The Ecstatic Adventure
Reports of Chemical Explorations of the Inner World
Chapter 10 The Conscious Ascent of the Soul
by RABBI ZALMAN M. SCHACHTER
HOW TO INTRODUCE a waterfall? A phenomenon of nature, a singing, dancing, bubbling, laughing, exuberantly loving, energetically thinking and talking human being. Someone who, in his "organic thinking" draws from Judaism, Hasidism, song, poetry, science, mathematics, philosophy, fiction, religion and mysticism, bringing them all together in one great sensory implosion, in blue and pink thoughts. "When he speaks he holds back nothing and 'spills all the beans.'"
Rabbi Schachter was born in Poland in 1924. He was raised in Vienna and at the time of the Anschluss fled to Belgium, where he first came into contact with Lubavitch-Habad. Escaping the blitz, he came to France, where he was interned in a concentration camp. He arrived in the United States in 1941 and was ordained and graduated from the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Brooklyn. He received his M.A. in Psychology and Pastoral Counseling from Boston University. He is currently chairman of the Department of Judaic Studies at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. He has contributed prolifically to many Jewish periodicals, including Commentary, in which, in August 1966, he wrote:
The most serious challenges to Judaism posed by modern thought and experience are to me game theory and psychedelic experience. Once I realize the game structure of my commitments, once I see how all my theologizing is just an elaborate death struggle between my soul and the G-d within her, or when I can undergo the deepest cosmic experience via some minuscule quantity of organic alkaloids or LSD, then the whole validity of my ontological assertions is in doubt. But game theory works the other way too. G-d too is playing a game of hide-and-seek with Himself and me. The psychedelic experience can be not only a challenge but also a support of my faith. After seeing what really happens at the point where all is One and where G-d immanent surprises G-d transcendent and They merge in cosmic laughter, I can also see Judaism in a new and amazing light.
Rabbi Schachter brings to his encounter with LSD and subsequent reflections on it not only his profound knowledge of Judaism and Hasidism, but also a deep, sympathetic understanding of other faiths and approaches, a divinely humorous and loving appreciation of the human condition in general, and the specific amusing situation of taking the great journey with a goy of doubtful academic reputation.
The account which follows was a verbal report to colleagues and contained many references to Talmudic and Hasidic material which had to be omitted for the sake of the general reader. The "Besht's Aliyath Han'shamah" referred to is a letter from the Ba'al Shem Tov to his brother-in-law, describing his "heaven ascent" on Rosh Hashanah in 1747:
This time I saw such visions that I had never before seen. What I saw and learned when I ascended to there is impossible to tell by words of mouth.... But when I returned to the lowest Gan Eden, I saw many souls of the deceased and of the living, … ascending from world to world via the columns well known to the lovers of hidden wisdom. This they all did in immense joy ... there was a time of great benevolence which even to my view seemed extraordinary.... However I learned when I was there of three s'gullah [pneumatic keys to expanded consciousness] and three holy names, which are easy to learn and to explain; and within that my anxiety cooled. And I thought that because this is possible my colleagues will be able to reach as high a level as I did. That is to say they will also be able to ascend and learn and attain the way I did.... Give a slight hint to a wise man and he will derive greater wisdom from it.
ALMOST FIVE YEARS have passed since this report was given to some of my colleagues. This version is an edited verbatim of the report. Since my colleagues were rabbis I could use much Hebrew and Yiddish. Many biblical and talmudic allusions (of great significance to me) had to be omitted for the sake of the general reader. This report looks pale to me now. It is a poor compromise. Yet there is a personal freshness I did not wish to edit out.
I take it you have read the text of the Besht's Aliyath Hanshamah, his conscious ascent to heights. I want to compare this to my first experience with LSD.
I must begin with a few preliminary remarks.
I once read a science-fiction story about an American soldier who, in about 1990, was captured by the Chinese; they put him into a "blackout tank." I want to tell you about this blackout tank. There have been quite a number of isolation experiments to separate people from sensory experience. At many universities today there are isolation chambers. They neutralize sight and sound and other stimuli. One of the questions is: How long can one stand it?
I asked myself "What would there be after death?" Being rid of sensorimotor responses is like getting rid of a body. It's a frightful thing. But one now has the proper situation of being able to evaluate a conscious ascent of the soul, an aliyath han'shamah, that doesn't involve muscle energies, but happens purely in the mind.
Let's not start arguing whether the mind is anything more than an epiphenomenon of the body. One thing has already been established: that hallucinations and "ego disappearance" occur in these sensory-isolation experiments; the ego seems to float away. In this science-fiction story, isolation was the way in which they brainwashed people, because in the end the hero was so happy to make contact again that he went to any expense to do so.
I am now sitting in a chair. I feel the chair. This assures me that I am 1; even if it does so only on the behind, it reassures me. But if I didn't have the reassurance that my eyes give me as to my location, that smell gives me, that the proprioceptive senses give meif, in short, everything were to be equalizedthen hallucinations would begin.
To argue whether it happens on the outside or on the inside is useless. There is no ordinary topology that makes any sense. You find out both sides are the same. A Möbius strip, a Klein bottle; where is the outside, where is the inside? They're both the same.
On the other band, if anything happens on the outside, it also happens on the inside. We become aware of it on the inside. Yet it is still outside of the core of one's being, and therefore to the core of one's awareness it has objective reality. To it, even fantasy is object. Taking for granted that I don't have to bother with topology or ontology, we can move on now.
Our mystics reported aliyath han'shamah, conscious ascents of the soul. These reports were accepted at face value. When Paul claimed to have been raised to the Third Heaven, he did not have to apologize to his hearers. They accepted such reports and believed them. The climate was well prepared by the visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. Many Apocalyptics claimed high visions, and the Quran sectaries sought them. The Book of Revelation is one big trip, and in that climate of gnostic questing, Rabbi Akiba and three companions entered into the paradise. Akiba had a good trip; he entered in peace and left in peace, because he trusted G-d, himself and the process. It is like flying in the cockpit through a cloud. You can't see anything in front of you, only the milky white, and you don't know if you move or ever will get out of the cloud of unknowing. This is the way in which Abot dR'Nathan describes it; Moses entered in the cloud and was sanctified there. Contemporaries of the author of the Abot dR'Nathan wrote the Heykhaloth Books, a kind of heavenly geography.
