The Man Who Turned on the World
3. Leary Flies his Jolly Roger from the Ivy Tower
As the Harvard Psychedelic Project grew in both numbers of people
and sessions, and as we become more aware of the effects of these
drugs, it seemed that the hinterland of the 'psychedelic mind'
is not the obscure forest in which Blake saw his tiger,
nor the dream-world from which Coleridge conjured the mysteries
of Christabel and Kubla Kahn. It was a place altogether different,
and much more mysterious.
We studied the reports from students using LSD or psilocybin,
and began to chart maps of their interior space (which we also
compared with our own experiences). We were hopeful that some
of the mystery would thereby be revealed to us, for the 'psychedelic
experience' looks intelligible enough. But here we came to certain
other realisations. That this Other World is vibrant with strange
energy transformations and existsif it exists at allin another
dimension of mind or self; like the inside of an atom, it is a
space forever recreating itself and its own mystery. The more
we began to peer into it, the less we could actually 'see'. It
seemed to proceed, under pretence of showing you how it works,
to display a series of much more surprising worlds. It might be
called a more or less 'magical preparation'.
All we could say at this time was that this Other World could
be experienced as the moment when one emerges from the prison
of 'limited mind' and becomes identifiedby the simplest but
most intense of the acts of mental lifewith the 'limitless
mind', whatever it may be, however slight. And we felt this form
of identification or sense of 'oneness', far from being an acquired
or learned state of mental discipline, was a natural state, the
only true natural state for man to be.
It was then but a short step from this realisation to individual
members of the project linking their secret 'psychedelic life'
to the Beyond. And all sorts of claims on behalf of LSD et
al. were made on the campus. Some advocates of the psychedelic
experience suggested that God may himself be at work in these
biochemical compounds, and would quote the work of W. T. Stace,
William James even Henri Bergson, in support of their growing
mystical beliefs. Professor Huston Smith of M.I.T. said that the
subjective drug experiences are sometimes 'strikingly like those
reported by mystics, seers, and visionaries of the past'. And
in an extensive questionnaire study of eighty-two subjects who
took psychedelics at Harvard, the following 'mystical' characteristics
were cited by well over half the subjects as occurring 'quite
a lot' or 'among the most important aspects of my experience':
loss of time sense; objects snore significant and beautiful;
being able to operate out several levels at once; extreme pleasure,
ecstasy, cosmic joy, paradise; feeling of being very wise, knowing
everything; feeling that nothing need be said.
According to Freud, at the basis of the human personality lies
sex and aggression, the twin poles of deep consciousness around
which we revolve. But we found that when the ego-personality was
ripped away completely, which can happen during an intensive LSD
experience, what was left was 'purest love' and a sense of oneness
with all living creatures. No sex; no aggression. Subjects felt
free of anger, pity, and disgust. It was as though the supremely
ordinary human aspiration to be free could be reached, albeit
only briefly, by means of these drugs, which is perhaps what Freud
meant when he also spoke of 'the Nirvana instinct' in man, this
yearning for peace which lies at the very core of our being. It
has always seemed to me a pity that Freud did not write more about
the mystical or spiritual dimensions of knowing, for he was obviously
aware of the existence within realms which do not easily fall
into the categories of psychoanalysis.
But in New England in 1962 the subject of mysticism was one that,
for most people, was synonymous with religious faith. And so it
was rather natural for project members to turn to spiritual masters
in order to help them identify the nature of their new experiences,
which were not like anything they had ever imagined before. It
was the start of their search for an answer to the riddle of consciousness
or for the Grail, as for something from the sky. They felt certain
in their own minds that what they had undergone was something
which they had personally experienced deeply, and not really something
which they had done for themselves. It was a gift from God, a
gratuitous grace, aided and abetted by modern synthetic chemistry.
God was not only in his heaven all right; he was also here with
each single one of us, but wholly within.
Naturally, the 'good news' quickly spread across the Harvard campus,
and the sort of feedback we got suggested that the rest of the
faculty thought Dr. Leary was starting a new religion, with psychedelics
as the new sacraments. And to the rest of the psychology faculty,
this was absolute heresy.
Accordingly, we began to experiment closer to home, as it were,
trying to find other areas in which these substances could be
used, particularly those with distressed or helpless people, for
whom life had become one long unrelieved struggle. Such was the
case with prisoners at the maximum security prison at Concord,
just north of Boston.
Tim Leary had had the good vision to see that if a large-dose
acid session could help end-of-the-line alcoholics, it might also
work with 'hard-core' criminal recidivists. And he had spelled
out a research project, using psychedelics, to the officials at
the Massachusetts Department of Correction, the Department of
Legal Medicine, and to the head of the Harvard Social Relations
Department. After a lot of hassle and red-tape cutting, the proposal
was accepted; and thus began a unique and very successful experiment.
We started slowly, with small groups of three or four prisoners
and two members of the Harvard group (who at this time included,
in addition to Leary and myself, Dr. Allan Cohen, Dr. Alfred Alschuder,
Dr. George Litwin, Dr. Ralph Metzner, Dr. Gunther Weil, and Dr.
Ralph Schwitzgebel, with Dr. Madison Presnell as the medical and
psychiatric adviser). We would usually work in pairs, and go to
the prison twice a week, with one of the days given over to running
the prisoners' psychedelic sessions, which were held in a locked
room in the prison hospital, and one of the days devoted to planning
future sessions or in follow-up discussions.
I am not a psychologist and it would be ridiculous if I were to
attempt to give a scientific appraisal of the Harvard-Concord
prison project. But one thing is certain, the sessions 'worked'
in the sense that very few of the inmates who underwent the intensive
LSD or psilocybin sessions ever came back (which was the whole
point of the exercise). Statistically, fifty to seventy per cent
of inmates paroled or released return within a five-year period,
with a nationwide average of sixty-seven per cent. We found that
one and a half years after the termination of our project the
return rate had been reduced to seven per cent, which is a completely
objective index of success. How did we achieve these results ?
After an initial discussion meeting with an inmate, when he would
be told about the drugs and the kind of effects they produced,
we would then meet three or four more times to plan his session.
We explained to him how he would 'lose his ego' and soar off into
'non-game' worlds of experience, and how this would enable him
to see himself and his criminal games with greater clarity. We
also encouraged the prisoners to propose the kind of changes they
would like to see happen within themselves, which might take the
form of a hefty South Boston American Irishman saying 'I want
to understand what drinking means to me' or a coloured inmate
from Georgia 'I want to get over my paranoia'. We would also draw
'internal maps', huge circles in which we could fill in the expected
positive changes and note areas of the personality best avoided
in a session.
On the day of the session, we would get to the prison early, and
after chatting to the guards as we moved through the different
locked doors to the prison hospital, we would assemble the group
of perhaps six inmates; and then all take the psychedelicwhich
included, of course, ourselves, since only by taking the drug
with them could their fear and suspicion and paranoia be averted.
The physical setting was the best we could do under the circumstanceswe
spread mattresses all over the floor, played taped pop and Indian
music, made sure that the session would not be interrupted by
visitors or guards and thus that the atmosphere would be relaxed
and open and permissive.
We found that it was best not to really do anything during
the session, except be there and give reassurance to anyone who
started getting paranoid or fearful; everyone was best left free
to explore whatever material came up, whether it be entirely personal
or involve personal issues with any of the others present. We
found that in a benign, supportive, friendly session and with
a favourable mental set on the part of each subject, the drug
produced a detachment from everyday thoughts and actions which
was correlative with an increase in degrees of reflectiveness
and insights into normal behaviour patterns and in turn opened
up the way for the construction of alternatives.
