A crouched cat, rustling leaves, the blinking lights of a distant plane: these I encounter on a chill night as I walk about the earth beneath a large moon. The planet’s surface bathed in its light. I stare up at it in wonder (oh mysterious thing, so lovely!) before returning to the house, baby feeding hungrily at Sarah’s breast. The three of us go on a date: ice cream for mom and dad, while baby sleeps beside us in her car seat. F. wears a hat her aunt knit for her. As she and Sarah quiet and settle down for the evening, I enter the basement and listen to a recording of a guided meditation led by Chuck Pereda & Natalie Szendro, featuring music by Pulse Emitter. Time to practice Yoga Nidra.
Slow, given to loops and routines, I lay down on a couch, as in a therapist’s office, and allow Jesse Fleming and Electric Sound Bath’s Ataraxia Series #1: Heart and Insight Meditations, a tape released last year on Crash Symbols, guide me to a place of self-questioning.
“When did I start behaving like a jerk?” I wonder quietly, as if for the first time. “Ages 5-10?” Cousins, neighbors, video games. “Why was I sometimes cruel to others?” I was bullied. Just in minor, ordinary ways: small attacks, acts of aggression. But certainly with enough frequency to embitter me. To this day, for instance, I find it hard to forgive some kid who, before gym class one day, pegged me in the face with a basketball, unprovoked, without forewarning, breaking my glasses, blackening my eye. But forgive I must, I suppose, if I’m ever to forgive myself. Ages 10-15. Fears about measuring up, fitting what was expected of me because of body type, gender. Ages 15-20. “I was a nice person at times,” I blubber. Fleming’s words unearth points of pain, but he advises well. Under his direction, I allow myself to ask for forgiveness for the harms that I’ve caused, knowingly or unknowingly, through my thoughts, words, and deeds. Thus we advance toward the extinction of suffering.
I wish I could pull it all together, assemble the pieces of an intellectual history of the psychedelic revolution. The history I have in mind extends far beyond the figures and materials covered in recent books like Jesse Jarnow’s Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America. Jarnow’s book uses the Dead as its connective thread, whereas I’m more interested in telling the stories of head culture’s organic intellectuals: those “technicians of the sacred” who attempted to interpret and make sense of psychedelic experience. A bee zooms into view — and alone remains, when all is through, the day’s iconic residue. In the meantime, a glimpse of the moon:
Try to imagine yourself from the perspective of a spider cricket. Like a building, but with a face in place of a penthouse. I need to develop another chance-based, abstraction-generating practice, a compliment to and content conduit for each day’s trance-script. Imagine if I could bring into my classroom a language for speaking about “Kou Kou” and other forms of abstract animation!
I don’t mind mortifying the body with smoke inhalation, so long as it opens doors onto other ways of being. “Most contemplatives,” Huxley writes, “worked systematically to modify their body chemistry, with a view to creating the internal conditions favorable to spiritual insight” (155). I’ve never used Uber, but perhaps I should start doing so — that way I can travel out on solitary adventures while baked. I love to walk, don’t get me wrong; but I’ve about exhausted the radius of walkable space around my home. What is psychedelia’s relationship to blindness? Huxley, for instance, is thought to have been nearly blind for most of his adulthood. “I can hardly see at all,” he told Brazilian journalist João Ubaldo Riberio, “And I don’t give a damn, really.” Recalling details of my life, I’d say I’m a bit like that, too. Capitalist society requires me to “correct” my vision and to do so gladly. If one persists in viewing psychedelically-derived insights as distortions, then so be it; but they’re systematic, trans-historical distortions, leading multiple minds toward the same conclusions: the world as seen when informed by the teachings of plants. And sometimes we zombie-subjects want to be led. Encountering a reference to Francis Thompson’s short film NY, NY (1957) in Huxley’s Heaven and Hell, for instance, I go ahead and watch it.