A person has to be instructed where to go. In fact, he has to give a coin to his guide and know the death-unification sentence, the dying mantra. One "dies" in the initiation. This is always very clear. When a Hindu becomes a sanyassin (renunciate), he is consecrated on the burial ground. The old ego is buried. He gets the saffron robe and takes a new name, and this means that now he is a new man; the old man is dead. The same thing happens in Christian monasticism. Only after death does the person rise again. And so the problem is: Can you go through the mansions, the heykhaloth, without having a guide? The heykhaloth literature becomes the guide, leading you from one mansion to the next. With a personal guide, you know when you are in purgatory and when you are in heaven. But if you do not have anyone to take you around, then at least the literature should be there. The Tibetans have a literaturethe Book of the Dead. The Egyptian Book of the Dead is nothing compared to the Tibetan, because the Tibetan one is psychological, and there is real instruction. The lama sits right next to the person who has "died." He leads him through liberation and reincarnation, and then back to the body after the liberatory experience. That is the psychological meaning of the text.
By the way, I have a copy of Leary's interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. His group is very much interested in making people go the Tibetan way, going up and coming down. You remember the fairy tales? You must not look to the right, you must not look to the left. There is so much to distract. Only after you have gone to the end without being distracted can you transform and redeem the beast and turn it into a beauty.
If I want to enter the mansions, what key can I use in order to open myself pneumatically? Where is the bottle that says "Drink Me," to make me get in there, smaller, bigger, or whatever I have to become in order to have the experience? In Kabbalah we find that is what sheymoth, the sacred names, are used for. And so you get the idea of hashba'oth, adjurations. Here is a way of binding an angel or divine entity (divine, göttlich, and not G-d) to one's soul. This forces open the lock of the soul and the soul can sneak out and then slip back in again.
I hope that you have looked through the letter of Aliyath Han'shamah. There, the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement, begins simply: "I made an aliyath har'shamah." He does not apologize for it. It is understood. Interesting to see what has happened to this attitude. There are two kinds of Hasiduth.
There were two kinds of churches in the beginning. There were the gnostic and esoteric churches, which after a while got lost by going underground and became heretical. Where all the mysteries have to be opened up to everyone the spiritual know-how gets lost. In Hasidism, when you see more disciples, there the know-how is available. Where only dynastic leaders are left, the pneumatic keys are lost. Enough about history. I was interested in the pneumatic keys Hasidism has to offer.
When I read Huxley's Doors of Perception, my interest was sharpened. There was some material written by William James, who inhaled all kinds of fumes. This takes us again back to Greece, where the Pythia sat on a three-legged stool and inhaled fumes. Her oracle is not a bipolar statement, but monistictherefore an ambiguous, holistic kind of statement.
I came to Boston University and found that Rinkel was doing some work with LSD. I went to see him, and I asked him if he would let me have some LSD and perhaps an M.D. to supervise an experiment I had designed. I wanted to run the experiment in the college chapel.
I wanted to sort the subjects with Rorschach tests beforehand, in order to be able to predict if they would have mystical experiences or not. My hope was that he would let me elicit from the subjects enough information to classify them. I wanted to ask them whether they had experienced any kind of religious experience in the past. Then I wanted to give some of them a placebo and some the LSD, and then see if there was a difference. I would use everything else like incense, music and so on, and then add the drug. Did they feel this was perhaps only a difference in degree, though not a difference in quality, or was there a qualitative difference between their experiences? The psychiatrist did not want to let me have any of the drug because he said that I did not have the proper experimental design, and that was that.
Later I came to Canada and found out that Hoffer and Osmond were doing some work with LSD in a state hospital. I talked to Hoffer, and he said, "Okay. You come to the hospital. I will be very glad to give it to you there." At this point I hesitated, because my instincts and what I had extrapolated from the situation told me that I did not want to be in a "crazy house" in so highly suggestible a state. Also, frankly, I believe in possession, and had no wish to be around a psychic garbage heap. Later on, when I talked to Gerald Heard about this, he said that I was right, and that I should not take it in a hospital but in congenial surroundings chosen prior to the experiment. (Since that time the Canadian group has built a new hospital, which the architect designed after LSD. Today I would take it there.)
Now then, this summer, we took a fabulous trip with a group of students to a retreat house in the East. At the retreat house I met and talked with Leary, and asked him whether I could try LSD. I told him all the antecedents and that I was quite happy to take it at the retreat house because I had been there several times before, and had had a very comfortable, reassuring feeling that all this was very fine. Would he let me have it? He agreed. I told him I would be back the following week with someone who would drive, because I did not want to have to worry about driving home. I did not know how long the thing would last.
I finished the day at camp, and Jerry and I got into the car. I drove on the way there. SuddenlyI don't know whether he or I started firstboth of us had the same tune in mind, and we began to sing it at the same moment without missing a beat. This is an experience that you have bad, I am sure, and it happened on the way. So I said to myself that Buber is so completely wrong when he makes people discrete entities, so separate that there is always an "I" over and against the "Thou," because we were "We" rather than "I-Thouing" it. In other words, we both were part of the same field rather than discrete and separate entities, and this was a good introduction to what was to follow.
We came to the retreat house. Leary was already waiting.
I took some music along, Mozart and some Hasidic melodies on records. I took along my special Sabbath clothes so that I should be in the proper setting, for I had planned my meditation beforehand, though I was too excited later to follow it through because too many things were happening too fast. I wanted to know from Leary what was the social contract between us. "Do I owe you anything for it? The drug costs money, so does your time." For me, it was well worth the experience and at the same time I wanted to know before, rather than having to pay afterwards. He said, "No, you don't owe me a thing." So I said, "This brings me to a very logical question, or maybe not so logical question, but a paranoic question: Why the bell are you doing this?" He said, "Because I want to afford people liberation." He said this so simply and so reassuringly. I said to him, I understand that you want to come along with me"in other words, that he would have some, too. So he said, "Yes." "Will you want to elicit some information? You are doing research. What should I watch out for and tell you about?" He said, "You don't have to worry about me. I will just come along with you and be there with you, and I will learn a great deal just coming along, if you will have me." Which was very good and warm.
