances to understand our potential.

But that is not what happens when a bunch of kids drop acid.

Some indigenous tribes in Australia use to introduce the young men into the world of the "Dream Time" via mushrooms, but the elders knew what they were doing and guided them through it, and it only happened once, as far as I know.

For every beneficial trip I had, there were ten bad ones, and some of them very dangerous !

Drugs are by no means the pathway to bliss !