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The Ecstatic Adventure

  Reports of Chemical Explorations of the Inner World

    Chapter 2 — A Kind of Harmonious and Convincing Equilibrium


THE WRITER OF the following report is a European-trained psychologist who was getting his Harvard Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the time when Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert were disturbing the sleep of the university administrators by experiments with psilocybin. At present he is assistant professor of psychology at a leading university, where the existential approach to the understanding of human nature is preferred to the behaviorist analysis of laboratory experiments. He was a participant in the 1966 conference on LSD at the University of California Extension in Berkeley.
    Rolf von Eckartsberg is master of an almost forgotten art in psychology: the highly sophisticated phenomenological description. The attempt is made to describe, or circumscribe, experience, to provide a variety of ways of looking at it without going into analysis of inner motives, causes, reasons, etc. In other words, to stick to the data, the given, to be a witness to inner process, without imposing the mind's conceptual judgments and interpretations, which must at best always remain matters of inference.
    Rarely have the delicate nuances of sensitized perceiving and feeling under psychedelic drugs (in this case, under 15 mg. of psilocybin) been translated to words with such controlled virtuosity.

THE FIRST NOTICEABLE change came about with regard to strange color effects. The room changed in illumination and therefore also in feeling tone from bright and sharp to glowing reddish and warm. For the first time I seemed to understand the existential-phenomenological experience of shifts in one's total state of being and the transformation of one's perceptual world as a consequence of this. Everything is pulling together and tightening up or expanding and receding with the concomitant change in color perception which leads to or precipitates a diffuse and global experience of warmth or other feeling dimensions. In addition to this one sees afterimages following movement and a strong glowing of color or color-radiation. At first, however, there are no hallucinations. It is rather like a fluorescent light which comes from within the eyes of the others or which is penetrating the objects that one visualizes. The light is unsteady and glittering as if reflected by diamonds or other precious stones in a tremendous variety of very rich colors. Then everything becomes transparent, and nebulous, a continuous change and transfiguration. One has the impression of mouches volants, a gentle flowing of boundaries and substances. All blemishes disappear and one perceives familiar objects and particularly other faces or movements of limbs in a peculiarly stylized manner, as if the essence or underlying idea was struggling or better pressing to reveal itself.
    Next, peculiar boundary shifts enter into one's awareness, perhaps dissociations, definitely shifts of perspective. This manifests itself in a way that limbs of one's body as well as those of the other people in the room suddenly appear isolated and independent, they glide or soar away and interpenetrate, or coalesce into each other. It is a most striking experience that the vertical and horizontal ordering principles gently disappear, they slip away, so to speak, the coordinate system vanishes, perhaps the most vivid experience or realization of perceptual change.
    Early there is another strange experience, that of feeling one's eye-lids much like a curtain that can be drawn or let down. One has the experience that one's bead is like a bull or better a cloak of different layers of cloth, like a curtain, which are all in movement, floating before one's visual field so that one can penetrate them. The inside and outside are felt but not as contained within myself, a well-described container or system, but rather out there or in here in a purely directional sense, a visual direction not a blind orientation, i.e. knowing where one is in our usual experience. One can hold one's head in one's hands, for instance, and suddenly one experiences one's fingers as strangely knocking from the outside at one's face, disconnected and foreign, then elongating and growing into grotesque but friendly snakelike creatures, better creations as one knows them from Miro or Picasso. Fragments break off, there is constant mutation of parts, which then slide away to the side in a swirling movement, interpenetrating each other. Together with this as a constant accompaniment one encounters the most luminous colors and patterns, all asymmetrical but beautifully shaped, very modern designs. Everything reminded me very intensely of modern graphic art and paintings and I experienced a reassuring feeling of familiarity in this world of Miro and Picasso's Guernica. I had the succinct feeling of really understanding the meaning and expression of these modern forms for the first time, to understand their origin and to share or participate in the creative act from which these experiences spring. The idea went through my mind: "If I could only fixate these images, if I could only hold them or reproduce them, then I would be able to say exactly what so many have tried to say." I felt that I was at home in a world of which we obtain only sparse glimpses in works of art and I felt that I had discovered the secret of their origin, the source from whence all this sprang. It seemed only a matter of skill to pinpoint what I visualized, to bring it on paper or canvas as a most articulate form of artistic expression. The most dominant theme was one of "modernness," an expression of our and future ages.
    Another peculiar feature of this was the conviction I had of the objectivity of these visual forms. They must exist "out there," they must have existence independent of me and my experience. I can participate, I can see, reach out, touch them; I have the privilege of being confronted with essences, in tangential transaction with essences. In all of this, now, it may well be that the major factors were the ideas and preoccupations I had prior to the experience, i.e. seeing fragments of Picasso's Guernica and being concerned with the notion of the objectivity of values a la Scheler.