Now a word about the setting. It is a chapel. It's paneled with wood. It has a very warm ceiling. There is a big illuminated symbol in stained glass on top of the altar. There is a fireplace on the side. There is a rug all over the place. Not too many chairs so that people can sit on the floor. On one side there is a relief in bronze of some religious personages; on the other side, another figure looking at the other three. The lighting is rather dim, but comfortable. The person who runs the retreat house is a very wonderful mother-type, and the name they call her means "little mother." I had met her several times before, and I had a real sense of confidence in her full spirituality, which is not fanatic or power hungry, but very, very permissive and at the same time well-guiding. She wore her robe. Leary wore a blue shirt, and she said that evening that she would come and join us a little bit later. Leary asked her if she would have him prepare some LSD for her. She said she didn't need it.
I said to Leary, "Is there anything special that you would want me to remember?" He said, "Yes, the rules of the road are two: trust your traveling companion; when in doubt, float downstream."
Neither Leary nor Mother speak Yiddish, and not to have someone around who does and being in a non-Jewish place with all the symbols that were there didn't afford me the opportunity of being able to express myself at the guts level. In other words, it became far too cerebral because it was necessary to translate. A direct dialogue was not possible. Now, she gave me the holy draught and there was a holy moment in drinking it.
In offering the blessing, I thought of the little tale of the Hasid who brought to his Master, the Kobriner, his tale of woe. The Master was about to eat a belated breakfast and interrupted the Hasid's sad tale with the blessing:
"Blessed art Thou.... for the All was made by His word." When the Hasid continued with his troubles, the Kobriner chided him: "What is there to say after 'The All was made by His word'?"
I sat waiting for things to happen. The record player was on, there were cushions and blankets on the rug, and there was a fire in the fireplace. Leary had taken some LSD, too, and Mother had joined us for a little while. And here I was looking from the corner of my eye for something to happen.
I tried all my old tricks, and I could see that they were not doing anything special except what the old tricks deliver. Nothing special about LSD. When Leary noticed I was sitting there on pins and needles, he said to me, "Don't push it. It will happen when it is ready. When it happens, you will know that it is happening." I'm looking again from the corners of the eye and it is still the same; nothing special about it. Mother joined us. The record was still playing, and I danced through several sides of the Hasidic records and was not winded a bit. I usually get winded because I am heavy, but I wasn't winded then. I usually dance only with my feet, but then, I was dancing with all my bones, even my shoulders.
What was Leary doing all this time? First he watched, and then he listened. Then I saw him curled up like a baby in Mother's arms. I still danced and the coordination was there. Later on it became difficult, but at that time it was still there. In between dancing, I kept on saying: "It's better than schnapps! It's better than schnapps!" I must tell you this because it is of great significance to me.
About four weeks before I met Leary, I visited my Master, who was conducting a happening in honor of a special calendar high point. I had stepped out of the hall for a few moments when a friend called me back, saying, "The Master asked for you. When he found out that you were not there he teased, 'Maybe he is meditating somewhere? Maybe he has made a retreat?"'
When I came back he asked me to drink two cups of schnapps, "one for the retreat and one for the meditation." When I was served, he looked as if through me and after I drank them he roused himself and said, "Why don't you drink?" As they filled my third cup and I drank it, he said, "Have a good retreat"; at the fourth, "Have a good meditation!" When they later began to sing and dance I was as high as a kite. Now you see what the schnapps thing meant to me? My Master's approval to make the "retreat and meditation."
I sat down and watched Mother. She was wearing an orange-colored robe, which in the light looked almost red. He was wearing a blue shirt. I watched her stroking his head gently. The funny thing was that there was an absolute absence of sexuality about it, and on my part, an absence of jealousy. I remember being amazed at the moment. How come I'm not jealous? Like, "Mommie! Me too!" And I answered myself that a) I'm not missing anything; b) I'm getting it all; c) I'm both Mother and Leary. There was simply a beauty about this, and I kept on feeling "Rhada and Krishna!" This is the way they usually appear on those little Indian miniatures. I looked at both of them with a great deal of nachas, and recognizing this was the beginning of a tumbling.
It seemed as if I was falling, falling, falling. I would sometimes stand, sometimes walk around, but all the time I was tumbling and falling. It was almost like the music you get with "Twilight Zone" and some of the movies of dream-falling, and it was an eerie kind of thing. And then making a comeback, while my eyes were closed. I could see aeons and eras, and not always was it pleasant. Sometimes there were agonies. It was like waves washing across me, and each wave brought a new lifetime to be lived through. Then I would come out of it for a moment.
At this point came the center experienceI can't even today describe it. It has no mythic tag. All the myths in concert together, each one flowing over into the next and they are all my self, which turns upon and against itself. The central figureground switch, the yes and the no. Life and death. All the revelations ever wrapped in ONE. I know and I know again, I recognize myself in all the masters and martyrs, in all the blasphemers, murderers and rapists, in all animate and inanimate beings, in my freedom and necessity, in all patterns and forms and in all the changes. I bear all the guilt for being and for making being and pain and pleasure and all the ecstasies of the I WANT, I WANT, I WANT, I have, I am, and all this now. I can't suffer it, I want out, and no! I want to stay with it. No! I want to die. No! I want to live, to continue. Yes! I take upon myself all the consequences and I suffer them all. Later... behind the scenes a conference; so who'll play villain and who the hero? The show must go on. Which role do you want? Make up your mind and I want to be me....
I don't know if the Hasidic record was still on, but one thing was absolutely clear to me, that none of the people in the Yeshivah and none of the other close friends I have were with me through all these tumblings, the gilgulium, the reincarnations. Mendel T. was with me. It may well be that Mendel really was another part of me, and none of the others were. People I would expect to find, great friends from the Yeshiva days to whom I have vowed eternal loyalty, were not there, and Mendel was.
