Then this tree, like a cosmic vacuum cleaner, went ssssuuuck, and every cell in my body was swept into the root, twigs, branches, and leaves of this tree. Tumbling and spinning, down the soft fibrous avenues to some central point which was just light.
It’s Timothy Leary’s birthday and for your pleasure, here is the original version of a chapter from Timothy Leary’s Trip Thru Time
by R.U. Sirius
Timothy Leary AP (After Psychedelics) — The Harvard Psilocybin Project
Timothy Leary’s First Trip
When David McClellan, director of the Center for Personality Research at Harvard asked Timothy Leary to teach there under his aegis, he told Tim to “stir things up a bit.” In his later years, Leary liked to quip, “I think he got his money’s worth.”
Leary first heard about the effects of psilocybin in 1959 from his friend Frank Barron, who had recently tried the mushrooms and came away impressed by their visionary properties. Tim reacted negatively to Barron’s suggestion that he try them. Lacking any awareness of psychedelic substances — and in spite of Barron’s vivid description — he thought of drugs, along with such gross physical methods as electroshock therapy, as blunt, harmful, coercive tools that behavioral psychology used to force patients to conform. However, the following year — perhaps undergoing one of those much vaunted “midlife crises” as his fortieth birthday was approaching — Leary suddenly got the urge to try the mushrooms.
Timothy Leary’s poolside psilocybin trip on August 9, 1960 in Cuernevaca, Mexico is an oft-told tale — central, as it is, to the history of Western psychedelic culture.
The ‘shrooms were copped by Leary’s friend, historian Lothar Knauth, from “Old Juana,” a disheveled, hunchbacked old woman in raggedy clothes who led him wordlessly out of town and onto an old dirt road before effecting the deal.
Timothy Leary’s first trip began pleasantly. He felt lightheaded “as if from laughing gas.” One of the people who had not taken the drug had been assigned to take notes. He was nerdily-dressed in oddly mismatched clothes. Leary, seeing him scribbling earnestly in his notepad, went into fits of laughter that only increased as he reflected on the pomposity of socialized professionals, himself included.
As the trip intensified, he had a brief moment of panic, worrying that the effects may be too strong, and that his kids, playing blissfully unaware inside the villa shouldn’t be around a bunch of drug-crazed adults. He had one of the straight adults send the kids off to the movies for the afternoon. Then he let himself go.
In High Priest and other autobiographical books, Leary describes visions of “Nile Palaces, Bedouin pleasure tents, mosaics of flaming color, jewel encrusted reptiles, mosaics lit from within.” And then he re-experienced all of evolution; floating “down through snake time, fish time, giant jungle-palm-time, green lacy fern leaf-time” until “hello, I am the first living thing.”
The idea that the tripper recapitulated or even re-experienced all of evolution became one of Leary’s main models for the psychedelic experience. While psychology was his career path, it’s clear that he was consistently influenced by the sciences. (Given some popular assumptions about Leary, I should be clear that by science, I mean mainstream, published-in-Scientific American science; not the sort of esoterica that would be popularized in countercultural circles during the later ‘60s and ‘70s.) We first saw this in the 1950s when he applied metaphors from nuclear physics to his psychotherapeutic models. We also see it here, as during his first trip he conjures the Darwinian evolution of life on planet earth. (Later, with the introduction of LSD, he’ll roll all the way back to the big bang.) Within months of his first experience, he would start speaking of the psychedelic experience as a way of tuning in to messages coded in DNA — discovered less than a decade previous — and he would continue to display an interest in — and knowledge of — the latest in genetics across the remainder of his life.
As with many psychedelic spokespeople, one of Leary’s flaws was that he assumed that just about everybody would have the same experience. The evolution trip — while perhaps not entirely unique to Leary — reflected his scientific orientation, as much as it reflected specific qualities inherent in the drug, although it is now widely accepted that Sir Francis Crick made breakthroughs in the discovery of DNA while under the influence of LSD, so perhaps something really is afoot with the perception that these molecules tune us in to the evolutionary process.
Leary would famously say about his first psychedelic trip, “I learned more about… psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than… in the preceding 15 years of studying and doing research in psychology.”