For those of us responsible for conducting the sessions, our orientation
was, to quote Gerald Heard, the British philosopher who first
introduced Aldous Huxley to mescaline, ' . . . concerned but not
anxious, interested but not engrossed, diagnostic but not critical,
aware of the seriousness of what is being conveyed and all the
more incapable of coldness or shock, aloofness or dismay'.
But what about the inmate, for whom the psychedelic experience
came as something not far removed from, if not actually akin to
revelation ? I think for the majority the experience was intense
and highly emotional, with hallucinations of colours, of positive
and frightening scenes; yet it apparently stimulated them to do
some thinking about their lives and what they were doing with
them. One inmate, who initially presented the classic picture
of a 'hardened criminal' of the well-known American variety, emerged
from his heavy shell as a sensitive, lonely, child-like human
being. At the time when I was feeling highest I had a terrific
feeling of sadness and loneliness, and a feeling of great remorse
at all these wasted years . . . and of the harsh and brutal things
I have done in order to survive at all.... ' Or another, a twenty-eight-year-old
coloured brother who was serving a five-year sentence for robbery
and had attended a school for retarded children till the age of
seventeen: 'I kept saying to myself in thoughtwhere do you
belong ? Where do you belong?' And yet another inmate, a forty-eight-year-old
man serving time on charges of theft, forgery, larceny and escape
with a prior history of thirty arrests, the first one being at
the age of twelve:
' . . . before taking this drug my thinking always seemed to travel
in the same circlesdrinking, gambling, money and sex, I guess
what you'd call a fast life. Now my thoughts are troubled and
at times quite confusing, but they are all of an honest nature,
and of wondering. I feel somehow detached now from prison life,
uninterested in gambling or even talking to the other cons, except
those in the group. I think I now know what I want to be and I
am sincere in my mind when I say that I want to make it so. Because
the drug opened my mind and I got a better understanding of myself
and also of the other people in the group, I now feel free to
say and discuss things, which you generally do not do.'
(He was discharged a few months after his first session and obtained
a job with a construction company; he worked ten to thirteen hours
a day and one month later he was promoted to assistant foreman.
A few months later he became assistant cook in a large restaurant.
Ten years later he was still out and running his own auto body
But perhaps the most interesting of all the prisoners who took
part in the project is Jimmy Kerrigan, one of the 'notorious'
Kerrigan Brothers, a safe-cracker and part of the Irish mafia,
who is still serving out his sentence, even as I write these lines,
some twelve years after the events I have been describing. When
the project terminated, which it did with Leary's dismissal from
Harvard, Kerrigan continued the programme but without using drugs,
and started a group within the prison called The Concord Self-Development
Group to assist its members to sort out their lives' priorities
and to give guidance on job-getting and how to 'go straight'.
He got together this group composed of inmates, starting with
the ones who had been in the drug programmer who then voluntarily
pledged themselves to help each other find a new direction in
life that would not automatically lead straight back to prison.
I recently received a brochure from Jim in which the aims of SDG
are spelled out. It ends with a list of questions that each member
has to ask himself, first alone and then with the rest; and 'a
hypothetical case history':
THE PERSONAL ANALYSIS
l. AM I WILLING TO GET HONEST WITH MYSELF FOR THE PURPOSE OF
THE HYPOTHETICAL CASE HISTORY
TO KNOW MYSELF AND OTHERS BETTER?
2. DO I SINCERELY WANT TO HELP MYSELF?
3. DO I NEED HELP TO DO SO?
4. WHAT KIND OF HELP DO I REALLY WANT?
5. CAN I GAIN IT THROUGH THIS PROGRAMME?
6. WHAT DO I REALLY THINK OF MYSELF AS I AM NOW ?
7. WHAT ARE MY REAL MOTIVES FOR JOINING THIS GROUP?
8. WHAT CAN I HONESTLY DO TO IMPROVE MYSELF, AND AM I WILLING TO TRY?
9. CAN I VISUALISE WHAT LIFE PROBABLY HOLDS FOR ME IN THE FUTURE
AS THINGS NOW STAND?
10. WHO BESIDES MYSELF CAN AID ME IN RE-ESTABLISHING A GOOD LIFE
IN THE FUTURE?
11. WHAT DO I HONESTLY THINK CAUSED THE TROUBLE I AM PRESENTLY IN?
12. AM I WILLING TO EXAMINE THE CAUSES AND TRY TO UNDERSTAND THEM
AS THEY REALLY ARE?
13. HOW MUCH OF MY LIFE HAS BEEN WASTED THROUGH MY OWN MISMANAGEMENT'?
14. DO I THINK AT THIS TIME MY LIFE NEEDS TO CONTINUE IN A DOWNWARD
15. IS A VALID APPROACH TO SELF-HONESTY REALLY NECESSARY?
16. DO I WANT TO THINK POSITIVELY TOWARDS DEVELOPING MYSELF?
NAME: John Doe
AGE: Any years
RELIGION: All religions
EXPERIENCE: Lyman, Shirley, County Jail, Y.S.D. (Youth Service Board)
JOB EXPERIENCE: Restaurant worker, stock boy, dishwasher, labourer
SCHOOLING: 6th to 10th Grade
ASPIRATIONS: No work, rich widow or drift and see the States,
steal when necessary
FAMILY TIES: Mother, father, brothers, sisters, loose relationship.
Rather travel or 'cut out' on one's own
In Concord, five years, indefinite sentence, feeding off fantasy
and delusion for the most part; identified with the 'boys'; satisfied
with sense of belonging to rebellious fragments of society; 'real'
people are people in trouble, in jail. The rest are 'way out'.
No communication via legitimate channels nor respect for norms
Reduction of fear, fantasy, and hang-ups, via open discussions
in small group, with trained inmates (A A's; Harvard Experimental
Group; Legal Medicine) who wish to pass it on. Crash programme
(classes two hours; once, twice, or more often per week) towards
self-development, consideration of proper goals and attainable
achievements tailored to variable individual potential. Readiness
for follow-up outside programme. Finally, acceptance of social
norms with respect for self and others in all areas worthy of
It seemed to me then, as indeed it still does, that LSD can be
useful if it helps a person free himself of his habitual patterns
of thought or some kind of 'absolute' sense of identity in order
to see aspects of his life and reality as it concerns him personally.
It is useful for what it can yield in terms of self-understanding,
and is fruitful if it causes someone in a bad life situation to
exert himself to overcome it and learn how to adapt the new insights
to his needs. I think that perhaps for the majority of the thirty
or so prisoners with whom [ had sessions at Concord, something
happened during their experience that took them beyond the falsifications
of rote-consciousness and, in time, led them individually to achieve
a simple awareness and even affirmation of the world. There is
a little light burning in each one of us which is something we
are all too inclined to forget, though with sometimes quite terrible
consequences. And if a psychedelic-associated programme is shown
to help 'hard-core' cons regain the lost light of that which makes
them truly human, then it is sad when politics and unconscious
attitudes work against those who would like to share something
of their experience and knowledge in precisely these human areas.