There was one moment when I was in Spain during the Inquisition, and dying took quite a long time. One more little moment, one more little moment, another two seconds and it will be all over. And then whoosh, another wave came by and a few moments of lucidity (not that the other moments were not lucid), a few moments in which the coordinates of here and now and the place where I was were clearly established.
The business with time is very curious. I kept my eyes open and started looking around, and there were these wavy movements and a great deal of shimmering. Nothing I looked at stood still; everything was possessed with a life of its own. A point I would focus on would suddenly step out of its field and approach and engulf me, and then step back, then another point would come out.
Then on the "inside" I was enveloped in light, in pure light. It was luminous and milky white. I was completely lost and dissolved in it. It's not that I could say that I was in the light, but the light was there and I was not quite there in it. I just wasn't. And then came the black light. The black light was even a stronger kind of feeling, the absence of feeling. And then I finally came to. I remember standing and thinking that if anyone were to look at me at that moment, he must have positively thought that I was some kind of catatonic. I began to see where they would call this psychotomimetic. And with it came a great deal of compassion for the people who were involved in mental illness. Not so much for them as for the problems they must have in communication.
Leary wanted to know when I came out, "Where are you now?" I said to him, "Aeons and aeons later. It is about 2:30 in the morning." He said, "How come you Jews know so well?" And I turned back to him and said, "Silly, we have Sabbath every week." I did not have my watch on at that time; I had put it away. (Among our Hasidim there is a custom. When you come to a happening and you sit down and you are going to spend the night drinking, thinking, talking and singing, you turn in your watch.)
And then we had some more conversation. If I had had a tape recorder then, it would have only recorded some mumbling, and yet I knew precisely what he was saying and he knew what I was saying because it was at a speed far closer to the speed at which we were both living. Before long, we gave up using words; we were just using gestures and movements and laughing our beads off. One of the conversations was, "Is it only happening in my head or is it really there?" The joke was that the language on the inside and on the outside, with its everyday meaning, was completely senseless. What is animate, what is inanimate? By this time we had walked over to the bronze reliefs where the religious images were. They were not just standing still, but were moving out of the bronze as if they were alive.
One of the things that we talked about was time. What is time? Which concepts do we invest in order to keep our concepts located so that we don't lose ourselves? It really is just a game, and that word "game" is very important. Yes, it was very much like Hermann Hesse's novels The Glass Bead Game and The Journey to the East. As we had a conversation, there was a great, wonderful feeling of laughter; a feeling that this world was really a tremendous joke; how we take this world so seriously and how we insist on points of view; how we insist that there are absolutes, rather than realizing that they are constantly shifting in the reality that our emphases might have. All the fine distinctions between logic, metaphysics, ethics and aesthetics seemed to be such nonsense, such thorough and complete nonsense. Why should anyone do anything? Because it is so beautiful to do it that way. And why was anything beautiful? Because it was so right. And why was anything right? Because it made such perfect sense and formed such a great logical sequence; so that metaphysics was proven by aesthetics and aesthetics was proven by ethics, and ethics was proven by both of them.
We sat down and pondered things, and this was a very lovely moment, when everything was so intensely significant that you don't even want to communicate. You just want to sit down and take it all in. How significant it is. I had warned him before that I was a bugger and a kisser, and he said, "Well, if you feel like it, then just go right ahead." So I hugged and kissed him. By that time, Mother had decided that she would leave her two boys to enjoy their flight of consciousness and would turn in for the night. We both walked behind her, walked her to the door like two children, wishing her, "Sleep well, Mother."
It is not that the various incarnations were not serious, but the word "game" was very important, because it was to be taken with ultimate seriousness. Not the kind of seriousness that seems to come along with a Billy Graham sermon, "This is your only chance!"I am sure that if we had heard such a sermon that night, we would have doubled with laughter. The difference between incarnations is that each time someone else calls the shots. There was a great deal of pity for the ego having to go through all these incarnations, but looking from behind the ego, it was a big joke seeing how seriously the ego takes it all. This was the way in which children enjoy a game. it suddenly made a great deal of sense that the Buddhists of the Hinayana and the Mahayana are both right. Both that the person is a soul and maintains his individuality, and that he is in each incarnation a new drop from the ocean. And how could both of them be right? First of all, if you had asked me that, I would have thought it a silly question. Simply because they are right, that's why they are right. If you ask "How?" well, the law of contradiction does not hold all the way up there. Maybe it is not polite for them both to be right, but they are. But yet, on the other hand, I could understand that the Mahayana principle speaks of the non-ego self, whereas the Hinayana principle speaks of the ego self, and the ego self gets lost each single time that the non-ego self survives. So, sitting and pondering, it came to my mind that this pondering was exactly the way in which Thomas Mann describes Jacob in the Joseph stories. Sinnen is not quite thinking; it is not discursive; it is not logical; it is not feeling; it is a total preoccupation with an idea deeper than meditation. The question that preoccupied me was, what is the purpose of the individual in this whole business?
So I looked into the fire, and my thoughts began to wander to hell. First I had said to myself, "Will I get hurt?" And it was very interesting to see. I would not have gotten up for myself because my fingers so fascinated me at that time, why should I move them? Everything was so right. When Leary shivered, I felt the cold.
I am so glad he came along. I love him so dearly and if he is shivering, so I will go and put on another log as part of the game. I wondered how I managed to coordinate. I put the piece of wood on the fire. When I kept looking into the fire, how the wood was consumed, my thoughts wandered off to being hurt, hurt being hell, and in hell, oh-ohover here are a whole bunch of demonic punishers, avenging angels making all sorts of ugly faces and teasing me and trying to get me angry. I am still looking at the fire. They are all there, at the edge of my field of vision. Leary turned around; the noise from the fire now sounded almost as if they were ready to pounce.
What am I going to do? And I close my eyes for a moment: "Oy Rebbe, what am I going to do?" "What Reb Zussia did." R'Zussia said that when G-d tells him that he has to go to hell, he will gird his loins and say "for Gd's sake," and he will jump into Gehenna. There, you can't do any more good deeds, right? But then if G-d wills that he go to hell, he will go to hell; then he has one more fulfilled command. So he will jump. So I sort of said, "OK... come on demons, come and get it!" Suddenly they were still at the edge of my field of vision. They were good white angels. And they were having such a great deal of fun, as if I sort of found them out, that they are not really demons. There was a great sense of rejoicing.