The Harvard Psilocybin Project Begins
Naturally, as summer turned to fall and it was time to return to Harvard, Leary was determined to apply what he had learned to his profession. He had little trouble persuading David McClelland to approve the Harvard Psilocybin Project and soon thereafter he discovered that he could order a substantial quantity of synthetic psilocybin from Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, which was producing the drug under the tutelage of Albert Hofmann — the chemist who had discovered LSD.
The experimental protocol that Leary settled on called for giving subjects psilocybin in a non-clinical setting — in pleasant and spacious surroundings that would be conducive to “pleasant, ecstatic, non-anxious experiences.” The observer was expected to be “collaborative, open and humane,” establishing the best possible mind set for the subject to have a positive experience. (Contrary to general public perception, Leary had already suggested this notion of set and setting during his exploration of therapeutic psychology.) Observers and subjects were to be interchangeable. Everyone participating had to be experienced. The research would be closed to undergraduates. Among those who volunteered to work on the project was Richard Alpert, the fellow professor who would soon become Leary’s sidekick before striking out on his own and eventually becoming the hindu guru and all around bodhisattva-mensch, Baba Ram Dass. He was also joined by grad students Gunther Weil, Walter Pahnke and Ralph Metzner. Metzner, too, would become a lifelong friend and inveterate explorer of consciousness.
From Huxley to Ginsberg: The Crusade Begins
As he began running experiments with grad students, Leary sought out the eminent English writer, Aldous Huxley, who happened to be in the neighborhood, lecturing at MIT. Huxley had written what is probably still the most influential psychedelic trip report ever, The Dors of Perception, about his experience with mescaline. Leary shared psilocybin with Huxley, who advised him to act conservatively regarding spreading word of this extraordinary substance. Huxley suggested that he slowly and cautiously spread the psychedelic experience by sharing it with influential artists and intellectuals.
Ironically, the first influential artist/intellectual to make contact with Leary was the revolutionary beat poet Allen Ginsberg. As a part of the beat culture (forerunners to the hippies), Ginsberg had already experienced his share of mind-altering drugs including amphetamines, LSD, mescaline and peyote. Marijuana was pretty much part of his daily life.
Having gotten wind of the Harvard professor’s little experiments, Ginsberg volunteered himself as a guinea pig. With his longtime lover Peter Orlovsky, he paid the professor a visit. According to Ginsberg biography Barry Miles, about an hour into the trip:
Suddenly, out the window, Allen saw a flash of light, which reminded him of the Star of Bethlehem, and as the music of Wagner’s Gotterdammerung thundered in the room, “like the horns of judgment calling from the ends of the cosmos — calling on all human consciousness to declare itself into the consciousness,” it seemed to Allen as if all the worlds of human consciousness were waiting for the Messiah. “Someone to take on the responsibility of being the creative God and seize power over the universe and become the next consciousness. …I decided I might as well be the one to do so — pronounce my nakedness as the first act of revolution against the destroyers of the human image. The naked body being the hidden sign.”
…He got up from his bed, put on his eyeglasses, and walked downstairs naked, closely followed by Peter. They headed for the study, where Frank Barron, Leary’s coworker, who shared the house, was sitting at a desk. They stopped in front of him. As Leary came into the room, having ushered his young daughter to safety on the third floor, Allen raised his finger in the air and waved it. “I’m the Messiah,” he said. [If the Twen tiethCentury has taught us one thing, it’s that charismatic visionaries with leadership potential shouldn’t listen to Wagner!] “I’ve come down to preach love to the world. We’re going to walk through the streets and teach people to stop hating.”
While Leary moved to distract Ginsberg from his immediate plans to wander naked into the suburban streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts to bring peace and love to the world, Ginsberg decided to prove he was the Messiah. He asked Leary to remove his hearing aid so he could heal his hearing. Leary did this, and then pointed out that Ginsberg was still wearing his glasses. When Ginsberg wanted to call his friend, beat writer Jack Kerouac to tell him that “It’s time to seize power over the universe and become the next consciousness,” he had to go off squinting in search of his address book, at which point he realized some limits to his new godlike power.
This somewhat ironic deflation of Ginsberg’s messianic psilocybin insights didn’t curb his enthusiasm for turning people on to the wisdom he had found in the substance. He and Leary made a pact to change the world with psychedelics.
