We set up to the left of the stairs in chairs down by the water. “Setting down a place by the water”: that’s a whole way of life, kin to “finding shade in the forest” or “farming on the prairie.” Coastlines promise opportunities to watch waves, swim with changing tides, body glistening in the sun. Earlier in the day, we saw dolphins while watching the sunrise. Now, however, would be a wonderful time to swim, so I do. Then the sunning begins, body rubbed in coconut-scented lotion. What can we reconstruct of the psychedelic experience? What are its teachings across time?
Sarah and I arrive to the coast and set up a portable temporary architecture, chairs and a blue umbrella. Sandpipers and seagulls play by the shore beside boogie boarders, kids tossing balls back and forth, swimmers. Beaches present life at its most joyful — life measured out in waves of guiltless play. A squad of pelicans fly past hanging low, close to the water. I imagine fields and sets of objects undergoing phased modulation and metamorphosis as in the interior of a kaleidoscope. It isn’t until after a brief swim that the objects focus into grains of sand. I think of my brother, a lifelong surfer, and begin to sound out intersections of surf culture and psychedelic philosophy. By that I mean more than just The Beach Boys. I mean Rick Griffin and Surfer magazine’s 1978 interview with Timothy Leary. Unfortunately, despite abundant prompting beforehand, I let my fear of bad dining experiences interfere with my ability to heed the recommendations of others. A sign with adjustable letters reminds me, “Fears we don’t face become our limits.” Time to face those fears, I nod. Outgrow them. As always, it means learning again to trust others. Don’t just sit around in a funk watching the sunset from the hotel balcony, I tell myself, rousing myself from circumstance.
I arrive to the beach before the others, grateful for these rare moments of silence. Before long, the beach disappears from sight. A fog rolls in off the water, leaving only the sound of waves cresting and receding. Next thing I know, it’s evening and I’m back at my sister’s place, staring up at seabirds. I imagine there’s more to report: a piece of green ribbon, one end tied to a lamppost, the other end dangling in the wind; small explosions — someone setting off fireworks in another part of town; nephews of mine chasing after an ice cream truck; anger, envy, disappointment, contempt — the bleeding, in other words, of my proletarian heart amid extravagant displays of wealth; plus continued study of hermetic philosophy so as to remain awake through all of this without being ruled and debased by it.
Bodies in motion roll to a stop, set down chairs, lather themselves in lotions and oils, and stare out at an unbroken expanse of ocean. Try as these people might, however, they still can’t leave the city, it being the thing they carry with them everywhere they go. I sit among them, eavesdropping on their conversations, feeling lazy and detached, wishing there was more to life than just getting and begetting.
I wake in the cabin of my brother-in-law’s boat, docked for the weekend at Watch Hill on Fire Island. It’s still early — not yet dawn, in fact — but I can hear birds chirping outdoors, so I climb aboveboard as silently as I can manage, so as not to disturb my companions, all of whom remain asleep below. A wonderful fog has settled over the bay, a saving grace obscuring from sight the many ugly neighboring yachts, flags already hoisted in preparation for the day’s festivities. I perform morning meditation sitting cross-legged on a cushioned bench. Afterwards I walk the short width of the island from bay to ocean and stare out at the Atlantic. Time dilates, water line waxing and waning with the tides. As the day progresses, I lie on my back, eyes closed, and become one with radiant energy.