As the psychedelic scene expands and more people become involved, notions about psychedelics expand too, some fantastically out of touch with the category. Several psychedelic companies want to make mushroom products that deliver all the benefits of psilocybin mushrooms without the tripping. It’s like holding a swimming meet without water. Evidently these people, however well-intentioned, have not had the experience of a full-blown, universe-shattering trip. Recently two Dutch researchers, Sanders and Zilmans, argued in a paper that giving consideration to mystical experience may degrade serious inquiry into psychedelics, when it is no less than the very core of the thing. They warn against “a risky blend of mysticism and science,” as though that is somehow undesirable.
I wonder if either of the Dutch authors has engaged in full-blown journeying on psychedelics. They suggest curiously that if we can just get off of the mystical thing, then society will somehow benefit more from a balanced scientific approach. Such off-base notions arise when people who have not had enough deep experience with psychedelics theorize willy-nilly and take uninformed pot-shots at them. There are excellent reasons that the Hood Mysticism Scale, The Mystical Experience Questionnaire and The Altered States Of Consciousness Questionnaires have been used as follow up assessments of psychedelic experiences. Mystical experience is the essence of psychedelics. That train long ago left the station.
So let me be crystal clear here. There is but one defining factor of psychedelics, and only one. A psychedelic is an agent or preparation that can promote a mystical experience. Many substances, including alcohol, opium and Brugmansia can cause visions. You can hallucinate like mad on various toxins and pathogens. But those do not lead a person to a mystical experience. A great many more agents, from cleaning fluids to barbiturates, will space you out. But they will not promote a mystical experience. With true psychedelics like ayahuasca, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, San Pedro, LSD, DMT and large dose oral cannabis, the one essential bedrock factor is that they can and often do generate a mystical experience. This experience frequently revolutionizes people’s lives, generating a cascade of more life-imbuing attitude and behavior.
Mystical experiences have been very well described in both religious and non-religious settings throughout human history, and involve common factors. In the mystical experience, the apprehension of one’s personal self dissolves into a wholly consuming universality, dissolution into an ocean of pure existence, unfettered by identity, description or ideation. The self as we typically know it is wiped away, replaced by boundless energy and joy, often accompanied by a vision of brilliant, dazzling light, transcendence of time, overwhelming love and a profound compassion for all beings. Existence itself is experienced as limitless energy, suffused with bliss. To some, this idea sounds frightening. Losing oneself entirely to an experience of pure existence can seem a scary proposition. But for many who have enjoyed such a mystical experience with the aid of psychedelics, the event has been one of immense positive impact on their lives.
This experience of dwelling in pure energy is consistent with physics, which long ago figured out that all existence is energy, atoms and subatomic particles, flying around yet other smaller particles of energy, ad infinitum. And as I will describe further on, the mystical experience provides the greatest healing for a human being. It is the jewel in the lotus of holistic healing.
Mystical experience is not religion. This also confuses many. A religion by definition has a doctrine. There is no doctrine of any sort to a mystical experience. You do not need to believe any particular thing or subscribe to any notions. Ideas are not the experience. Words are not the thing. The map is not the territory. Religions invariably involve deities of various sorts, while mystical experience is a deity-free land. Religions involve isms, ologies and osophies, always associated with a charismatic leader. Mystical experience requires none of those trappings. In a mystical experience one is delivered to a sense of pure, ecstatic spiritual being, beyond notions of any kind. The totality of our energetic being is our spirit, the unique animating force of all life. Many people name this god or assign the identity of a deity to this. But that is a choice and not the essence of the thing. It is only after we have been blown to pieces by mystical experience that we set about to define and fashion that experience in words and ideas.
The plot thickens a bit when intense mystical experiences involve deities or are delivered via a practice like Santo Daime or The Native American Church. Some people encounter Jesus or Mary or Kali or Aphrodite, Buddha, Our Lady Of Guadalupe, Maitreya and various prophets and spiritual figures. In some cases these experiences take place in contextual settings such as Christian or Buddhist venues, archaic goddess ceremonies, etc. In some cases, iconic figures spontaneously show up. Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup quoted that “all circumstances arise from a concatenation of causes.” Unless someone is hewing to a specific religion or doctrine, who can say how Ganesh wound up showering your crown chakra with musical gold coins, or how Green Man or the Elfin Queen show up? The workings of the mind are complex and endless. Maybe you find yourself sitting in full lotus inside the third eye of the buddha, or are pulled by a tractor beam of love into the heart of the divine mother. Maybe you ride a cobra snake up the vertebral channel of the god Siva and then blow out his top knot and are dispersed into infinity. Anything can happen. Trillions and trillions of events precipitate these moments. But whatever the visions or phenomena that bring you to the point when you are immersed in the mystical experience, you wind up beyond all that phenomena, formless and boundless, dwelling in the essence of all being.