    The next stage, so to speak, although not directly distinguishable because of the extremely fluid boundaries and the elimination of structured spatiality, was an acute loss of time perspective or time-boundness. Past and future fade away and one lives exclusively and ecstatically in the present, here and now. Time did not flow, no temporal movement—it practically stood still—it felt like glassy warm glue, of heavy viscosity. There was no concern with time, which was most significant of all. It manifested itself in temporary abandonment of tasks one set out to do, in forgetting and leaving things unattended to and suspended without remembering and trying to continue only to again become oblivious of what one was trying to accomplish. Often acts or designs were acutely experienced as ideas, with no potential. One developed an acute inability to act. I wanted to do certain things like getting up and moving to another place or eating something, but I was unable to accomplish it. Either I was too lazy, unable to move or the idea in itself was satisfying without realization in action. Phenomenologically it was also not like a traditional motive or wish that one felt, that I wanted to do something, rather it was more like an idea I had of something which then vanished or oscillated into something else. However, I did act on occasion, and my actions had a peculiarly felt design and purpose. I had to do this and that, there was a certain compulsive quality about it, just this and no other way. Momentarily I became aware of the exclusiveness of the design. I was strangely free, I had only one thought, everything else did not matter at all.
    I ate grapes and bananas and they tasted most delicious in a very rich and sensuous way. Chewing and swallowing were intensely pleasurable and one could really abandon oneself completely in the exploration of this singular sensuous experience, which literally came over one without one's active participation. Everything else was screened out, one was not able to hold more than one thought, image or feeling in one's consciousness simultaneously. I felt suffused with feeling. Only global differentiations of one's feeling states which alternatively took possession of oneself could be made. I felt sometimes hot, warm or cool but never totally unpleasant.
    At times I felt that the only problem left in my world was the regulation of temperature in order to maintain this intensely pleasurable, secure, peaceful, permanent, even eternal state of suspendedness in a communion. The means-end thinking dropped out completely. There is a tremendous sense of freedom involved, freedom from different wants, freedom from having to do things, freedom from responsibility. Things are arranged for one. Momentarily one might worry about who is there outside our state to keep this going because I am certainly unable to do so at this time, but these detachments are scarce and short. It is more like things happen, one does no longer carry plans around in one's head, no designs, no purposes, no goals.
    There always seems to be only one—if any—instantaneous purpose, here and now, a sole concern, a sole problem which has to do with the immediate situation, like changing the temperature, one's temperature. It is tremendously difficult to visualize and realize action patterns, bow to go about certain things because one is so captured by the moment, caught up in the immediate, bathing oneself in sensuous experience from which one cannot remove oneself. So it is primarily "freedom from"—yet knowing also of the potential of a "freedom for," participating in freedom, being suspended in a beautiful, warm sea of feeling.
    One has a strong feeling of communion—one wants to share and to extend the experience for all present. There arose a very strong feeling of joining and participation, a feeling of joint knowledge, experience and privilege. The atmosphere was like a sanctuary. We had made it, we were chosen and rewarded. It was like having reached a safe harbor. This security made everybody present very unthreatening. There was plenty to share, one was in a giving and sharing mood. One could really give oneself without any pretense or reservation. One felt definitely that one and with one the whole group had transcended all kinds of pettiness and earthly worry, one need not pretend. Therefore, I felt acutely that I was encountering the people as persons as they really are, without any distortion of role status or accomplishment. I felt as if I could penetrate directly to everybody's soul. There was a gratifying and reassuring openness about my own feeling, although one still felt not quite free to communicate this openness and acceptance.
    The total atmosphere was definitely paradisiac and heavenly. I had the notion of "this is it," "this is the moment of truth," "I know that everything leads to this," "this is complete harmony and ecstasy." There were moments where the concern was: who will forego this willingly to continue to take care of things outside this group—more importantly—who will see to it that the date continues, who will think about making the pills? There was a singular absence of concern with technical things or with the general problems of civilization. All everyday activities seemed far removed and futile.
    I felt that I was unable to take care of anything. I could not do anything if the fire from the fireplace spread to the whole building, rather I felt that the conflagration was spreading and that it should spread and there was a glowing overmeaning in this word of conflagration for me. But there was never a sensation of fear or apprehension for me, or a realization that anything could happen to us—we, and I felt this quite distinctly, were inviolable, we had arrived, we were unified with the ground of being, we were already transfigured, dead and at the same time so intensely alive as never before. I experienced a sense of initiation and participation in a great mystery, everything became knowing and known. I also felt omnipotent and endowed with superhuman/divine powers.
    There was an acute awareness of the others in the room, but only when they were present. Most of the time people floated in and out of my experiential horizon. When they were there, they had to be there—it could not be any other way—everything had to be just as it was. There was a surging sensation of appropriateness and "rightness" about everything that went on.
    Viewing the others, there was an overwhelming and continuous, vibrating, sensuous, erotic-orgasmic feeling and expression of ecstasy. There were no visions or desires of actual physical union or even physical contacts but rather a type of spiritual interpenetration—two veils being drawn over each other. The orgasmic feeling had the power and sensation of a warm shower in which one became completely enveloped. Physical distance was not experienced as such. A glance or visual impression felt like a reaching out and amoeba-like engulfment. One lived in one's glance, one extended oneself in one's visual projection, one lived and travelled with one's eyes and view.
