Why psychedelics, wellness, and inner exploration are critical right now
*Quote from an interview with Whitley Streiber, who may be a little nuts but is good at describing the terrifying and improbable.
I have a theory why there is this burgeoning rise of interest in psychedelics, wellbeing, and mindfulness stuff. I have been on this planet since 1955 and things have never been this strange. It feels like the wheels fell off at some point and there is a lot of winging it going on. In government, global politics, warfare, and especially the environment. Uncertainty, to put it lightly.
There are two ways to deal with global uncertainty. One is to try and retreat into an imaginary past where things were idyllic or simply a fantasy to escape into. Think the 1950s for certain white American male politicians or Game of Thrones for fully immersive and silly escapism. I was briefly there in the fifties and was a waspy white child in the suburbs, though we were barely in the financial suburbs. And it was probably the most idyllic place to be a child in history.
And then in the sixties and early seventies fantasy became much more mainstream and acceptable to audiences that were not only pimply nerd kids. After all with wars, that were not the ‘good’ ones, killing our peers, a little escapism was understandable. Including that psychedelic escapism. Very few of my friends skipped experiencing at least one acid trip at one point or another. It was incredibly pervasive among my peers. For many of us it was multiple trips with multiple substances, at least until 1973 or so when the drugs started getting nastier- things like qualuudes, meth, and coke. For me there was another escape- playing original punk, then New Wave music. And then a long stretch of embracing technology.
Today, tech is the norm, and not very exciting. I get a better buzz from lifting dumbells in the gym than I do from the latest gizmo. I’d argue that the observation of climate change on a daily basis is the next obsession, as it should be. We find the world disintegrating around us in weird and frightening ways and a bewildering lack of urgency from those who allegedly have the power to do something on a major scale. As a result, there is a lot of existential dread out there.
The 1950s throwback people are the people who have no mental experiences that can help them handle the destruction of this world they have taken for granted. But they are generational and in the minority. I am not one of them, though I am OK with being a boomer. I think the great question and anger that younger generations should have is about why people my age with children and grandchildren are not dealing with the terrors those kids are facing right now, terrors that have no respect for borders or affluence. As a result of that question, a lot of us are turning inward to find strength.
Unfortunately Western society is sorely lacking in tools and experience for dealing with inward journeys. On the psychedelic front, we shut down all legal access for over forty years, forty years that could have taken us very far into enhanced self-awareness. But that happened and right now it is unhappening, finally. Even the FDA has endorsed more and more studies into treatments using psychedelics for depression, end of life, PTSD, and addiction therapies, among others. I can’t write about this without referencing Michael Pollan’s book How To Change Your Mind, which broke open a dam and flooded a receptive society with real information about the underground that has been steadily gaining influence. The book has become so entrenched that I regularly read articles here that practically quote it verbatim without referencing it at all. Everyone who has microdosed is a self-described expert. Except, you are not. No one is.
Here’s my point. Like the mycelium networks Pollan references that form natural neural networks beneath forest soils (the largest lifeforms on the planet by estimated weight), the worlds psychedelics and meditation practices offer are enormous and indescribable; literally new ways of perceiving and thinking. They are the undiscovered country, and dipping into the surface doesn’t mean you know anything about them.
If you look at the practices of Zen or Tibetan Buddhism, you see the surface of thousands of years of serious immersion in these new ways of perceiving. The literature and experience of some serious practitioners is out there in depth. Yet, in the west we are satisfied to dip our toes in.
The times require change. Change only takes place on a personal level, one person at a time, until it gains momentum. Climate change is the trigger. It’s important to understand that we are not destroying the planet, we are destroying our ability to survive on the planet. The planet will bounce back even if we don’t (unless some nut sets off a nuclear war in which case we may leave our paradise a smoking relic). If you don’t believe this, watch one of the documentaries on the Chernobyl disaster. Nature just keeps plugging along without humans.
Reality is strange. I think we have forgotten that sometimes. In times of crisis, that strangeness starts to reveal itself. As a writer, I find this strangeness creeping into my fiction and I’m ok with it. My first LSD experience, at age 14, changed me on a fundamental level that has not faded in fifty years. It made me start to see the cracks here and there and they are getting wider.
As I write this, satellite images count over one million wildfires in Australia with an estimated one billion animals killed. The now former CEO of Boeing appears to have prioritized commerce over human safety and was rewarded for it with a $60 million buyout. Yesterday, January 11, 2020 in Rochester, NY, we broke a temperature record with a 64 degree day. We have had nearly 50” of snow already and there is not a bit on the ground, excluding the usual dirty piles in parking lots. When I was in San Francisco a few months ago I just missed air quality so bad that my friends had told me not to visit.
The strangeness is here.
I’m not crying the blues or feeling sorry for myself, or all of us, for that matter. It serves no purpose. We need to learn to live in these strange realities and find ways to improve them for the sake of everything, not just ourselves. I know there are those moneyed individuals who think they can insulate themselves in their multimillion dollar high rises, but money does not protect anyone from a Cat 5 hurricane. We can’t buy our way out.
So, what to do? Get used to unreality and start developing skills and tools for dealing with it. Look at those Buddhists and learn to meditate, then work on their core concept of compassion for all, no exceptions. Return hate and ignorance with love; it’s the only response. And start letting those strange realities intrude. Go in deeper, then come back and help others cope.
It all sounds so airy fairy, right? It’s the opposite. Our reality is changing and changing fast. We need to equip ourselves for it, mentally, physically, and spiritually. We owe it to the kids to get better at this life right now, not later. We only live in real time, folks.