September 4, 2021
The soul should always stand ajar.
One of the things that commends travel, art, nature, work, and certain drugs to us is the way these experiences, at their best, block every mental path forward and back, immersing us in the flow of a present that is literally wonderful--wonder being the by-product of precisely the kind of unencumbered first sight, or virginal noticing, to which the adult brain has closed itself. (It's so inefficient!) Alas, most of the time I inhabit a near-future tense, my psychic thermostat set to a low simmer of anticipation and, too often, worry. The good thing is I'm seldom surprised. The bad thing is I'm seldom surprised.
Some years ago I myself made some observations on this aspect of nitrous oxide intoxication, and reported them in print. One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question,--for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.
Mysticism is the antidote to fundamentalism.
Language, [Terence McKenna's "Stoned Ape Theory" contends], represents a special case of synesthesia, in which otherwise meaningless sounds become linked to concepts.
I'm struck by the fact there was nothing supernatural about my heightened perceptions that afternoon, nothing that I needed an idea of magic or a divinity to explain. No, all it took was another perceptual slant on the same old reality, a lens or mode of consciousness that invented nothing but merely (merely!) italicized the prose of ordinary experience, disclosing the wonder that is always there in a garden or wood, hidden in plain sight--another form of consciousness "parted from [us]," as William James put it, "by the filmiest of screens." Nature does in fact teem with subjectivities--call them spirits if you like--other than our own; it is only the human ego, with its imagined monopoly on subjectivity, that keeps us from recognizing them all, our kith and kin. [...] Before this afternoon, I had always assumed access to a spiritual dimension hinged on one's acceptance of the supernatural--of God, of a Beyond--but now I'm not so sure.
Many reports are given of deep mystical experiences, but their chief characteristic is the wonder at one's own profundity.
Psychedelic drugs cause panic and temporary insanity in people who have not taken them.
The psychedelic experience can yield a lot of fool's gold.
We have the longest childhood of any species. This extended period of learning and exploration is what's distinctive about us. I think of childhood as the R&D stage of the species, concerned exclusively with learning and exploring. We adults are production and marketing.
And suddenly I realized that the molecules of my body, and the molecules of my spacecraft, the molecules in the body of my partners, were prototyped, manufactured in some ancient generation of stars. [I felt] an overwhelming sense of oneness, of connectedness . . . It wasn't 'Them and Us,' it was 'That's me! That's all of it, it's one thing.' And it was accompanied by an ecstasy, a sense of 'Oh my God, wow, yes'--an insight, an epiphany.
Do you see the world as a prison or a playground?
Keltner believes that awe is a fundamental human emotion, one that evolved in us because it promotes altruistic behavior. We are descendants of those who found the experience of awe blissful, because it's advantageous for the species to have an emotion that makes us feel part of something much larger than ourselves.
Depression is a response to past loss, and anxiety is a response to future loss.
The usual antonym for the word "spiritual" is "material." That at least is what I believed when I began this inquiry--that the whole issue with spirituality turned on a question of metaphysics. Now I'm inclined to think a much better and certainly more useful antonym for "spiritual" might be "egotistical." Self and Spirit define the opposite ends of a spectrum, but that spectrum needn't reach clear to the heavens to have meaning for us. It can stay right here on earth. When the ego dissolves, so does a bounded conception not only of our self but of our self-interest. What emerges in its place is invariably a broader, more openhearted and altruistic--that is, more spiritual--idea of what matters in life. One in which a new sense of connection, or love, however defined, seems to figure prominently.
This, I think, is the great value of exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness: the light they reflect back on the ordinary ones, which no longer seem quite so transparent or so ordinary. To realize, as William James concluded, that normal waking consciousness is but one of many potential forms of consciousness--ways of perceiving or constructing the world--separated from it by merely "the filmiest of screens," is to recognize that our account of reality, whether inward or outward, is incomplete at best. Normal waking consciousness might seem to offer a faithful map to the territory of reality, and it is good for many things, but it is only a map--and not the only map.