Shrooms or Coffee?

The reader who sent me that photograph of Pyramid Lake writes:

Funny that you posted the Pyramid Lake, NV photo with the mushroom write-up. I traveled that weekend with three close friends I met fifteen years prior at an Alchoholics Anonymous meeting. One is 34 and in his seventeenth year sober from alcohol and other mind-altering substances, the other is 39 and in his sixth year sober (after relapsing for two years following a stretch of eight years sober).  Myself, I am soon to be 38 with a little over fifteen years sober.  We are all statistical anomalies in substance abuse recovery (long time sober) and a testament to not needing substances of any kind to live in accordance with spiritual principles. 

I often like to tell people that I loved mushrooms because it was like taking LSD only I could go to sleep after six hours.  Funny and truthful as that is, my practical experience suggests the pharmacology behind love, peace, and joy is diverse. All we needed that weekend was strong coffee and good fellowship.

Amen. Drugs are not spirituality. But they can give insights into spiritual enlightenment, and help us strive for it without them. Or in the immortal words of Bill Hicks:

"I laid in a field of green grass for four hours going ‘My God, I love everything.’ The heavens parted, God looked down and rained gifts of forgiveness, acceptance and eternal love from his unconditional heart, and I realized the true nature of my existence, of all our existence, is God’s perfect and holy sunship, that we are spirit, we are not bodies, we are mind, we are thoughts in God’s mind, his beloved children, and that has never changed, and anytime that you look through the body’s eyes you are seeing illusions.

I’m glad they’re against the law, because imagine how that would f*** up this country."

The Spirituality of Shrooms

Pyramidlakenv845pm

Finally, a controlled scientific experiment about the psychological and spiritual effects of psilocybin. The interaction between the spiritual and psychological remains a mystery, of course – but mushrooms certainly seem to point people in a more spiritual direction:

Psilocybin’s effects lasted for up to six hours, Griffiths said. Twenty-two of the 36 volunteers reported having a "complete" mystical experience, compared to four of those getting methylphenidate.

That experience included such things as a sense of pure awareness and a merging with ultimate reality, a transcendence of time and space, a feeling of sacredness or awe, and deeply felt positive mood like joy, peace and love. People say "they can’t possibly put it into words," Griffiths said.

Two months later, 24 of the participants filled out a questionnaire. Two-thirds called their reaction to psilocybin one of the five top most meaningful experiences of their lives. On another measure, one-third called it the most spiritually significant experience of their lives, with another 40% ranking it in the top five.

Can we please have more research? If mankind’s technological potential for destruction is now threatening to upend civilization, surely some research into the pharmacology behind love, peace and joy is worth some federal dollars. On this, at least, I agree with Juan Cole:

The human mind has the capacity to feel the oneness of things, to put aside selfish ego and the violence, psychic and physical, that it promotes. The drug just demonstrates that the capacity is there. This was known. The question is, what one does with it. A peak experience can just be an experience. Or it can be the beginning of a more fulfilled, kind and giving life. The drug by itself is no more important than a parlor trick. As with anything in life, it matters what is done with it. And, the true mystic does not need mushrooms to have peak experiences.

See the mountain-top, and the valley of despond is not so grim.

(Photo of Pyramid Lake from a reader.)