If we call a man an animal and then put him behind bars, we should
not, after all, be too surprised if later he reacts against us
with ferocity; it is perhaps significant that Charles Manson spent
over fifteen years inside various jails before he let the
society of plain and ordinary people know precisely what kind
of animal they had turned him into, though our admiration can
be given to such men as George Jackson, Eldridge Cleaver, Huey
Newton, Jimmy Kerrigan who, despite absolutely dehumanising conditions
over long periods of time, were nonetheless able to detach themselves
sufficiently from the 'prison system' and keep some kind of light
of humanity burning within themselves, sufficient at any rate
to preserve their sanity. Perhaps mankind needs to discover a
new culture of humanity before it is all too late in a world that
finally submerges into deepening chaos, which will only happen
if we find alarm-clocks sufficiently powerful to wake us from
the sort of sleepwalking existence which nowadays passes for 'normality'.
Enough, enough; let us pass on or rather back to the Harvard of
1962 and try to understand how LSD helped spawn a 'generation
of visionary maniac white mother country dope fiend rock and roll
I had got to know Leary quite well by now; not only was I installed
as a member of his household in the Boston suburb of Newton Centers
but I would accompany him each day to the Harvard office, which
we now ran as a sort of command headquarters for planning sessions.
There had been a rapid acceleration of interest in the drug programme,
and it was not long before we had a constant stream of visitors
asking about LSD and psilocybin, and their availability.
But perhaps one of our most curious visitors was a young man called
Walter Pahnke, who was, incidentally, both an M.D. and a Bachelor
of Divinity. He was also a candidate for the Ph.D. in the Philosophy
of Religion at Harvard, had studied Christian mystical literature
and had established nine categories which he felt described a
genuine mystical experience. It now occurred to him that if a
group of extremely religious individuals were to take a psychedelic
drug, then they too might also have a genuine mystical experience.
He wanted to know whether Leary would help him run a drug experiment
for twenty divinity school students from the Andover-Newton Theological
Seminary, ten of whom would be given a psychedelic, and the other
ten an amphetamine. The plan was to run the session on Good Friday
in Marsh Chapel at Boston University, a long-established Methodist-affiliated
institution. It was a breathtaking proposal, though it only took
Tim thirty seconds to agree wholeheartedly and commit himself
to planning the session.
We had by this time run or arranged over one thousand psychedelic
sessions for persons from all walks of life, including fifty scientists,
quite a number of artists and musicians and writers, sixty-nine
full-time religious professionals. We also had a religious advisory
committee that included two college deans, a divinity school president,
three university chaplains, an executive of a religious foundation,
a prominent religious editor, and several distinguished religious
philosophers. We felt that with all this experience we could cope
with any drug-associated contingencies, including this one. This
particular session was to be later sensationalised in the American
press as 'The Miracle of Marsh Chapel, though perhaps the only
real miracle surrounding it was the one of actually getting Walter
Pahnke's Ph.D. dissertation accepted.
As I was to be one of the 'guides', I was naturally very curious
to meet the twenty students who had volunteered to take part in
this experiment. Our first meeting took place at the Theological
Seminary, and Tim began to explain a little about the physical
and subjective effects of psychedelics, though none of the students,
I believe, had ever taken anything stronger than an aspirin in
their lives. There were one or two questions, but on the whole
the group seemed relaxed if not actually looking forward eagerly
to what was to become for them a most memorable Good Friday. One
of their professors, Dr. Walter Clark, who had himself used psychedelics,
was careful to point out that it should not be believed that psychedelic
drugs are in themselves religious. He said it was a bit like organ
music, which may be the means to a religious experience for some
people. He also said that drugs had been used in esoteric religious
rituals, from the days of antiquity right up to Boston in 1962,
'presumably as a stimulus to religious experience'. During any
profound emotional experience, he pointed out, religious or otherwise,
chemical or hormonal bodily changes occur. 'Furthermore, we know
that the natural chemistry of the body includes biochemical substances,
known as indoles, which are similar in structure to the
consciousness-expanding chemicals and seem to be associated with
some of the same psychological states as those produced by LSD
and psilocybin. The question then immediately arises whether a
naturally-occurring excess of the indoles might not predispose
some people to certain kinds of mystical experience or whether
a mystical state of mind might not, on the other hand, stimulate
chemical changes in the body.'
All the students again agreed to take part voluntarily in a systematic
demonstration of the religious aspects of a psychedelic revelatory
experience along the lines we had suggested.
It was a double-blind experiment. The students were divided into
five groups of four persons, each group with its own guide, who
met with them before the session for orientation and preparation.
Finally, on the day, we all arrived at 10.00 a.m. at the Chapel.
Everyone seemed serious, almost reverential, and Dr. Pahnke busied
himself with the preparation of the drugs, which he was to administer.
There had been a last-minute flap when Harvard University Officials,
an ad hoc faculty group 'to advise and oversee' future
drug studies, headed by Dr. Robert Bales, refused to release to
the experimenters the supply of drugs held by Dr. Dana Farnsworth,
head of the Harvard Health Service and one of the protagonists
of the Pahnke experiment. Nevertheless, after representatives
had been despatched to round up a sufficient quantity of 'non-Harvard'
acid, there was enough to go round, mostly from my mayonnaise
The session took place in a small, private chapel sited underneath
the main building, one hour before noon on Good Friday, with the
reverent sound of the story of Christ piped in by loudspeakers.
The service would last for three hours and would consist of prayers,
spoken meditations and readings from the Bible, periods of silent
meditation, and religious music. We were asked by the minister
to maintain a reverent silence during the service. My little group
of four were amongst those who received the psychedelic (neither
the students, guides, nor experimenter knew beforehand who received
the psychedelic); but it was pretty obvious after about thirty
minutes, when one of my students normally a shy, sensitive person,
given to reading aloud large passages of Donne's poetry, suddenly
began to tear the buttons off his jacket and declared that he
was a fish. Another student had meanwhile slipped silently off
the pew on to the Chapel floor, where he began to slowly gyrate
like a huge snake. The other two seemed quite okay; one was sitting
bolt upright, his eyes staring fixatedly at the huge crucifix
on the high altar, an insane grin on his face, and with his hands
clasped tightly together, as though clutching his last remaining
$5 note; whilst the fourth member lay stretched out and as stiff
as a board on an empty pew, a position he somehow managed to retain
during the entire service, and then only coming to again after
a huge injection of Thorazine had been administered.
I finally managed to subdue the student tearing off his buttons,
but not before he had removed all of them off both his coat and
his trousers and thrown his dental plate at the altar, much to
the surprise of the students who had been given the amphetamine,
who sat huddled together in the front pews, nervous and not very
sure about where their own heads were at.
There was of course quite a lot of activity going on with the
other groups who had been given the drug, almost total confusion,
in fact with some of the students climbing across the pews, and
one actually standing facing the crucifix, arms stretched out
as if somehow able to identify physically with Christ and his
suffering on the cross. One student even managed to get outside
the Chapel and was almost killed when he walked into the traffic
on Boston's Commonwealth Avenue, 'believing he was Christ and
nothing could touch him'.
Finally, at two o'clock, when the story of Christ had reached
its conclusion, we all retired to an adjoining room for discussions;
since many of the students were still completely under the influence
of the drug, however, we decided instead that we should all drive
back to Tim's house, where our girl-friends had arranged a wine-and-cheese
lunch, which we could have whilst taking turns to stay with those
who were still out of it.
(While most religious leaders would probably be unenthusiastic
over the idea of the drugged approach to religion, Archives
of General Psychiatry reported that earlier that year one
lawsuit brought attention to a pastor who told his congregation
that LSD could bring them closer to God.)
