READING OVER this book in order to bring it up to date left me
feeling that I should explain its tone. To do so I must describe
the circumstances of its creation.
The Natural Mind is a product of the sixties. It grew out of experiences I had in college and medical school in Boston from 1960 through 1968 and during a medical internship in San Francisco the following year, when streets and campuses were battle zones. Though written in 1971 and first published in 1972, the book embodies the spirit of the preceding decade and the generation that came of age in it, full of optimism, righteous anger, and openness to change.
Just before I started writing I spent a frustrating year working at the National Institute of Mental Health in a suburb of Washington, D.C. I was serving military time in the Public Health Service, wanting only to avoid political confrontations. This was 1969, however, the first year of Richard Nixon's presidency, when social turmoil and polarization were increasing daily. The National Institute of Mental Health was caught up in the storm, and despite my best intentions, so was I. My administrative superiors came to regard me as a political liability. They opened my mail, tried to prevent legislators and reporters from reaching me, and threatened to send me to Vietnam if I did not behave.
The problem was marijuana, then as now a red-hot issue because of its countercultural symbolism and associations with "undesirable" elements of society. I had designed and carried out laboratory studies of marijuana with human volunteerssome of the first research of its kindin my senior year of medical school. The results were published in leading journals in 1968 and 1969 and got a great deal of publicity, including front-page coverage in the New York Times.
I had also used marijuana myself in order to know its effects firsthand. The conclusions I came to about it were sound, but they did not support the establishment view of the drug as an unmitigated threat to mental health, more menacing than alcohol. I published my findings in the naive belief that honest information on the subject would help resolve the acrimonious debate that was tearing families and communities apart. For the first time in my life I found that telling the truth got me in trouble. My employers did not want the public to know what I had discovered about marijuana, and they resented all the attention my published work continued to receive.
By the end of the first half of what was to have been a two-year stint as a Federal employee and commissioned officer, my working life in Washington had become intolerable. I was typed as a rebel and troublemaker, was barred from doing any work related to marijuana or other drugs, then was ordered to move to the Federal addiction hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, to work as a ward doctor for heroin addicts. I refused to go. Eventually, I resigned job and commission and was denied military credit for the year I had served. I applied for deferment as a conscientious objector, but stated that I would not do any alternative service for a system that seemed to me committed to dishonesty.
My first act as an unemployed ex-official of the U.S. government was to go off to an Indian reservation in South Dakota to study with a Sioux medicine man. I wanted to learn from him about herbal medicine and about ways of changing consciousness without drugs. On the reservation I participated in sweat lodge ceremonies, grew a beard, and "dropped out." When I returned to my house in rural northern Virginia, I found my draft board had granted me conscientious objector status without a hearing. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I had no obligations and nothing but free time. Over the next year (1970-71), I started to practice yoga, experiment with vegetarianism, and learn to meditate. I also reflected on events of the recent past and began to write.
What I wrote was the original edition of this book, now in its [third] decade in print. The context of the writing influenced its tone, which flashes anger in spots and delights in sniping at such institutions as universities, professional medicine and psychiatry, and, of course, the National Institute of Mental Health. I have not altered tone or style in preparing this edition. I have made a number of textual changes in the interest of accuracy, reflecting what I have learned since 1971.
If the book's style now seems to require explanation, I am gratified that the content withstands the test of time, even though much has happened in the interim with regard to drugs and consciousness. No one in 1971 foresaw the epidemic of cocaine use that now prevails, for example, or understood cigarette addiction to be the hardest of all drug addictions to break and our most serious public health problem. Few people believed that alternative medical treatments would become as popular as they are now, or that scientific study of body-mind interactions would ever become respectable. No one knew about endorphins, the morphine-like molecules made in every human brain that serve as our own internal narcotics. None of these changes and discoveries are inconsistent with the ideas in the book; in fact, all follow logically from them.
At the time of its first publication The Natural Mind drew much praise for its original and radical insights. It also drew harsh condemnation from a few prominent critics within the medical establishment who saw it as an apology for drug use. They misread my arguments and attacked me for saying that human beings are born with a need to use drugs. What I wrote was that human beings are born with a drive to experiment with ways of changing consciousness. Drugs are but one of many possible techniques, having their own risks and limitations. The idea that it is normal to seek changes in consciousness has never been discredited.
The Natural Mind argues that high states originate within the human nervous system rather than in any external substances. Research on endorphins and other neurochemicals strongly supports this theory. The book also insists that such states have great positive potential, a suggestion confirmed by demonstrations of the power of the mind, when not in its ordinary mode, to modify functions of the body and counteract disease. I have developed and explored that theme through the intervening years in my own investigations and writing. My later booksThe Marriage of the Sun and Moon (1980), Chocolate to Morphine (1983), and, especially, Health and Healing (1984)all expand on it.
Over the years I have received many comments from readers of The Natural Mind. Most frequently, readers tell me that the book articulates ideas they have had and makes them feel better about themselves, specifically about their interest in experiencing other forms of consciousness, which they had learned to regard as abnormal and unhealthy. These comments reveal the burden imposed on individuals by our culture in its failure to come to terms with the human need for variations in conscious experience.
If I were to write The Natural Mind today, it would be much shorter. I would omit a lot of the argument and focus on the new way of thinking that is the heart of the book: The root of the drug problem is the failure of our culture to provide for a basic human need. Once we recognize the importance and value of other states of consciousness, we can begin to teach people, particularly the young, how to satisfy their needs without drugs. The chief advantage of drugs is that they are quick and effective, producing desired results without requiring effort. Their chief disadvantage is that they fail us over time; used regularly and frequently, they do not maintain the experiences sought and, instead, limit our options and freedom.
What I mean by the "new way of thinking" in the book concerns conceptual models. I believe that we cannot know reality directly through intellectual activity. Instead, we construct models or paradigms of reality through which we interpret and make sense of our experience. There is much talk these days of "paradigm shifts" and conflicts between proponents of alternative models in many fields of human activity, from physics to medicine to the social sciences. Alternative models are neither right nor wrong, just more or less useful in allowing us to operate well in the world and discover more and better options for solving problems.
The Natural Mind suggests a new model for solving the drug problem and other problems like it, all of which will continue to worsen until we change old conceptions. The new model I propose postulates that consciousness is central and primary. This reversal of the prevailing scientific view (which sees consciousness as secondary and peripheral to material reality) changes conventional ideas of cause-and-effect relationships. Furthermore, the new model substitutes "both/and" formulations for the "either/or" formulations of the old model, opening more possibilities for personal freedom, reducing the discomfort of existence, and making life much more creative.
That is the essence of The Natural Mind. Its message is as timely now as when it first appeared, since the need to rethink basic conceptions about drugs and consciousness is as urgent now as ever.
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