In retrospect, we might wonder why Leary didn’t usher Ginsberg — with his “I am the messiah” shtick — quietly out the back door. After all, by the end of that decade, anyone who declared himself the messiah while high on hallucinogens might have been asked to take a number and join the others in the waiting room. But this was Allen Ginsberg, king of the beats and author of Howl, one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest poems. Besides, it was the first Messiah trip, so why not play along? While charging out into the suburban streets naked preaching love was probably not the best strategy for seizing global consciousness; more broadly, the naïve, idealistic spirit of nakedness, peace and love surely appealed to the professor, much as it would to the oncoming “Woodstock generation.”
Following on Huxley’s advice, Leary and Ginsberg set about to guide important writers, artists and musicians through psilocybin trips. Ginsberg’s address book provided an excess of promising targets.
Their results were decidedly mixed. Most of the intellectuals and artists who they turned on found the drug to be a worthy experience, but they were — each in their own idiosyncratic way — ambivalent about its effects and/or unwilling to join the crusade. On his trip, Jack Kerouac had a great time being Jack Kerouac — restless and verbal — and he later wrote to Leary begging for more, while all the while giving mixed reviews to the drugs’ enlightening qualities. Arthur Koestler — one of the leading intellectuals of the Twentieth Century — fell into an apparently pleasant revery listening to Bach; but the next day, he claimed he didn’t get off and then, later, declared the experience “false, ersatz. Instant mysticism.” The poet Robert Lowell thanked Leary for his epic religious visions — saying “now I understand what Blake and St. John of the Cross saw,,” yet he remained his usual gloomy self. When Ginsberg tried to reassure him, saying, “Don’t worry. Love conquers all,” Lowell responded, “Don’t be so sure.” William Burroughs had a massive bummer in Tangiers and a few years later wrote, “Listen: Their Garden of Delights is a terminal sewer… Their Immortality Cosmic Consciousness and Love is second-run grade-B shit.” Finally, there was the mad jazz genius Charles Mingus, who just smiled and asked if they had anything stronger. Most of their ‘targets” had good trips; a few had bad ones… but none joined the crusade.
Why did Leary and Ginsberg and their magic pills fail with Ginsberg’s friends among the intellectual cognescenti of the early 1960s? On the one hand, we could decide that the intellectuals were correct. The mind magic supplied by the pills simply was not the great thing Timothy and Allen thought it was. On the other hand, we might conclude that successful intellectuals who were already pretty well defined publicly by their philosophic views and their mental perceptions might have had something to lose in letting the psychedelic experience divert them too far from their chosen path.
Experiments with Convicts and Christians
In tandem with his activities with Allen Ginsberg and the experiments with grad students, Leary’s group conducted two experiments that are legendary in the annals of psychedelic history. The first was the Concord Prison project.
Searching for a way to perform an experiment with measurable results, they came upon the idea of giving psilocybin to prisoners. They could then measure the recidivism rate and, hopefully, have some statistical proof of the positive therapeutic effects of the drug. When the Harvard administrators refused to approve the plan, Leary did the Learyesque thing — striking out on his own, meeting with prison administrators and gaining their approval to share psilocybin with five volunteer prisoners. Leary, Metzner and Weil would conduct the session and, in keeping with Leary’s egalitarian views, they would dose with the prisoners.
When the Harvard guys and the prison guys came on to the effects of the psilocybin, Tim found himself feeling ill at ease. Even with the provision of some art books and jazz records, the environment couldn’t have been more oppressive… and they were hanging with “criminals.” The set and setting was, to say the least, not optimal. When Tim said what he was feeling aloud, one of the convicts asked him why? Tim told the prisoner that he was afraid of him. The prisoner then told Tim that he was afraid of him. “Why?” asked the prisoner. “Because you’re a criminal,” Tim replied. The prisoner then told Tim that he was afraid of him because “you’re a mad scientist.” They both started laughing. From that point on, the prisoners and the psychology professor and students had a good, enlightening trip. Another convict, in prison on a morphine charge, simply couldn’t believe his good fortune. He started laughing about being allowed to get so high in jail.