Then I started to get concerned about Leary. He is a widower. And I started thinking about his children. I thought now that he does not have a job any more, he may be down and out. So I crawled over to him and took his head and put it in my lap and sort of looked at him. He started to assume to me all the shapes possible, all the bowery drunks in the world; he became the focus for all sorts of visual distortions.
We had a little toy as kids. It showed a picture of a man, but no nose. Instead of the nose there was a chain, and you could wiggle it around and make all sorts of faces. Like in Van Gogh paintings, color was intense, light and shadow. All the colors that were around there, and the intensity of the colors. He was so knobbly, so Kollwitz-like. You know, I still have a real sense of what they are trying to say in that sculpture... for instance, a little bit of stubble on the chin, some pictures of Zen masters with the ugly faces. That kind of thing happened. "Such a pity," I sighed, "no job, shaquiet little kitten." And he was a cat. Then he started to move around like a cat. He started to sit up, looking at me with eyes like a leopard or a panther. He was like all the cats in the whole world, both beautiful and terrible at the same time. He said, "I am hungry!" And everything that happened at the fireplace is repeated. A conniption in my guts. What am I going to do? He is going to eat me up. But I love the guy so much, so I say, "Go ahead!" He begins to laugh and says, "Let's go into the kitchen!"
We go into the kitchen. The table was moving. Nothing stood still. Mumble mumble, we talk back and forth, and I tell him that Theodore Reik is right where he says something about totem and anti-Semitism, "we" Jews are sheep and "they" are cats and dogs and lions and all sorts of beasts. It is existentially so, and you cannot talk it away. To be able to say that you are hungry and eat methat's another part of the game. So he does not have to eat me any more. I was so happy and I started to dance.
I started to dance with him, and I said, "Oh, this is great! This is great! So inexpensive! How much fasting one would have to do in order to get there! How much sensory deprivation! To be able to get oneself into this realm with a mere sip! How great! How inexpensive! This is great! This is the greatest thing that ever happened!"
Here is a person who is sort of suspect in the eyes of the world as not being a responsible person, member of the community. But he said, "You see what the problem is? How can we use this drug? Can you give it to students? Can you give this to kids? What is going to happen when kids are going to get into a car and they will want to drive, or one says he wants to walk on water." So I said, "Who would do such a damn thing? This is beautiful, heaven...." "Well," he says, "this is my worry." And I said to him, "Tell me, what do you do with a guy who has bad karma? In other words, somebody who has all sorts of hells...?" And he says, "I don't have that kind." There were times when just by the fact that he touched my hand while I was tumbling, he gave me a great deal of reassurance. To be alone could be terrible, and that is perhaps the most dangerous aspect, inexperienced people taking it alone; you know, it's important to have good people around. Good people never bring out bad karma in others. We went and had a couple of cigarettes outside.
He had explained to me that one of the great problems that they have in psychiatry is that psychiatrists think that the meshugener is slow, whereas the meshugener is really, really going at a terrific pace, and if he has to say something, what are you seeing? How can I talk about what I am seeing here when I am not there anymore by the time I get to talk about it? This was very real. By now, I felt that if ever I knew of a meshugener who is going to think at that pace, then I would want to come and sit with him, just to be there while he is going through whatever hells he is going through.
We went out into the lit garden. It was still night. It must have been 3:30, 4:00 in the morning. All the trees had faces and lowreaching arms which were very threatening, but if you said, "Nice, nice trees," they became very friendly. I kept on saying, "Such a pity that he has to play the tree game, when I can play the human game." I walked over to the trees, saying, "Sha, sha trees. In the next gilgul [incarnation] I will be a tree and you will be a human being."
I had to go to the bathroom, and I wondered whether I would be able to unbutton my pants. I come in, sit down, and start to think. "Oy, that poor toilet. It has to take all the crap." The answer I seemed to get from the toilet bowl was, I am doing my job, you are doing yours, and this is all part of the game."
When it began to dawn I took the tallith [prayer shawl] and said to Tim: "Tim, I am going to pray. Let's be together." So I open up that tallith and the phylacteries, the t'fillin, and took his hand and tied it to my hand and put the headband around him too, and he was under the tallith, swaying in rhythm with me.
The only trouble was, I could not daven [pray]. Every word was a cosmos. I had to skip. The slow prayer seemed to swallow me; I could not move from my word. It kept me locked in its sense. Each stress of difference between polaritiesJew-Gentile, man-woman, day-nightlocked me in its cyclic set of necessities. I wanted to escape these polarities and just be in prayer with Tim vis-a-vis G-d.
We stand around the trees and they seem to sway and daven along with us, and all the while the visual back-and-forth flow is still happening. Sometimes there would be a focus zooming back and forth, like when you try to fall asleep and you look at the ceiling, and the ceiling moves so far, far away, or closes in on you. We came to "Thine 0 L-rd is grandeur and might." I just overflowed with tears and I couldn't go on. "And Thou believest them all!" I was ready to give up and die, so that He could live in me better. Words came out of their wrappers. They said, "Look at me." And I would look at each word and I would see things in that word that I never saw before.
Leary? He was swaying along with me and reassuring me with a squeeze of his hand. So, finally I finish Shmoneh Esreh, the silent prayer, and I know that I could not go on. So I took off tallith and t'fillin carefully. The t'fillin were super-duper special, almost as if they had halos on. The leather thongs were alive, snaking, banging down. I put them down carefully, and covered them with the tallith because I couldn't wrap them up. It was just too much. I sat down again and tried to meditate. Mother had gotten up and started to look around. It was interesting to see her face and that of her assistants. I always see her as an exceptional woman, but then she looked like a mameniu, a frail mother. I wanted to pick her up and carry her so that she wouldn't have to walk.