For Leary, the Good Friday session was something of a personal
triumph, and he began increasingly to study literary accounts
of religious ecstasies from such pens as those of Wordsworth,
Tennyson, Virginia Woolf, and even C. P. Snow, as well as personal
experiences from classical mystics like Teresa of Avila, van Ruysbroeck,
Plotinus, and Saint Augustine; he was also at this time getting
into Eastern mystical thought and read extensively from the Tao
Te Ching, I Ching, Vedanta, the Bhagavad Gita,
Christ's Sermon on the Mount, Zen, Buddhism, Sufism, Hinduism
and so forth. He believed at this time that in LSD he had found
a truly religious 'sacrament', and one not too different from
the Vedic Soma, the Dionysian nectar, the Greek ambrosia, the
Mexican mushroom, the Red Indian's peyote, or the Chama Indian's
ayahuasca. 'When the day comesas it surely willthat sacramental
biochemicals like LSD will be as routinely and tamely used as
organ music and incense to assist in attainment of religious experience,
it may well be that the ego-shattering effect of the drug will
be diminished,' he later wrote, and added 'Such may be one aspect
of the paradoxical nature of religious experience.'
This call for acceptance of LSD as an aid to genuine spiritual
revivification was not only picked up by many people seeking answers
to their own spiritual problems, but also by some of his professional
colleagues who were in all other respects highly cautious scientists.
Indeed, one of them, Dr. Frank Barron, a distinguished member
of The Centre for Research in Personality at Berkeley, wrote the
following: 'There is a new time coming, and we shall know it when
it happens, when LSD is interpreted by those who use it as the
source for the energy that is to transform human consciousness.'
But it must also be appreciated that part of the problem Leary
faced at this time was in finding a 'model' acceptable to society
at large in which LSD could be legitimately used. And religion
certainly seemed more promising as a prospect than psychology,
despite the drug's promise as an 'adjunct' to psychotherapy, prisoner
rehabilitation, and the treatment of alcoholics; besides which,
he was coming in for considerable criticism from many sectors
of the American academic community, where it was widely believed
that the drug sessions at Harvard were being run nonchalantly
and irresponsibly. Dr. Herbert C. Kelman, a lecturer in Social
Psychology at Harvard, reported he had observed that graduate
students who had had LSD experiences had formed a clannish 'insider
group', and wrote: 'I doubt whether this project is carried out
primarily as an intellectual endeavour or whether it is being
pursued as a new kind of experience to offer an answer to man'sills.' John U. Monro, dean of Harvard College, wrote a letter
to the editor of The Harvard Crimson newspaper, warning
of 'the effects of LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and other mind-distorting
drugs,' which ' . . . have been known to intensify seriously a
tendency toward depression and to produce other dangerous psychotic
Yet religion was still very much a new area for Leary. I think
his scientific training was the source of his thoroughness and
even of his originality as a talker, for on the whole he did not
always write very well. There was always a hint of journalism
in what he wrote, a too-easy tendency to slacken off for long
passages at a time, into just something not far removed from the
jargon of the hipster, and the related facility that suggests,
if not exactly knowingness, at least a feeling that he is never
at a loss, an essentially 'olympian' preparation. He was a follower
of Mao and Dionysus, Freud and Epicurus, and this was never more
apparent then when he tried to define the religious situation.
It was difficult to take him seriously as a 'prophet' or a 'holy
man' or a 'high priest'; it was easier to see him as an inspired
impresario, an Appolinaire, or a Cocteau. Yet he sought to find
a common ground on which both science and religion could meet.
'Science is a social system which evolves roles, rules, values,
language, space-time locations to further the quest for these
goalsthese answers. Religion is a social system which has evolved
its roles, rules, rituals, values, language, space-time locations
to further the pursuit of the same goalsthe revelatory experience.
A science which fails to address itself to these spiritual goals,
which accepts other purposes (however popular), becomes secular,
political, and tends to oppose new data. A religion which fails
to provide direct experiential answers to these spiritual questions
becomes secular, political and tends to oppose the individual
He found it hard to see how his resultswhich read: seventy-five
per cent 'spiritual revelation'could be disregarded by those
who were professionally concerned with spiritual matters and individual
religious development. But disregard them they did.
Thus, far from convincing everybody that the New Religion is really
dedicated to the idea that we should only think of ways in which
to bring-each other up, not down, he only succeeded in putting
up people's backs. The problem was to find a sufficient number
of people left who would listen to what he had to say. And part
of this difficulty was due to a lack of austerity in the presentation,
which alone guaranteed- public discussion though not necessarily
of a kind calculated to produce either consensus or rational inquiry.
Yet despite Leary's various resources of honesty and intelligence,
his quest for understanding must in some sense be a frustrating
one. Whatever his ideas or ideals, no two authorities seemed to
agree with one another and each would be the first to declare
that he alone spoke with authority. 'Lots of blacksmiths whose
monopoly is threatened.'
Leary felt that LSD's significance lay beyond all social analysis
and all psychological categories and, since the drug experience
was completely unique, a new model was needed, a new structure.
It presupposed a readiness on the part of those who used it to
undertake a series of new departures, perpetual readiness to expose
oneself to new mental dimensions, even to new forms of 'reality'.
In that sense, no two sessions are ever the same; each one provides
an entirely personal, and at times, highly idiosyncratic encounter
with the self, with each person becoming his own explorer. So
that each session acts as a bridge between one reality and another,
and to the internal voyager represents perhaps an attempt to penetrate
into the deeper reality below the externals of egocentric consciousness.
And thus the voyager returns, bringing back an inventive fertility
and diversity of experiences to talk about, to illustrate, through
art, through words, through music, through being.
As a serious writer, Leary had to throw away the chance of seducing
readers or listeners with too ready-made a view of human categories.
Again and again he demanded that the reader, too, open himself
to the new and unfamiliar, as indeed he had done himself. He began
to speak of 'Man's Fifth Freedomthe freedom to use your own
head and on your own terms', and of 'The Politics of Consciousness
Expansion'. And the more he used words, the less the clarity of
expression. 'We must entertain nonverbal methods of communication
if we are to free our nervous system from the tyranny of the stifling
simplicity of words,' he wrote in an article published in The
Harvard Review. He wanted the freedom to live close to the
hermetic and the incommunicable and even to the refusal of all
language. Certainly, within those of us using LSD, it was developing
a new sensibility, a new awareness, there was something wholesome
about it, something healthy and vital. It had laid claim to new
areas of its own, and we wanted to share our knowledge with the
world. Verbal tricks were out. We had to make of our language
an entirely new instrument of communication, something to be undertaken
in the spirit of renewal, with a kind of reverence which you find
in acts of faith. The freedom we sought was not the freedom to
say or do what we liked, but freedom as a value (internal freedom),
something intangible yet also somehow more real. We saw that the
traditional means for expanding or contracting consciousness such
as the printing press, the television screen, the radio transmitter,
the movies, were restricted by law and remained under government
control. How then were we to change this situation? For the purposes
of describing the psychedelic experience in 1962, he had no language,
no trained operators, just a vision that a new language would
inevitably develop to transfigure every one of our social forms.
'It is possible that in twenty years our psychological and experiential
language (pitifully small in English) will have multiplied to
cover realms of experience and forms of thinking now unknown.
In twenty years, every social institution will have been transformed
by the new insights provided by consciousness-expanding experiences.
Many new social institutions will have developed to handle the
expressions of the potentiated nervous system.' (Leary).
Perhaps because poetry is most responsive to the change of human
sensibility or awareness, and is the only true advance guard of
language today, much of the new 'visionary' poetry is written
in lines of simple word associations, that is, with the poet taking
his ease among words; he prefers a limpid image which floats rather
than runs, an image more natural than precise, and in general
strives for a direct, less intellectual expression or emotion.