The Harvard Psilocybin Project was able to report good rehabilitation rates from the Concord Project, although the statistics and methodology were later challenged by Rick Doblin of MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). Whoever is correct, what we do know is that some people who were stuck in a miserable prison had some refreshing moments of illumination and ecstasy.
In retrospect, prison recidivism may not have been the cleanest slate upon which to test the efficacy of psychedelic therapy, since there are so many difficult factors involved. Ex-cons face multiple, near-insurmountable challenges trying to reintegrate into a society that usually refuses them opportunities. Besides, a more aware, tuned-in convict might simply conclude that the outside is, fundamentally, just as criminal and corrupt as the inside and return to doing whatever he feels he needs to do to get along.
The other legendary intervention by the Harvard group into the world-at-large happened in church on the day before Good Friday. At Walther Pahnke’s insistence, a skeptical Leary finally relented and joined him in an experiment with twenty religion students at Andover Newton Theological Seminary to see if psilocybin would provoke a religious experience. It was a double-blind experiment, so half of those present were dosed and half were giving a placebo. The results were impressive. Of the ten students that were dosed, nine of them still recalled having a genuine mystical experience on that day decades later.
In 2006, results from a legal experiment conducted at John Hopkins showed six in ten subjects having a “full blown mystical experience” and eight in ten reporting a gain in their sense of well-being.
To Loose for the Harvard Squares
As busy as they were conducting all these activities, the denizens of the Harvard Psilocybin Project still found time to experiment on — and amongst — themselves, perhaps a bit more than the establishment types at Harvard liked. By late 1961, relations with what Tim would later call “the Harvard squares” were starting to fray. McLellan collared Leary and Alpert, repeating complaints he’d been hearing about hedonism and irresponsibility amongst the psychedelic project crew and friends. He rung a promise from them to be more cautious and follow a protocol.
But by Spring of 1962, Herbert Kelman, a conservative professor who, it was later learned, had received funding from a CIA front group, started leading the charge to rein in Leary and his project. A faculty meeting was arranged that attracted a gaggle of bystanders. At the meeting, the project was roundly excoriated and Harvard put the project’s psilocybin under lock and key. (By then, they were already into LSD, so this had no effect on their personal stash.) But what really finally brought down the great Leary-Alpert Harvard drug experiment was an article in the school newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, by a very young Andrew Weil — the man who would go on to become America’s alternative medicine guru. Weil was jealous of Alpert over a relationship Alpert was having with an undergraduate. The article reported on the meeting and repeated claims by Leary-Alpert’s critics that the project was run carelessly and irresponsibly. This, in turn, led to a tabloid-style piece about druggies running wild at Harvard in a Boston daily and with that the psychedelic goose was cooked.
It would be 1963 before Leary and Alpert were officially let go by Harvard. By then, he and his cohorts had already made preparations to exit academia as spiritual revolutionaries by forming the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF). This was the first organization dedicated to the idea of cognitive liberty — the notional right to control one’s own consciousness and alter it (or refuse to alter it) with drugs or technology was a profound civil liberty. It was also the first organization dedicated to instructing ordinary citizens in how to use psychedelic drugs so as derive the most benefit from them.
It was during Leary’s time at Harvard that he had his first LSD experience. It was October, 1961 when a somewhat demented British prankster named Michael Hollingshead showed up at Leary’s shared communal household in Cambridge with approximately 5,000 200 microgram doses. Tim wasn’t having it. He was familiar with psilocybin and wanted to continue exploring its therapeutic and spiritual insights. It took Hollingshead two months to get the man who would later be labeled the “LSD guru” by the media to finally try it.
As was often the case with Tim, he tried it because his friends Maynard and Flo Henderson had taken some and seemed to be having a good time. In fact, they seemed to be in a divine state. Flo’s laughter, Leary wrote, “was the chuckle of someone who was dead and done and sitting on some heavenly mountaintop and looking down at the two billion years of evolution the way you’d look at a transient episode in a child’s playground.” Seeing a beautiful woman in a state of grace, Timothy Leary just had to follow on.
Timothy Leary’s Description of his first LSD Trip
I guess this is the time, Michael,” I said. With quick bounds he was out of the room, and I could hear his tennis shoes rippling up the stairs, and he returned with the mayonnaise jar, and the tablespoon, heaped to overflowing with the sugar paste. George Litwin, just about to leave to go home to supper, was sitting next to me. Michael glanced at him. He nodded — Why not? — and took his spoonful.