There is a natural affinity between the mystical experience offered by psychedelics and the practice of yoga, meditation and other non-denominational spiritual pursuits. A great many people who have had mystical experiences with psychedelics have subsequently turned inward with various meditative and contemplative practices to further their sense of living as beings of pure spirit. These practices are technologies of body and mind that can also precipitate profound, immersive mystical experiences but require more effort and consistency of engagement than going on a potent psychedelic journey.
As a yogi of over 50 years of daily practice I can report that various non-dogmatic meditative methods have launched me into mystical experiences similar to, and every bit as profound and immersive as those I have experienced with LSD, ayahuasca, large oral doses of cannabis, peyote and more. For me and many people I know, psychedelics have been and are a gateway to spiritual experience, the apprehension of our essential being, at one with the all and the everything and intrinsically interconnected with the infinite wellspring of all existence. Many people who tripped long ago and then adopted meditative practices sans psychedelics have circled back around, supplementing practice with occasional universe-shattering, soul-dissolving psychedelic experiences. There is nothing quite like sitting in half lotus on a mat after a nice tall shot of ayahuasca as everything you know is being sandblasted to nano bits by brilliant radiance so overwhelming that there is no resisting it. For true refreshment of the soul and radical healing, psychedelics can greatly aid spiritual practice, while that practice affords better navigational skills in the wild and woolly inter-dimensional landscapes in which we find ourselves with psychedelics. Psychedelics and meditative and spiritual practice are mutually enhancing.
Considering the wiring of our brains, we have possible insight into the biology of mystical experience. Assume that neurobiologists are correct in their estimate of about one hundred billion neurons in the brain, and a likely one hundred trillion possible connections between them. And consider that the old saw that we use only a small portion of our brains is a pitiable excuse for not figuring out those purposes for which we do in fact engage the entirety of the vast and brilliant human brain. We know from neuroimaging that psychedelics light up areas of the brain with new neural connections. Perhaps during a mystical experience all possible neural pathways connect at once, conveying a pervasive perception of oceanic energy and limitless being. It makes sense. The clever, neuro-adaptive psychedelics turn on all the lights.
This brings us around to mystical experience and healing. A Hawaiian elder once said that true healing puts into order the body, mind and spirit with the past, the present and the future. According to this definition, no part of a human being gets left behind when true healing occurs. The psychedelics as a category are true healers, and this may relate directly to the extent to which they light up the brain. In any case, we know that persistent traumas, phobias, disorders of unknown origin and much more can be healed, in some cases remarkably quickly, with psychedelics. And the extent to which a person has a mystical experience often correlates with the extent of healing that occurs. This came to the attention of researchers in an LSD alcohol addiction study. The greater the mystical experience of the participant, the more successful the elimination of the alcohol addiction. With psilocybin studies, reduced fear and anxiety of dying were accompanied by highly significant spiritual experiences. Mystical experience isn’t just part of the package. It’s the Big Wahoo.
The extent to which a mushroom or acid or ayahuasca will produce a full-blown mystical experience not only has to do with the nature and makeup of the person doing the tripping and the setting, but also with the dose. When my friends and I got started with LSD in 1967 the standard dose was 270 micrograms. So we tripped hard for about eight hours. We did that for years. And that was what we knew. Many of us had mystical experiences that so blew us open, we set out hungrily to know and understand more. You can’t get there with microdosing. Countless of my friends wound up meditating and practicing yogic methods of various kinds, some with accompanying dogmas, some without. You see, here’s the thing about mystical experience. It changes you, often radically. If you find yourself totally immersed in light and love and compassion for all beings, connected to the central pipe of all existence, then those realizations have to be reflected in your behavior and in your life, in more positive, life-imbuing ways. It’s cause and effect at 50,000 watts.
Since antiquity people have turned to various psychedelics specifically to be suffused in spirit. This is an essential and treasured purpose. The apprehension of the mystical experience as sacred demonstrates the monumental worth and precious life-changing nature of such events. For revelation, insight, joy, healing and transformative power with psychedelics, mystical experience holds the key. Rather than freaking out and fretting that mystical concerns somehow taint serious inquiry into psychedelics, let’s redouble our efforts to go deeply into the mystical, where the treasures lie. This cannot be accomplished with roundtable discussions, theoretical equations or sanitized language. Experience alone reveals this treasure. Everybody else stands on the sidewalk and watches as the parade goes by. The journey takes courage. It can only be accomplished by diving in deeply. There is no other path to this. So eat the fungus. Put the blotter on your tongue. Swallow the glass of ayahuasca. Chew thoughtfully the peyote. Go in. Go far. When it comes to mystical experience, either go big, or go home.