I was watching them pluck flowers for the altar. Their service begins and a girl sets the table on the outside. She is a Scandinavian girl with beautiful long pigtails, blue eyes, a sort of Gretel. She sets the table under a. tree tabernacle, a living sukkah, trees, branches intertwined. And there is a branch that goes around like a snake. Leary and I had walked over to where she set the table. I could see immediately that we discomfited her, despite her saying, "Oh, no, it's all right." In a normal situation, I don't notice the little shifts in your eyes, but the eyeballs do shift and they spell out a great deal of what's happening, and I could see when your persona is banging loose on you or when you are in the persona. In the normal kind of consciousness you don't see this. We were just looking at her and were reading her like an open book. This must have been apparent to her. I guess we must have stared. I say to Leary: "This is Eve before the Fall." And we stood there and looked with innocence; if she had had no clothes on, we would have looked at how pretty she was without wishing to possess her. I was looking at her, and Leary was looking at me, and she was looking at Leary, and then I said, "Now let's switch." And he looked at her and she looked at me. So we did this for what seems to me a good five minutes. We were playing look-see. I said to Leary, "You know, even you are pretty." Everything was gorgeous. A piece of bark on the tree was magically smooth. It had the texture of a nice frog. All was just color on the finest kind of texture.
All the people who were at the service... I could read them like a book. And I looked at Jerry, who had come along with me, and I had such pity on him because he looked like a prisoner of a desk. I could see him at forty-five trying to protect himself with all sorts of little defenses, and having a job and a desk. And I had snatches of compassion: "Oy, that's all that he is going to be, such a poor game for him this time."
Then there was the service. Every word in the service was so right. You didn't have to say amen all the time; it was so obvious. All the mysteries which otherwise get whispered, here were so real and obvious. We started breakfast, and I washed my bands very sacramentally.
By the way, when I put the t'fillin away I kept on saying to myself, "You know, I shouldn't even have put you on. It's Sabbath. It's the Sabbath." And I kept on feeling as though it were Sabbath. I mustn't travel today. I could see the sense why one mustn't travel on Shabbatim; right here it's so good, why go elsewhere? They've got here everything that they need. There was some toast and butter, and they always buy for me Kasanov's kosher rye and some jam. I sat right next to Mother, and Leary sat on the other side, and all the other people there at the table and Jerry. And Leary kept on teasing him to make statements about Judaism. As he launched to explain you could see what comfortable defenses words are. I could read his face at that point. What am I going to tell this man? Oh, I've got a nice word for him. Let me use that word; it's a good defense so I won't have to be vulnerable to the real stuff. I kept on looking at him and Leary, and Leary looked at me. I felt like crying out, "Oh, words are such shit."
Mother was authority enough to be goddess, priestess, mother, Demeter, whatever you want. I kept on looking at her and it was "mother, mother, mother, mother, mother, mother." It was so great just to look at her face. And this was the way, just looking and not wanting anything. Just beholding the essence. I was wondering if anyone who did not know could see how high I was.
Breakfast was over, and there was the arduous task of putting the t'fillin together, because on the one hand I knew that the t'fillin had to be put together, and on the other hand I couldn't disturb the beautiful snaking of the thongs, and the way the light hit it, and why should I even bother with it? I finally put everything together and we said goodby and started out, and I strapped myself in the front seat. Jerry is driving. Jerry had to go to New York, and I was quite willing to go with him now. I wanted to see what the road was going to be like. I gave him directions because my mind was so clear now, but I asked him to ask me all the time, because I might get so lost in just looking.
We're driving along, and there is this telephone booth and Jerry has to make a call to New York. There is a man in the other booth, and I look at him. Now the day before, I had picked up a little magnifying glass that has these screws that hold the temples to the glasses, and I had it there in the glove compartment. Sitting in the car I could see this man's frustrations. Oy, a pity, he must have had trouble at the office and he is trying to get something done and some idiot in the office doesn't know what he wants. Then somebody who is a supervisor came because his face changed and became apologetic and you could see the frustration knotting his body and he is trying to apologize for being and his glasses don't sit well because of his loose temple. There was this screw gone. So I come up and I ask him for his glasses. There was such a sweet smile on his face, and he managed to finish his conversation, and I managed to put the temple right. I was amazed that I could manage such fine coordination under LSD. I had a sense that if I could stop where people were having troubles like that and fix them, it would be worth a whole lifetime to do nothing else but go around helping in such a way. We get on the highway.
Nu, we are on the way and I look at cars and I could tell you which car had been in an accident before, despite the fact that it had a nice paint job. You could see where a car was sagging. While Jerry was phoning, I had taken out my Hok L'Yisroell and I started to study. In Deuteronomy Moses describes how he went up in the mountain and what happened, and I read that thing and all the harmonies were there. I kept on saying to myself, "Oy, if only I could study always like this! Who needs commentaries? Rashi has only one harmony and I have a whole orchestra here." And the letters, since they were hand-set letters, now I look at the thing, I couldn't know much of the difference, but there, every little bit of visual distortion with emphasis and I could see almost the furniture and the quoins exerting pressure on the letters of the print, and the chase in which they were locked. How the paper got the imprint of the type.
So we get on the road and there, now we are on the parkway already. I see willows shaking in the wind and that is Van Gogh. You know, you remember the way in which the trees were crouching, yeh? Cypresses look as if they are all saying something. And I said to Jerry, "Now I understand the story of Reb Ber, who when he looked at a pot could tell you that this pot was turned on a wheel by a one-eyed potter.
The way was quiet, even the cop who was standing there taking tolls. I ask Jerry not to stop at the exact change booths because I want to see the faces of all the people there. I must have smiled, because everyone smiled back so sweetly. "Poor guy, you are standing here a whole day. Cars are coming by and you are just an adjunct to a machine. But you are a human being and I love you."
Finally we got to Jerry's place, looked around the house a little while, and then it was really getting late. Since I hadn't slept the night through, I was saying the night prayer and already slowly, because by that time already I had more control. Everything was terribly rich but not as painful. The next morning I woke up, I hollered to Jerry, "It's gone, it's gone!" You know, it was completely gone. The same everyday walls….
I had to put the world back for myself. This, too, is a wonderful experience, because the world is taken so much for granted, and under LSD it gets all scrambled up and needs to be put back into order. There is much in Hasidism about this. It is called "Tigun and Tohu"making order from chaos. Except that here you don't just put back the dualistic worldno; the world is orderly, and all the monistic insight has to be accommodated. This seems to me the most significant addition LSD makes to the arsenal of psychotherapy.