It took about a half hour to hit. And it came sudden and irresistible. An endless deep swampy marsh on some other planet teaming and steaming with energy and life, and in the swamp an enormous tree whose roots were buried miles down and whose branches were foliated out miles high and miles wide. And then this tree, like a cosmic vacuum cleaner, went ssssuuuck, and every cell in my body was swept into the root, twigs, branches, and leaves of this tree. Tumbling and spinning, down the soft fibrous avenues to some central point which was just light. Just light, but not just light. It was the center of life. A burning, dazzling, throbbing, radiant core, pure pulsing, exulting light. An endless flame that contained everything… sound, touch, cell, seed, sense, soul, sleep, glory, glorifying,
God, the hard eye of God. Merged with this pulsing flame it was possible to look out and see and participate in the entire cosmic drama. Past and future. All forms, all structures, all organisms, all events, were illusory, television productions pulsing out from the central eye. Everything that I had ever experienced and read about was bubble — dancing before me like a nineteenth century vaudeville show. My illusions, the comic costumes, the strange ever changing stage props of trees and bodies and theater sets. All spinning out from the momentary parts of the central God-eye-heart-penis-light.
After several billion years I found myself on my feet moving through a puppet show. Where does Timothy Leary belong in this dance of illusion? I thought of my kids and walked somehow upstairs to the second-floor landing and opened the door to my daughter’s room. Susan was sitting in bed, the classic thirteen-year-old with her hair up in curlers, frowning in concentration at the schoolbook in her lap while rock and roll music blasted through the room. It was pure Saturday Evening Post cover Americana. The puppet doll teenager glanced up. “Hi, Dad.” She was biting a pencil and looking at the book. I slumped against the wall, looking with amazement at this marionette stranger, from assembly line America. She glanced up again, quickly. “Hi, Dad, what would you like for Christmas?” She went on biting the pencil, frowning at the book, waving slightly at the beat of the music. In a minute she looked up again. “Hi, Dad, I love you.”
A shock of terror convulsed me. This was my daughter and this was the father-daughter game. A shallow, superficial, stereotyped, meaningless exchange of Hi, Dad, Hi, Sue, How are you Dad? How’s school? What do you want for Christmas? Have you done your homework? The plastic doll father and the plastic doll daughter both mounted on little wheels, rolling by each other around and around on fixed tracks. A complete vulgarization of the real situation — two incredibly complex, trillion-cell clusters rooted in an eternity of evolution, sharing for a flicker this space-time coordinate. And offered this rare chance to merge souls and bring out the divinity in the other, but desiccated and deadened into the Hi Dad Hi Susan squeaks.
I looked at her beseechingly, straining for real contact. I was stunned with guilt.
With microscopic clarity, I saw the egocentricity, the sham of my devoted father routine. Is it too late? Can I come back… glorify this rare trembling opportunity? I turned and slowly walked downstairs to the front hallway. Eleven-year-old Jack sat on the floor watching television. I sat down next to him. Without taking his eyes from the tube he said, “Hi, Dad. Great program, Dad.” Once again the piercing realization of my blind misuse of this divine Buddha child.
I followed his gaze to the television set. Jack Benny, wise, noble, long-suffering guru, was going through a routine about death, the transience of life. Memories from my boyhood — Fred Allen, Jack Pearl, Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin. Each week the cosmic television show repeating the same message, infusing into the frail, karmic forms of Benny, Allen, Rogers, the ancient messages, comic and tragic. Don’t you see? It’s spinning by you, blinding you. Don’t you catch on? You’re going, you’re going. Use the few seconds that remain.
I suddenly knew that everything is a message from the impersonal, relentless, infinite, divine intelligence, weaving a new web of life each second, bombarding us with a message. Don’t you see?! You’re nothing! Wake up! Glorify me! Join me!
