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The Ecstatic Adventure

  Reports of Chemical Explorations of the Inner World

    Chapter 6 — Shaking to the Foundations

      by WALTER H. CLARK

THERE ARE NOT too many men in their sixties, professional academics at that, who have preserved sufficient openness to experience and receptivity to new ideas to accept the idea of personal experimentation with psychedelic drugs. Old age is too often synonymous with rigidity rather than wisdom. Not so with Walter Houston Clark, Professor of Psychology of Religion at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Massachusetts, former dean and professor at the Hartford School of Religious Education, author of The Oxford Group (1951) and The Psychology of Religion (1958), and founder of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. One of the first and most energetic participants in the Harvard study of religious experiences, he records here his impressions on the day after his first LSD session. In an article on "Mysticism as a Basic Concept in Defining the Religious Self," Professor Clark wrote that "The drugs are simply an auxiliary which, used carefully within a religious structure, may assist in mediating an experience which, aside from the presence of the drug, cannot be distinguished psychologically from mysticism. Studies have indicated that, when the experience is interpreted transcendentally or religiously, chances are improved for the rehabilitation of hopeless alcoholics and hardened criminals. Even though observations like these mean that the psychologist can learn a little more of the religious life, in no sense does it ultimately become any less of a mystery. Though man may sow and till, winds may blow and the rains fall, nevertheless it is still God that gives the increase."

I REGARD THE experience as a personal "shaking to the foundations." The radical facing of myself forced—or perhaps I should say released—by the drug was a trauma the depth of which was totally unexpected. I would describe the experience as a conversion experience of the most radical nature rather than a mystical experience of the classical variety as Stace has defined it. Yet, though without many of the indications of mystical experience, I know I will understand the mystics much better, having had the experience.
    Even some of the moving expressions of the Bible and religion pale in my attempt to describe the experience. Some would include "descent into hell and resurrection," "death and transfiguration," "the moment of truth," "naked on the shores of Eternity," etc. I seemed to live a lifetime of pain and tragedy as I saw myself stripped bare, and at the same time there seemed to be little to fall back on to satisfy my swollen ego. Today, I am beginning to think that maybe there was something after all, but I never want to forget a vision of my vainglorious ego that came to me in the midst of the experience.
    Another curious upswelling from my unconscious, I suppose, was the sense of depth of love for my wife and my need of her. In part this was triggered by the spectacle of the couples around me. In a psychological sense it was almost as if I were married for the first time in my life during the session. Something of this I was impelled to share with my wife by telephone after the session.
    Another very basic discovery was a clear sense of values—I knew what was important in my life and what was less important more clearly than ever before. I saw clearly how certain fatuous and confused ideas were leading me in wrong pathways; so some of my sentimentalities were pierced.
    Though ideas of God and Christ were not prominent, I have no doubt of the essentially religious nature of the experience.
    I believe that psychoanalysis, which I only now realize I needed, could not have done as much in helping me to face my own psychological nakedness as the six hours under LSD.
    I think that religion will neglect the consequences of this powerful instrument and its implications at its peril. The experience recalls Otto's mysterium tremendum. It was awesome.

    Chapter 7

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