    One became acutely aware of facial details, like quivering lips and vibrating noses which signalled the experience of orgasm and ecstasy and which gave testimony of the universality of one's feelings and the harmonious and parallel or simultaneous resonance in this experiential community. One became aware of teeth, cheeks, the falling of hair, and eyes which had the most remarkable depth and radiation. Faces became mysterious, stylized, angelic, transfixed, idealized. There was a double entendre about every gesture, glance, and movement. Everything seemed like a sophisticated and overwhelming "come-on" game, intensely eroticized. The men present all seemed formidably feminine, with heavy make-up and provocative movements. They looked as if they were on stage acting and behaving in a slow and deliberate yet overdrawn and stilted manner. The feeling of homosexuality sometimes expanding into a more overriding and global eroticcult feeling hovered over the total experience like a heavy cloud for stretches of time. The women present also perceptibly changed toward ideal pictures or representations of the sensuous temptress or the madonna. I had the feeling of participating in a very modern drama; all movements were affected and stilted, much like the stalking movements of animals—pointing dogs—who circle each other, facing in different directions yet acutely and mysteriously centered around a common core of meaning and purpose, engaged and knowing.
    One felt perfect communication going on, a kind of direct interchange and experienced evident knowledge. The whole atmosphere seemed homosexually tinged in mannerisms, gestures, looks, and knowing movements. It was like a global, diffuse but intense and overwhelming orgasmic immersion.
    I was definitely aware of several levels of communication going on among the people present strictly according to the degree of previous acquaintance or affinity or familiarity. There was a peculiar, phenomenologically as if superimposed, experienced area of limits and liberties. As if a grate of restrictions and freedoms had been laid over the interactions of the people present. A glance was as powerful and as direct a message as the most private and elaborate verbal statement, and, consequently, the direction of looking seemed to move in preordered or guided channels. Particularly the meeting of eyes, the knowing look that binds and draws two people together was governed by the perceived degrees of liberties in terms of previous familiarity. The mere observation of others, on the other hand, looking at aspects of others, profiles, hand, even lips, this kind of sensuous, esthetic meditation, better contemplation of the features of others seemed singularly appropriate and justified. The quality of visual interpenetration as a form of very intimate and personal communication through one's gaze became very apparent.
    Although only the people present seemed to count, or to exist—i.e., seemed to constitute one's experiential world—there were moments in which one wished to have others join, particularly not to exclude those dearest to one (but not present), to have them share in this unique and most wonderful of experiences, which transcends everything, even the imaginable. The general feeling with regard to the others was one of unqualified benevolence. The common experience exerted a strong unifying force. There was absolutely no hostility or malice.
    This is definitely an "end-in-itself" experience and phenomenon. The only ambition during the state seems to be maintain it and this by small correctives in the global situation such as finding the right place to sit, to lie down or to stand, or to adjust the temperature. As to the rest, one is completely suspended and truly living in one's experiences much more so than ever before. Activity is activity, situation is situation, and they should remain what they are, as everything—one feels—should remain what and as it is, no change is contemplated or desired, the purest suspension in presentness imaginable. Any form of utilitarian thinking is pushed out—it is a peculiar style or immersion into passivity. Of course, one moves, things are changed, there is much fluidity, etc., but this is perceived as happening to one, as a disturbance, as disequilibrium only to return to the state of tranquility and suspendedness.
    I had a profound experience of "otherness" and "differentness."
    The ordering principles, particularly the directing forces of our mind, are relinquished. The self-reference recedes into the background and the judgmental ability or the motivation for forming opinions and judgments vanishes.
    One's gaze is synonymous with the direction of one's living. One is fully tuned in. One fives in one's senses, mostly visual, the most peculiar experience of: "I-am-my-glance; I-am-in-my-eating," I fully participate in the activity without reservations, I am wandering, gliding, soaring through fantasy world in exploration. I have escaped from the boundary and localization or fixation of my physical body and completely lack that usual and typical self-reflection and self-anchoring of my normal existence by which I channel and categorize experience in the appropriate barrels or regions of experience—collection.
    I believe that it is a mistake to believe that I can use the experience to gain insight into myself in an analytical sense, to use it as a sort of magnifying glass, microscope, or focused beam to penetrate into the mysteries of my self-structure or self-organization. I would rather tend to use it to gain insight into the potentials of consciousness and different states of consciousness of which I am capable. I would like to experiment with differing experiential worlds, that of the modern age, the Baroque, the Gothic, etc. I would like to transform the environment in a way conducive and visionary in this kind of a world while recording my impressions either by talking out loud or by writing simultaneously.
    The first impression—I would rather say that I can gain insight into the nature of consciousness or experience, the meaning and essence of being and the experience of harmony, the mystery of life, communion and sharing, the delight of ecstasy, the suspension of rules, the primacy of being over any form of having. Being in relationship—yes; in relationship with the objective world of things and experiential states, the prearranged balance and harmony of everything. I encounter appropriateness in myriad manifestations, I participate in a kind of harmonious and convincing equilibrium, in the way everything truly is, and how everything should be—I almost acknowledge a Divine order because I know that it exists—I participate in it, I create it, I live it, it reveals itself in my being.

    Chapter 3

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