Then there were three men on the TV screen. One was in a barber’s chair, one was facing him, the other had his back turned. The third man suddenly wheeled around and said, looking straight through the television tube, into my eyes, “You’ve been dead for two seconds.” (Laugh track laughter)
Sometimes for the stupid he even writes it out in words in a television drama, for those whose obtuseness can only be opened up by the boob tube. I’d been dead for two seconds. And this is what hell is
The cosmic playwright uses diverse messengers to get the point across. It’s in a flower. It’s in the light of a star that takes millions of years to reach your eyes. Sometimes for the stupid he even writes it out in words in a television drama, for those whose obtuseness can only be opened up by the boob tube. I’d been dead for two seconds. And this is what hell is like. I could look back over the past forty years with chagrin, with pain at my blindness. Every second presented me with a golden chance to tune in, to break through, to glorify, to really groove and dance with God’s great song. And every second of every minute of every hour of every day I grimly played out my narrow little mental chess game. The action was still continuing on the television set, but my consciousness was shrieking in remorse. Agonbite of inwit! Waste! Waste! Fool! How many times had I heard the message? In all the great religious books, in all the poems, everyplace it confronted me. Forget yourself. Tune in on the big picture.
Then I heard music. I looked up at the screen and saw Doris Day leaning towards me, her hands beckoning. What was she singing? “The second time around, I’m so glad I met you, the second time around.” It suddenly dawned on me, that’s what death is, that’s what hell is. It just keeps going. There’s no end to it. You have your first chance to touch and taste, tissue, direct contact with God’s energy, and then when that’s over, a second time, you repeat the whole process, but it’s different. There’s a plastic film between you and the divine process around you. Your egocentricity, your deadening mind has created a plastic hell. That’s the meaning of ghosts and anguished spirits, doomed for eternity to exist, separated from life, that precious, fragile gift that we squander every second of this so called mortal reality. The second time around. Second time, it’s the carbon copy. One little interval out of step. This time you are one vibration beat behind that ecstatic intersection which the living call life and which the tormented call paradise.
Later, I swam into the kitchen. There was a book on the table. I flipped it open. In a second I saw the history of every word on the page tracing back, back, back, back, to the beginnings of written language. Back down to one sentence — the death of the father, morte du pere, and in that sentence, boiled and bubbled down to the essence of the one
word, morte… there it was again, the grim confrontation.
I sat on the kitchen floor, looking at my body, my skin of delicately treated leather, exquisitely carved but dead. I saw plastic veins, blue and pink, and I saw celluloid fingernails. My mind was spinning like a computer that had no connection with anything live — no flesh, no cell, no sweat, no smell. I had lost my senses, morte. Death. With only the mind to spin out its universe of thoughts. Now you know what hell is. The mind cut off from the body, from life, from seed, from cell.
George Litwin staggered into the room. He was now a nineteenth-century Frenchman: cocky, carefree, courageous. He swung around and looked at me with anguished eyes. We were both dead men, trapped in the doomed submarine. We said nothing, but our eyes met in sympathetic terror. Gone, gone. It’s finished.
It was straight telepathic communication. I was in his mind, he was in my mind. We both saw the whole thing, the illusion, the artifice, the flimsy game-nature of the mental universe. The popeyed look of terror changed to mellow resignation and the Buddha smiled. He murmured the word, “Harvard,” smiling. I said, “America.” He said, “Duty.” And I said, “Love.” He flinched and then nodded, smiling sadly, “Yes, love.” That was the ultimate confrontation. The last shattered secret from the Buddha bag. It’s all an illusion, even love. And what’s left? The wise, cool, all-seeing eyes and the slight smile around the mouth. Acceptance, peace, resigned serenity. It’s all in your own mind, baby, the whole bit from beginning to end. It is the spinning out of your own chessboard. Caesar, Alexander, Christ, America, Timothy Leary, George Litwin, even love — they only exist because you think them. Stop thinking them and they do not exist.
Then George was gone. I floated to the door. Perhaps outside the house I could find something solid, real, tangible.