Now, my immediate reaction was that if only you could give everyone some LSD in the bottle of milk that they get tomorrow morning, all the ills of the world would be solved. If Khrushchev and Kennedy could have felt the compassion that I felt, what would there be to worry about? Everything is going to turn out all right. After the summer passed and I came back to my home, I started to rethink the whole situation again and was very eager to tell everyone about it.
Then coming back to work, some misgivings started. I kept on worrying, first of all about Leary. I had written a note to Mendel saying, "You know, I had LSD this summer, and you were with me all the time; I sort of feel that I want to share this with you." Whereupon I get back a note from him saying, "I suppose that you ought to read the article in Esquire and in The Reporter, and so on." I finally managed to get hold of The Reporter and Esquire, and I read them and I was angry.
Then I got the printed material from Leary and Alpert, and I kept on reading Maslow's book on peak experiences and I wrote Maslow saying that what you are writing in your book sounds suspiciously like LSD. So he says, no, this is not LSD. He has been told that quite a number of times by people, but he doesn't think that he wants to go up on Mount Everest in a cable car. This was his reaction.
In which way is LSD worse than schnapps? In which way is it worse than other, more time-honored ways? It is less expensive to the body than fasting and less expensive to society than withdrawal and easier on the economy than "holy-man mendicancy." I had a sense that I would not want to repeat the experience too soon. I felt that somehow I needed to do homework to prepare for the next session.
Other misgivings about the session were due to the fact that I slipped into spiritual laziness in my prayer habits, rather than being spurred on in the way I expected this experience to take me. I have since felt the opposite was truethat my earlier spiritual laziness was drastically demonstrated in the LSD experience, since my prayer life had been complacent and smug before. This frustrated me for not working more acutely and soberly on myself. Then I began to examine some things in my past and saw that there had been other days when I was able to maintain the sense of signification for more than twelve hours. I had sustained it sometimes for weeks. At those times there was far less of the distraction of awe and more of the one-pointedness that I wanted, a singlemindedness of purpose. Although LSD produced great compassion, such beauty, it produced also "selfish" effects that showed themselves in relations with near and dear ones; expensive commitments of the past which burdened me in the present seemed less binding. I also got a little angry about looking at things as games, because there has to be a seriousness of ultimateness in what one is doing.
Was it a genuine aliyath han'shamahascent of the soul? I would have sworn on the trip to New York afterwards that it was. Now I couldn't swear to it. I was being swept by the experience. I didn't go anywhere. The sense of going to a destination, raising my questions with a heavenly mentor, and coming back with a specific answer didn't occur. But then I did go to the place where the mentor has to go for his answerswas this not better? It wasn't Jewish enough for me. A universe in which everything was happening, regardless of whether it was kosher or not, wasn't Jewish enough. Under LSD I did not replicate other "peak" experiences. Later, when Sabbath came, I found some things in a regular Sabbath that weren't in LSD, but again, I had no Sabbath experience with LSD. Now every Sabbath has some echo from the LSD experience.
I started to reread some Hasidic material in order to see whether there are things that stand out parallel to LSD experiences; I found that there were many. Things I had read and passed over before now took on a new and psychedelic dimension. I realized that even the Hasidic mystics couldn't always slip in and out of the expanded state of mind at will. It happened. And this isn't satisfactory enough. The moralizing myth is that the mystic can make it happen. The functional truth is that one is always inactively active and working. Even for them, set and setting were real conditions.
All the instrumental things that have to be done can be done with intention and significance, like Brother Lawrence practicing the presence of G-d. Under LSD, I was too much swept by it. LSD didn't have enough "holiness," it was great, it was lovely, it was wonderful. I remarked to Leary that it isn't solemn enough here. I expected that there should be a kind of grandeur, though not a long-faced sort of thing. It's the kind of thing that happens around the Master. And since I experienced some of this awe by consecration outside LSD, and it didn't happen inside LSD, I began to wonder. This is part of the re-assessment.
Now, D.L. told me, when I was in Los Angeles before the summer, that LSD caused a Jew's conversion to Catholicism. So I said to him, "Don't you think that we ought to come to terms with LSD, because it now is going to happen more and more?" I don't think that we'll be able to stem the tide by saying "don't join." It is proven not to be a narcotic. It's proven not to create any havoc with the internal system, because the dose of LSD is so minute. It's measured in gammas. Gammas are a millionth of a gram. it doesn't upset the liver at all. The only thing is, it expands consciousness. It is bound to be taken by more and more people. We need to train Jewish spiritual directors in the LSD experienceput our texts to use. What I would want to do, if I have the opportunity again, is to control it in the setting of a Hasidic conventicle with more of the Jewish paraphernaliamusic, pictures, space arrangementbut I would also want to have someone who is going to be the ground control, to keep on calling attention to some Jewish program, because I complained that it took bold of me and I had nothing to do with it. Also, I didn't follow my plan on meditation. I am far too introspective. I can't be hypnotized for that reason. Too curious to find out how it works inside.
What worries me is D.L.'s reaction. Because someone became a Catholic, therefore LSD is not kosher [Q.E.D.]? Unless we come to terms with the situation, we are bound to lose the best people that we could otherwise utilize.
The other item is the question of the morality of the instant and easy attainment which Maslow raised. To this I want to saythis still is my judgment after misgivingsI don't think that I could retreat from the socioeconomic world in which I have to be active in order to get a certain kind of standard of living and produce the spiritual state I want to produce. So I don't think that I could withdraw into meditation, despite the fact that I might want to go to a hermitage. I can't put in the time to do it in the old-fashioned way, to climb Mount Everest on foot. If we are using a car and vitamins and a whole bunch of other new-fangled things, I see no reason why this particular thing is immoral if it can produce what it does. if you have a chance even once a year to remind yourself not to take the social game too seriously, a chance to experience compassion in a way that one can draw upon the memory, I don't see why this thing is immoral.