He sees the manipulative verbal machinery for what it is, an ego-oriented,
aggressive, goal-oriented, fear-ridden, guilty, unconscious use
of language. According to the American poet, Gerde Stern, 'In
a world of simultaneous operations you don't have to be first
to be on top. We are dealing with word as it exists in our own
world as an object in sight and sound. This is a unique role for
the word, which before our time has been a thing of thought and
breath or written and printed on paper, more of a private experience
than in public media like billboards, signs, radio and television.
Most people still long for a world of one-thing-at-a-timeness.'
But it was not only true for poets. Artists, too, were having
to readjust their work to match their new insights, find new forms
of expression, use novel techniques to describe this brave new
world of sensory experience. They needed an art that would reflect
a deeper layer of consciousness; colour and especially shape or
form became in themselves more meaningful than any object they
might represent. 'Photographic' imitations of appearances were
less interesting than patterns of colour which have a power to
move us and in ways which we little understand. The psychedelic
artist was 'aware' of sensory patterns in the intense way that
the Tantric artist is; that is, he created his art out of whatever
it was that he had discovered within himself, which in turn was
commensurate with an increase in degrees of reflectiveness. The
artist who 'turned on' to his own psychosomatic body wanted to
recreate this experience immediately in visual terms which electricity
made possible. He was no longer surface-bound to a piece of canvas
or to imitations of the world of external appearances for he had
become more universalnow he could soar off into these new sensory
realms of human experience. He understood the meaning of such
words as 'liberation' and 'freedom', not only with reference to
his own life but in the life of his art. And he knew that the
visible form would have to be a direct expression of the 'electric'
'pulsating' centre of which he had become aware. Thus it might
seem to those who saw art as simply 'images' or aspects of nature,
that the psychedelic artistwho flooded the room with colour,
movement, sound, and lightwas unconcerned with outer form,
and of course they were right. For psychedelic art is expressive
of an inner rhythm, like that of music. And the spectator who
is not possessed of a self-conscious similar to the artist's,
will never understand what response is expected of him. For the
psychedelic artist is learning how to make himself part of the
mystery of his own being by 'seeing' it, living in it; here can
be no sense of separatedness, no difference between 'Me' and 'Thee''We
are all one,' he says; 'the art, the spectator, and the artist
are one. Threefold Always.'
This may go some way to explaining the widespread use of psychedelics
at pop concerts, for truly great pop music must present a frame
to enable the spectator to merge with the sound and the colour,
and the musician achieves authenticity by means of the language
of 'visual music' expressed in the beauties of his world of electronic
simultaneities (Jimi Hendrix).
It would be a mistake simply to dismiss this New High Art as an
art of naiveté, mental or logical deficiency, or general
benightedness since it presupposes that the spectator has also
been able to move beyond his ordinary relative vision and is thus
able to get into the invisible forces within his own deepest self
in order to 'see more seeingly'. And it is the psychedelic experience
that frees one, albeit temporarily, of any 'absolute' sense of
identity in order that one may soar off into the flux.
The psychedelic artist would rather see his art as something that
arose out of the alembic of self, as a piece of reality salvaged
out of the flux, which manifested itself in his consciousness
from the hidden depths of his being, somewhat similar to the cave
paintings of primitive man, which also arose out of the experience
of living. He is trying to express something in a non-conceptual,
highly-figurative and often emotive way, through symbols which
may themselves be magical, i.e. that have the power to turn
The psychedelic artists had found a means of communicating directly
what they had experienced internally. But what of the rest of
us ? As Leary put it
'We are, in a real sense, prisoners of our cognitive concepts
and strategies. Passed on from generation to generation. The cognitive
continuity of history. Our current reliance upon substantive and
"closing-off" concepts will be the amused wonder of
(It was this particular passage which finally convinced the Harvard
hierarchy that Professor Leary was now obviously suffering from
real hallucinations and that he had to go!)
'The danger is not physical or psychological, but social political.
Make no mistake: the effect of consciousness-expanding drugs will
be to transform our concepts of human nature, of human potentialities,
of existence. The game is about to be changed, ladies and gentlemen.
Man is about to make use of that fabulous electrical network he
carries around in his skull. Present social establishments had
better be prepared for the change. Our favourite concepts are
standing in the way of a floodtide, two billion years building
'Let's try a metaphor. The social situation in respect to consciousness-expanding
drugs is very similar to that faced sixty years ago by those crackpot
visionaries who were playing around with the horseless carriage.
Of course, the automobile is external child's play compared to
the unleashing of cortical energy, but the social dilemma is similar.'
'The claim was made in 1900 that the motor carriage, accelerated
to speeds several times that of the horse-drawn vehicle, would
revolutionise society. Impossible to conceptualise because in
1900 we possessed no concepts for these possibilities. But we
always have the standard objections to the non-conceptual. First
of all, we object to the dangers: high speeds will snap nervous
minds, gas fumes are fatal, the noise will prevent cows from giving
milk, horses will run away, criminals will exploit the automobile.
'Then the puritanical objection: people will use cars for pleasure,
'Then we question the utility: what can we do with speedy carriages
? There are no men to repair them. There are no roads, few bridges.
There are no skilled operators. The supply of fuel is small. Who
will sell you gas ?
'Then we raise the problem of control: who should be allowed to
own and operate these powerful and dangerous instruments ? Perhaps
they should be restricted to the government elite, to the military,
to the medical profession.
'But why do we want cars anyway ? What is wrong with the good
old buggy ? What will happen to coachmen, blacksmiths, carriage-makers?
'The automotive visionary of l900 could have pointed out that
his sceptical opponent had no concepts, no social structures to
implement these possibilities. Remember, if one talks about experiences
and prospects for which the listener has no concepts, then he
is defined (at best) as a mystic. Our automotive mystic sixty
years ago would have asserted the need for a new language, new
social forms, and would have predicted that our largest national
industry would inevitably develop out of this vision.
'Can you imagine a language without such words as convertible,
tudor sedan, General Motors, U.A.W., Standard Oil, superhighway,
parking ticket, traffic court? These most commonplace terms in
our present culture were mystical images three generations ago.
'The political issue involves control: automobile means that the
free citizen moves his own car in external space. Internal
automobile. Auto-administration The freedom and control of one's
experiential machinery. Licensing will be necessary. You must
be trained to operate. You must demonstrate your proficiency to
handle consciousness-expanding drugs without danger to yourself
or the public.
'A final hint to those who have ears to hear. The open cortex
produces an ecstatic state. The nervous system operating free
of learned abstraction is a completely adequate, completely efficient,
ecstatic organ. To deny this is to rank man's learned tribal concepts
above two billion years' endowment. An irreverent act. Trust your
inherent machinery. Be entertained by the social game you play.
Remember, man's natural state is ecstatic wonder, ecstatic intuition,
ecstatic accurate movement. Don't settle for less.' (The Politics
of Conscience Expansion', Harvard Review, Vol. I No. 4, Pages
I think Leary was most prophetic when he noted one of the occupational
hazards of the LSD game'You are more likely to find the evolutionary
agents closer to jail than the professor's chair.' It is true,
of course, that unlike more traditional occupations, the LSD one
is not one in which you normally get smoother and smoother with
experience, like a doctor's: it is (to use Leary's metaphor of
the automobile) nearer to motor-racing, in that the changes are
so rapid, the curves so sudden, and demands an immediacy of response,
a quality of sheer nerveattributes not often maintained indefinitely
at top pitch. Perhaps it is all part of the pilgrim's progress
which, though undoubtedly preferable in many respects to the poverty
endured by Renoir and Pissaro, Blake and Artaud, is likely to
destroy more talents, in the end, than it nurtures.