I ran out to the lawn, snow, trees, starlight. It had never been more beautiful. Etched, sharp, magnified. I stood there listening for the answer. Where is the center? What is real? What can we do? Then rapidly, but completely, in careful detail I recapitulated the social and intellectual history of the human race. I relived and worked through every solution that the human mind had attempted. Society, migrations, groupings, tribal wanderings, invasions, the planting of crops, the building of cities, the restless searching for possibility and meaning, the moral codes, the taboos and kinships, the emergence of stumbling species groping for answer, for order, for center, the lost mutants trapped in their forebrains, trying to think and act their way back to the center. What to do and where to go? I could foresee the outcome of any action I should begin. And slowly, like a string being reeled back, I retraced my steps to that central spot in front of the fire where the session had begun. Here was the beginning. Michael, the master trickster, sitting silently and waiting. Maynard and Flo on the couch. Flo draped across Maynard’s lap. I said something. Flo sat up and replied. Maynard’s head went back and laughed. Then I repeated the same message, Flo sat up, Maynard laughed. I repeated the same message. Flo sat up and Maynard laughed. We were trapped in a time loop. Doomed forever to repeat a brief television commercial, over and over again at the station break.
Flo and Maynard were beautiful, stage-dressed, made-up characters. The classic frail beauty, and the dapper young musician, costumed for their parts.
I looked at Michael. His sad face bore the record of all human suffering. He was clearly one of the twelve apostles, cast for the moment in the funny little drama of Michael and Cambridge, come to teach us the ancient message that the center is back by the fire with your friends. Quiet detached trust and mutual acceptance of the ultimate cosmological horror. Limited. Limited. Limited. Trapped in our nervous systems, struggling to catch one glimpse every decade or two of the ancient cellular membrane meaning of life. Waiting patiently through those long periods of plastic isolation, until that next vibrant contact came…
…My previous psychedelic sessions with psilocybin had opened me up to the sensory levels of consciousness, pushed consciousness out to the membrane frontier, contact points of eyeball and light, ear canal and sound. Psilocybin had sucked me down into nerve nets, into the somatic organs, heart pulse, and air breath, had let me spiral down the DNA ladder of evolution to the beginning of life on this planet. But LSD was something different. Michael’s heaping spoonful had flipped consciousness out beyond life into the whirling dance of pure energy, where nothing existed except whirring vibrations, and each illusory form was simply a different frequency.
It was the most shattering experience of my life. I sat there, a part of Einstein’s equation, seeing it all, terrified and confused, desperately looking for some structure which would last against the ruthless bombardment of energy waves, and through it all, sitting with his head cradled in his knees, was the architect of enlightenment, the magician, who had flicked the switch to this alchemical show of revelation. Michael, the trickster.
He is the victim of some greater power. His consciousness has been captured, perhaps by intelligences from another planet. He is not a free agent.
As I watched him, looking for an answer in his face, he changed. No longer the cool, cynical Buddha eye. I now saw him as the lost victim of the revelations he’d unleashed. As I studied him carefully I could see scars on his face and hands and even threads of antennae sticking up from his skull. He shot a piteous, resigned look in my direction. He is the victim of some greater power. His consciousness has been captured, perhaps by intelligences from another planet. He is not a free agent. He knows what he’s doing but he has no control over it. His turning us on is not an act of love and glorification but some sort of compulsion. He has to do it. He wants us to share the immobilization of his profound vision, to share his celestial dilemma. His cosmic loneliness. How can one act when one sees that all form is an illusory package of vibrations, just like your television screen? Nothing but beams of light, while we comfort ourselves with childish explanations of philosophy and religion.
The effects of the drug began to wear off by dawn. I was still higher than I had ever been before, but at least some structure was coming back. The flow of vibrations had stopped, and I felt myself freezing into a mold of plastic. There was a terrible sense of loss, of nostalgia, for the long hours, eons really, when one was at the heart of meaning and the radiant core of the energy process.
I walked up to the Ferguson’s room. They were sitting transfixed, feeling the same despair at their ejection from paradise. I knelt before Flo with my head in her lap. Tears came down her eyes, and I found myself shaking with sobs. Why had we lost it? Why were we being reborn? In these silly leather bodies with these trivial little chessboard minds? For the rest of the morning I was in a daze, stunned by what had happened, trying to figure out what to do with these new revelations, how they make sense, what to do with life routines, which were obviously pointless, senseless, and completely artificial.
Leary interpreted his first LSD trip as a death-rebirth experience. He imprinted that model and it became part of his psychedelic philosophy for the next several years. It would inspire him to rework the Tibetan Book of the Dead into a manual for the LSD trip.