Besides, it seems to me that the real drawback in the undrugged meditation experience is that one does not "die." In meditation we steer too much, and when we come too close to death we veer away. This means that we are in some real way unaffected. Yet the great kabalists like Luria speak of dying before the Sabbath in order to enter the Sabbath. The immersion in the mikveh pool is such a death. The confession and acceptance of the four kinds of death before going to sleep point to the need to die in order to enter the gates of holiness. And finally, the Yom Kippur experience and the Sabbath farewell are supposed to be a little death. But in any usual contemplative experience one remains the same unaffected ego. This is why LSD is so terrible, why some have bad trips, because they fight dying.
All our emphasis in contemporary Judaism is on living the ego and the controlled life, while those who wish to make religiously significant regressions to primary levels of life-death are held to be the modern heretics. Sure enough, Judaism is a delay culture but not one of infinite delayand after delay it has to deliver the sanctified regression.
So it seems to me that the psychedelic model death is the sine qua non condition for the real opening to G-d. Once having "died," one enters His blessed Mind and is oneself no longer. I suppose that the death part of the esoteric way is the real secret. In the politics of the public relations of mystics, this information is at first suppressed in order to be able to win friends and influence people. Imagine Hasidism propagandizing: "Come and die with us so you may enter into higher awareness." Fat chance to attract people. So one says, "Come dance, sing and study with us." The promoter swallows his own line and doesn't want to die anymore. The promoter is angry if you let the secret out, i.e. no peaks without valleys, no greater conscious life without conscious death.
In the new-old empirical mysticism, some criminals and junk addicts could probably be rehabilitated by well-trained LSD people. Perhaps many neurotics can be given insight to put their worlds right. Individual seekers could grow greatly, and even produce an empirically sounder pneumatic empiricism. People who are "peakers" could take a peaking holiday, and come back refreshed to take on the world. But Atlases who carry the world on the shoulder, and self-deceiving Prometheuses, would-be messiahs and fanatics will not trust themselves to LSD. Those who, according to my estimation, need it most won't take it. So the world will be by and large the same as Huxley shows in Island. Only deliberate communities and ad hoc churches, groups of people who would combine for mutual help and exploration, would in any cohesive social way use LSD, and they will use proper caution. Those religious interests based on assertion, forced assent and dogma, which cannot afford to test things esoterically (i.e. empirically), will call for prohibition. Positivists will have contempt for it. Only those who have a long tradition and are willing to experiment (i.e. Christian Yoga and Zen Catholicism, just to name two books recently published under Catholic imprimatur) will like it. Liberal religious people without tradition will not do more than be short-term dilettantes or Western "hindus."
So why worry? The thing is bound not to sustain those who can't manage homework between ecstasiesthe meditation, liturgy, examination of conscience, commanded deeds of merit, Sabbath and holy daysand acts of kindness, Mizvoth in short. And if some people have to become beachcombers for a while, also good! They must play the game for the candle and not for optionless despair. At any rate, the traditional mystical way is also dangerous. Society has become antimystical in defense of itselfand many a papa must have said, "Ascent of the soul, what kind of a business for a Jewish boy?"
Since the time of this first trip I had several more experiences under hard and soft psychedelics. I have had some bad trip experiences and some very ecstatic ones. I hope I have learned from them. It has certainly had a profound effect on me and in many ways has restructured my life. For the better'? Who can say? There are times when I am not so sure. Some of the old games I played with an unsophisticated "sincerity," I can no longer play that way. I am not satisfied with my own unconscious deceits. I know myself better, and at times this hurts. I knew more before. I used to think I had more answers. Now I have more questions. I cannot lead others with such great self-assurance as I had. In theology, where before I would spend time arguing for a precise formulation, I now see the other point of view as clearly as my own, and I can no longer invest my views with the same vehement assertiveness. Alan Watts expresses my views on myth and a dynamic metatheology far more closely than Maimonides, who is static.
My home and family games have become more ecstatic and joyful, but only after a crisis in which my family shared the agonies of restructuring family games. Emotionally and spiritually I still have problems; they did not vanish. On the contrary, they have increased, as I have wished since my LSD experience not to reduce the tensions between the poles of up and down, but have instead sought to increase them in order that out of these tensions new and more creative forms of Jewish living arise While I can share what has happened to me and help in some measure in the planning of experiences in order to avoid some of the bad trip pitfalls, I am no longer sure that soft or hard psychedelics are a panacea. I don't think that I should promote the use of psychedelics any more than mysticism or religion. I do think I should make my insights and experiences available to those who feel that they wish to have such information in order to plan their own experiences, or after they have had them, to make sense of them. Before taking anyone with me, I have found that it is wise to ask the I Ching or an equivalent oracle. Personally, I am glad that I am alive at this time and am able to enter the heaven-hell realm at chemical notice. On the other band, it makes no real difference, since the one who can take it and the very same one who cannot are one and the same. The experience teaches that there is no ultimate advantage to be had. Yet at the same time, it teaches that you don't have to play bad games if you don't want to.
Was it a real aliyath han'shamah that night or not? Well if you are after something special, then it was, but the burden of that night and of other such nights is that there is nothing special because everything is. If you want, you and I can play an aeon-long game of same versus different. I'll take either side, because since you exist what else are you going to do except play nice games? Or you and I can play figure versus ground when we get tired of same-different, or male and female, and this is creative and exciting, or we can play religion. At present it seems to me that I enjoy playing Judaism and covenant. To me this is the answer to how one ties the up to the down. Perhaps all religion is postpsychedelic. We used to think that religion was intended to produce the great experience, but maybe religion was intended only to tell you what to do after the experience so you can tie the up to the down and remember. So a covenant is what people make after a value experience, so that they may again have access to it or at least color their life with the significance of it.
Does LSD turn plain folks into saints? Does a revelation at Mount Sinai turn plain folks into saints? Only forty days after seeing G-d face to face, the people worshipped a golden calf. So it is clear, is it not, that only moral effort is rewarded by sainthood? But then what about grace? And if you say grace works by predestination, what about free will? And so it goes... ad infinitum.
I am sure that when you have it all figured out, you yourself will provide the next question that starts another round of games. While we exist, what else are we going to do? We exist forever in the NOW.
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