And here again, we began to get echoes back from different parts
of the world, from people who seemed able to identify with the
message we were sending out. I still keep a letter we received
from Alfred Schmielewski Yogi, the Siddha Guru from Canada, who
had no doubts about the efficacy of psychedelics: 'Psychedelic
drugs,' he wrote, 'are the breakthrough of the ages and represent
an all-important contribution to racial history. Here seems to
exist after a billion years of unconscious evolution an instrument
that man can use to establish control of racial unconsciousness.
Man can now say that the race can control itself, its unconscious
processes. This discovery will be the birth hour of the cosmic
history of the human species. With this instrument, man can conquer
Another related area, though not necessarily always drug-related,
was being developed brilliantly by Ronnie Laing, M.D., in London,
and Joseph Berke, M.D., in New York, namely, the exploration of
the experience of 'going-into-madness', with madness being seen
as 'a fundamental human experience rooted in an untenable intrapsychic
and interpersonal situation.' The possibilities for madness as
enlightenment could now be discussed.
Joe wrote to me about some of this, and said he was trying to
get a course together at FUNY (Free University of New York) in
which 'madness will be seen as a key to understanding the entire
panorama of "psychopathology".'
Whilst it was possible for us to observe that the drug research
area was one composed of a wide range of sub rosa activity,
utopian dreams, mystical aspirations, and ordinary vague enthusiasm,
interpenetrated by a certain atmosphere of personal life-renewal,
we also believed that young people, particularly intellectuals
and artists, were looking increasingly inward and back into their
archetypical past, turning, as it were, towards the inner life
via the use of mind-altering substances, just as in the thirties
many young intellectuals turned to the inner life via the church.
But what sort of church? And what sort of a religion could contain
the 'LSD sacrament' ? Increasingly, it seemed, the answers to
these questions were coming from the East, most particularly from
Tibet, through the esoteric teachings of the Great Mantra and
spinning-top sound of the universe: OM MANI PADME HUM.
We found that many of the visionary states expressed in the Tibetan
doctrines described states of consciousness which compared favourably
with induced visionary states recorded by many of our religious-minded
subjects. And in the Mahayana Buddhist text Bardo Thodol,
we found a most accurate description of the 'going-out-of-the-body'
experiences as well as an entire symbology of 'ego-death' and
'rebirth'; it was, after all, a Tibetan instruction manual for
the preparation of one's own death, the offices of afterlife,
and instructions for rebirth. We found these Tibetan images and
thought patterns conducive to flexible thought, and we began to
discuss such matters as incarnation, 'white light', death, without
embarrassment. Of this apparent unself-conscious use of highly-charged,
emotive, tabu words and worlds, Richard Alpert once told a magazine
reporter: 'Two years ago, if a guy came to me, like they do now,
talking funny, I would have thought he was nuts. But what is a
nut ? They're all on the same journey to the East that we are.
They may come as a guy with a beard and a motorcycle or a Tibetan
Lama. But we're in communication with everyone asking questions:
What does it mean to truly be ? What is man's potential ?'
And of the Bardo Thodol (The Tibetan Book of the Dead),
Gerald Heard wrote that it provided a method:
'which can give us essential aid and guidance in and for the most
vital and most neglected phase of our lives.... But however necessary
it is that our American and, indeed, all our "modernised"
societies be taught how to get over our death phobia and so to
be freed from the ridiculous tabu-dishonesties whereby we attempt
to disguise our rightful exit, we shall not try this method and
undergo this training unless we can be reassured on two points,
unless two quite sensible questions can be answered, two rational
objections be met.
The first is: "How can a Westerner accept the Buddhist, oriental,
pessimistic, pre-modern, pre-scientific view of life: namely,
that the best thing to do with it is to get rid of it?"
The second question runs: "Granted, that out of the psychological
methods developed by Buddhism a valid terminal therapy could be
extracted, what use could that therapy be to any but the old ?"'
In 1962, the youngest and most typical Westerner, the American,
was the most sincere of human beings. His potentialities were
unlimited, and in a world of growth they had a right to existence.
He was moving into a new age, a new culture of sincerity; the
harmony based on heteronomy of the adult society was to become
transformed into one based on autonomy, when everyone could do
his own thing and not be thought of as either dangerous or crazy,
and that all truth which was accepted previously on the strength
of authority would in future become personal recognition through
the development of personal self-consciousness. If man is to stand
on his own two feet, autonomous, completely responsible for everything
that he wills, thinks and does, then he must be completely conscious
of his causes and reasons. He would have to develop a system of
thought that deals with true bondage in a true world, whilst at
the same time aim for the spiritual state of no-game, no-ego,
the ultimate liberation and the very highest forms of maturity.
Only along such a path can a new order develop, the OM-HUM of
presence and loving process.
After 150 years of fanatical exactitude in his conquest of the
world of appearances, Western man was starting to discover that
he could explore inwardness; though of significance he knew little
as yet. But having once perceived it as a possibility at all,
then he would use his ingenuity to find perfect expression for
it, and establish the perfect harmony between essential being
and the world of external phenomena. The affective spiritual state
was not to be found in the great institutions of theology, which
in fact no one inhabits, but there, inside the self. He found
in his confrontation with the 'Void', things which alone disclosed
the nature of reality to him. He was no longer a stranger to himself,
a cipher lost on the face of an inhuman universe, a puppet furnished
with a name.
(Excerpt from a post-session Report):
'This was the deepest drug state. Things became confused as to
time and sequence. I have almost no recall of what I was seeing
at this time, and only feeling was important. I was seeing something.
It seemed that when I cried a whole new world unfolded and the
fascination with the figure was lost. I became part of a vast
universe, drawing my energy from the earth. The order of things
and in things became very clear. Love and hate were very important
as I entered this state and seemed to be clawing at my back in
order to gain control of the very core of me, a brilliant spinning
core of energy. From here, probably as a result of being able
to cry. I began contemplating the infinite sorrow of being alone.
I felt, however, that infinite sorrow was the key to open the
door of understanding, like washing the eyes so you could see.
I felt if you could suffer an infinite amount of sorrow and be
patient enough to wait an eternity, you could understand the meaning
of things. However, for me in this state, finding the real meaning
of the world no longer seemed important, but only being part of
it myself, a dot in the cosmos, and feeling the complete harmony
of everything, both inside and outside, and knowing that because
there was such complete order I did not have to worry about myself.
There was a sense of a lack of gravity and I was spinning, or
rather spinning and floating at the same time around the earth,
something like a satellite. I felt comfortable here in spite of
the knowledge that from here I could not communicate with others
because all people were One and a part of the vast energy of the
world, as I was. Energy simply is; it exists but has no capacity
or wish of communication; it has no way of communicating. Death
of the body was not important here. It was a very wonderful feeling
to be able to give my energy back to the earth where it had originally
Clearly, after such an experience there could be no return to
a culture based on authority and blind surrender to a regime where
personal opinion is largely erroneous. Courage and truthfulness,
and they alone, accelerate the processes of evolution. It is in
the nature of things that even our mistakes must turn into blessings,
which presupposes a morality in the universe somewhere. And any
crudeness is largely due to our sincerity. We do not know, as
they do in Bengal, how to unite externally metaphysical truth
and telling lies, or, like the Chinese, how to maintain outer
face without breach of faith, without even questioning to what
extent it corresponds to inner personal truths. Accordingly, loyalty
to one's own private beliefs and empirical truthfulness are among
our highest ideals.
We had a lot of convincing testimony by people, impressively intelligent
where academic and worldly achievements are concerned, which encouraged
us to believe that in LSD we had a new chemical tool for human
expression and development.
Although the comments and reflections are quite diverse, we felt
on the basis of our evidence that, in the aggregate, the appeal
is one in which humanistic values prevail. So far from the LSD
experience necessarily being the withdrawal of the mind from reality,
it brought it, for certain people, once again into an enriched
everyday life. And for some of us working with LSD at Harvard
during this time, we believed we had found a means, on a manageable
scale, with which our Western kind of civilisation could be renewed
by the discovery of new mysteries, by the undemocratic but sovereign
power of the human imagination, by the undemocratic power which
makes poets the unacknowledged legislators of mankind, the power
which makes all things new. We could feel somehow that we were
involved in nothing less than 'The Great Work of Magical Self-Liberation'
of the Tibetan doctrine when the eyes of the spirit would become
one with the eyes of the body, and God would be in us, not outside.
Entheos: enthusiasm: that was the essence of our 'unholy
madness'. And how far Harvard was from that ideal was the measure
of the defeat of the American Dream.
It seemed the more we studied the reports, the more we realised
that no quick rational explanation would suffice to cover the
range of the emotional power of LSD on the human psyche. Everything
suggested LSD had a different meaning for different people, a
different meaning for different professions, and even a different
meaning for different social classes; people seemed to take it
to fill their own particular needs.
The only intellectual danger, it seemed to me, was a tendency
on the part of many subjects afterwards to convert the 'inner
world' they saw into a cosy fiction. Yet the moment of illumination,
the creative vision, the ecstatic encounter, the experience of
true insight, is essentially brief; once achieved and expressed,
one is again back on square one, a victim, like everyone else,
to the merciless vision of our sceptical intelligence, or ambushed
by stagnation (stasis) and depression. I also had personal
reservations about the claims made on behalf of LSD that it was
the key to the religious or mystical state or could lead
to a truer metaphysics of being. In 1962, despite perhaps a hundred
LSD sessions, I could still say with Flaubert, that 'I am a mystic
and I believe in nothing', or echo the modern French existentialist,
Coiran, who said that 'Once we have ceased linking our secret
life to God, we can ascend to ecstasies as affective as those
of the mystics and conquer this world without recourse to the
beyond.' For there is no evidence that LSD ever made nor marred
a saint. Certainly, 'turning on' was interesting for its usefulness,
for what it could reveal in terms of a creative understanding
to those who used the psychedelic experience for their own purposes,
and could benefit from such knowledge. But real courage and a
tremendous sensitivity of mind is needed if one is going to hurl
oneself into a madness that is not sacred, since the real
temptation, it seemed to me, is to link the psychedelic experience
to God and prepare to return to that Garden of which, through
no fault of our own, we have lost even the memory. But if reality
still counts for something, then the psychedelic voyager had to
become a practical dualist, whatever be the non-dual philosophical
doctrines to which he intellectually subscribes. It is true that
at certain peak moments during an intensive LSD session, it is
only the Clear Light of the Void that alone Is.
One transcends at such moments the dichotomy set up in one's mind
between 'inner' and 'outer' worlds of experience, and sees reality
only from the standpoint of the mystical vision, of the Brahman;
and may experience life beyond all dualism. But after such a trip,
when the mountains are again the mountains, and the lakes are
again the lakes, there is still the empirical world to be dealt
with; it doesn't disappear like the Cheshire Cat, leaving only
an insane grin on your face.
The very nature of the psychedelic experience makes it capable
of producing apparently impossible effectshallucinations are
things which are impossible, which can yet somehow be felt as
real. LSD exerts an influence over consciousness by virtue of
its proximity in the blood stream, but there is nothing whatsoever
about LSD; it cannot exert volition on its own; indeed,
there is a case for saying it is itself unconcerned.
Consciousness responds to its influence. This is analogous to
what is called in chemistry catalytic action. The catalytic substance
influences another by its presence but remains unaffected itself.
LSD is in this sense an efficient but not instrumental cause of
heightened self-consciousness; but the real powers of consciousness
are will, knowledge, action: these are the great triangle
of energy, which is something known to every Tantric yogin.
There was an attempt by Leary, Alpert and Metzner to start a new
religion based on the psychedelic experience, which found its
theoretical expression in their authorship of The Psychedelic
Experience, a manual based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
They had adapted the classic work of Evans-Wentz on the Bardo
plane, according to Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English rendering;
but in such a way as to turn it into a guidebook for psychedelic
sessions. It contained technical comments about: The Period of
Ego loss (First Bardo): The Period of Hallucinations (Second Bardo):
The Period of Re-entry (Third Bardo), following the Tibetan
'The first period (Chikhai Bardo) is that of complete transcendencebeyond
words, beyond space-time, beyond self. There are no visions, no
sense of self, no thoughts. There are only pure awareness and
ecstatic freedom from all game (and biological) involvements ('games'
here are behavioural sequences defined by roles, rules, rituals,
goals, strategies, values, language, characteristic space-time
locations and characteristic patterns of movement. Any behaviour
not having these nine features is non-game: this includes
physiological reflexes, spontaneous play, and transcendent awareness).
The second (lengthy) period involves self, or external
game reality (Chonyid Bardo)in sharp, exquisite clarity
or in the form of hallucinations (karmic apparitions). The
final period (Sidpa Bardo) involves the return to routine
game reality and the self.... For the unprepared, the heavy game
players, those who anxiously cling to their egos, and for those
who take the drug in a nonsupportive setting, the struggle to
regain reality begins early and usually lasts to the end of their
In other words, its authors suggested that we die, creatively
speaking, when we cling too fast to the definite. But if you cling
too long to any idea, even to the idea of LSD as a means of human
transcendence, it can become a chain like any other. There were
times when I felt we had forged an 'LSD chain' around all our
necks; our problem was were we ever going to remove it? The Tibetan
idea of 'ego death' leading to 'conscious' experiences in the
after-world, with the possibilities inherent in that situation
of selective re-lives, was a very appealing one, though it reminded
me a little of the Irishman of 102, who, on being asked the secret
of his longevity, said that we should 'choose our parents very,
very carefully'. It seemed that the spirit generated in the generation
of the early sixties was of a certain hopefulness in the possibilities
of consciously making of their future something beautiful
rather than brave. The origins of the Movement are thus in the
loving direction of concord, better human understanding, and brotherly
Brotherhood: each person
owns nothing but the whole.
might stand for our motto at that time. Sublime optimism or sublime
nonsense ? Who can really say for sure ? And for the rest . .
. let me just add the only man who managed to live without money
was Robinson Crusoe. Therefore, Practical Dualism Always! ought
to be the slogan of our new psychedelinquent youth movement, I
Soon enough, the summer came, the conjunction of my planets suggested
change. For a little rest and recuperation I went to Jamaica,
accompanied by my girl-friend, Karen, with whom I had been living
for most of my time in Massachusetts. Tim, Richard Alpert, Ralph
Metzner, George Litwin, and indeed the majority of the other members
of the Harvard Psychedelic Project, took off for Mexico, more
precisely, to coastal Zihuatanejo, there to start an LSD colony
along the lines outlined in Aldous Huxley's book Island.
It was history's first organised LSD youth colony. And a report
from George Dusheck appeared in the San Francisco News-Call
Bulletin, part of which I reproduce now:
'Dr. J. J. (Jack) Downing, a top San Mateo County psychiatrist
and LSD experimenter, was among twenty Americans expelled from
Zihautanejo by Mexican authorities June 16.
'Dr. Downing himself has treated about forty alcoholics with the
mindboggling drug at San Mateo County General Hospital, with "hopeful"
results, as the News-Call Bulletin reported last January.
'He was not, however, a member of the International Federation
for Internal Freedom, sponsors of the Zihuatanejo LSD colony.
Dr. Downing was there, in his own words, "as an observer
and investigator of the group treatment situation.... "
'The colonists were sedate, professional people, he reported.
"There were no beatniks among them," he said. "The
majority of them were successful people, who seemed to have a
religious or self-improvement motivation in being there."
' "Zihuatanejo is a middle-class Acapulco," said Dr.
Downing. "The very rich go to Acapulco, those moderately
well off go up the coast . . . about 120 miles north . . . to
'There Dr. Timothy Leary and Dr. Richard Alpert, both former Harvard
psychologists, set up a Mexican branch of IFIF, headquartered
'The colonists, screened from thousands of applicants, paid $200
a month for food and lodging, lived in one of several bungalows
above a beautiful white beach, dotted with palm trees and cabanas.
' "There was an open-air dining room," Dr. Downing observed.
"The funicular, a little railroad going down to the beach,
didn't run, so we had to walk. There was lots of fresh fish, caught
in the bay by Zihuatanejo fishermen. The staff was friendly and
casual. The setting is lovely."
'There are four rooms to a bungalow, he said. One of these was
set aside for group LSD sessions. Every morning two to five persons
would gather in this room, with Hindu prints on the wall, and
Hindu woven prints on two double mattresses and boxsprings on
the floor. The LSD companions, including one member of the IFIF
staff, would swallow liquid LSD and plunge into the dream world
of visions, mind-expansion, self-awareness and mystical ecstasy.
'The staff consisted of Dr. Leary, who was busy most of the time
screening applicationsmore than 5000 were received from all
over North Americaand fending off the curious officials of
the Mexican immigration service; Ralph Metzner, a pharmacologist,
and his wife, Susan, twenty-two.
'One of these sat with the LSD group, taking the drug also, so
as to be simpatico. Those who take LSD and "sail",
as the saying goes, believe that only users can understand those
who are taking it.
'The dosage was heavy: 100 to 500 micrograms. More than 300 micrograms
is considered an overwhelming dose by most experienced pharmacologists
and psychiatrists. There are twenty-two grams to an ounce, and
a million micrograms to a gram. Thus, enough LSD to cover the
head of a pin can send one off like an Atlas rocket.
'As the hours wore on, the group . . . possibly consisting of
an actress, a magazine writer, an alcoholic businessman, and Mrs.
Metzner . . . would exchange visions, cry out at sudden insights
of omnipotence and glory, listen to a motley collection of records.
Gradually, towards four or five o'clock in the afternoon, the
effect of the drug would wear off, and the drug therapees would
emerge one by one into the bright Mexican evening.
'For those not taking LSD, the day was relaxed and endless: Breakfast
at 11.00 a.m., lunch at 3.00 p.m., dinner at 9.00 p.m.
' "The atmosphere was highly unusual," Dr. Downing reports.
"People accepted one another without suspicion or anxiety.
They seemed very open, very relaxed."
'Even when immigration officials, embarrassed by stories of the
LSD Paradise in the Mexican press, moved in to close the IFIF
colony on June 12, nobody was upset.
' "Dr. Leary was very calm. He went to Mexico City to seek
a modification of the order, but when he failed, took defeat without
bitterness," said Dr. Downing.
'They all left for Mexico City on Sunday, June 16, on a special
DC-3 chartered by immigration officers. The Zihuatanejo experiment
had begun on May 1.
' "Six weeks is too short a period to measure any results,"
said Dr. Downing. "It must be regarded as a ruined experiment.
My own view is that Leary and Alpert have developed techniques
of potential value. But I do not agree with them that LSD should
be available to all who want it. It is a potent, potentially dangerous
drug, and should be used on an experimental basis only, by qualified
Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, life had become quite idyllic for
Karen and myself; we had rented a beach house at Seven Miles,
in the grounds of the Copacabana Club, a popular hang-out and
dancing place for people from Kingston. There was a garden ablaze
with flowers, and hanging-plants around a veranda, from which
we had a view over the ocean and of the Blue Mountains behind
the house. There was also a small pool for a swim after coming
back from surfing.
Karen and I swam, and dug our limbs in the sand, made pilgrimages
into the bush and to the tops of mountains, lived very close to
nature, with the sun continually warming both body and mind. Already
we began to yawn for the future of mankind.
But is it possible to get bored with a panorama that is the same
virtually every day ? It seemed to me after only a couple of months
of Jamaican weather, that the sky remained an unvaried bright-clear
blue and the sun a bright orange furnace every day; and I began
to yearn for the varieties of nature you find in Europe. The pull
of home was too great. I had to find a means of returning, somehow.
Accordingly, I wrote a letter to Eileen Garrett, a friend, the
President of the New York Parapsychology Foundation and a celebrated
medium, who was extremely wealthy. I suppose my letter was in
some sense a call for assistance, which she responded to immediately
by sending me a first-class air ticket to Nice, and a cable to
say that her chauffeur would pick me up and take me to 'Le Piol',
the headquarters of the Parapsychology Foundation in France.
When I arrived at Nice airport a few days later I was indeed met
by a chauffeur and taken to what seemed to be a four-star restaurant,
just outside St. Paul-de-Vence. But I was quickly reassured by
seeing Mrs. Garrett, who welcomed me and explained that she had
built the restaurant herself, 'to pay the bills', and there were
a number of chalets in the grounds for guests of her Foundation.
After several days there, during which I met a number of very
interesting people, including the Professor of Psychiatry at Edinburgh
University, George Carstairs, who had written a monograph earlier
on Daru (a potent distilled alcohol derived from the flowers
of the mahwa tree) and Bhang (the Indian name for Cannabis
indica) as a 'choice of intoxicant' in a village in Rajasthan.
We also discussed other names in both India and elsewhere by which
Cannabis is knownbhang, charas, ganja, kif, takrouri, kabak,
hashish-el-k if, djoma , dagga, Samba, grifta, marijuana, pot,
and even the American nameshit. But, alas, he was not
holding at the time, which ever name you called it.
Anyway, the outcome of my stay at 'Le-Piol' was that Mrs. Garrett
gave me a foundation cheque in the amount of $3000 to write a
report on the Harvard-Concord Prison Project, which interested
I was thus able to return to London, cable a ticket for Karen
in Jamaica; as it also enabled us to spend a very pleasant autumn
in a basement flat in Brompton Square. I did manage to complete
the prison paper and sent it off to New York; my only acknowledgement
was from the secretary of the Parapsychology Foundation, who replied
saying that my monograph read as 'if it had come out of an "atomiser"';
and was a 'literary work' by which, as a scientist, the secretary
was not much impressed.
After a few months, with the grant money nearly spent, Karen and
I decided to return to America, this time to New York, with plans
for setting up a 'foundation for mind research' called The Agora
Scientific Trust Inc., where the 'Agora' in Greek times was a
market-place, only in this case it was a 'market-place' for ideas
about the nature of human consciousness.
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