MY FIRST AND OVERWHELMING PSYCHEDELIC EXPERIENCE
In February of 1963, then 26 years old, I was a student of philosophy and social sciences at the University of Oslo. Though I found the subject of psychology mostly irrelevant to understanding people, myself or anything much like the living psyche as it seemed to be to me, I had become interested in mental illness and schizophrenia from a wider viewpoint than psychiatry adopted. My mother was still working at a progressive mental hospital, where I had also lived in and worked briefly. I had also worked day and night during my first months in Norway looking after some very disturbed youth at a treatment home. Besides this, much of the literature on the domain of consciousness interested me, from Jean-Paul Sartre's phenomenology to to Aldous Huxley's mescaline experiences. Questions concerning mental abberrations, whether wild and extraordinary ideas and theories or conditions of 'split-mindedness', occupied me and fellow students. Did the nature of sanity consist in being just a 'normal or well-adjusted' member of current society, or was this not something of a straightjacket in itself. I had already experimented in Paris with cannabis in the hope of freeing up my imagination and musical spontaneity and had introduced it to an unusual psychiatrist who my friends and I used to visit for parties and discussions. When I heard that the health authorities themselves had sent large samples of an extraordinary substance very similar to mescaline to him urging experimentation, I was interested to try it. A close friend – also working in child and adult therapy - Eric Steadman, had already taken a dose of it and recommended us taking some together. One bright Feburary morning, after 18 hours of fasting, we both took some blue capsules of Sandoz LSD.
In wishing to write mostly from direct experience rather than theory or guesswork – and in trying to eliminate fanciful interpretations of what happened - I write as truthful an account as I can of what befell me in 1963. Decidedly the most intense experience of my life hitherto, it came without warning and without preparation on my part. Its outward circumstances and all the attendant questions it raises are to be held as distinct the experience itself as possible. The main motivations for taking LSD-25 were seeking illumination – for example that we may learn what Aldous Huxley was really writing about in his book ‘The Doors of Perception’ and – naive as it may seem now - to see if it the medical experts were right in that could help us understand conditions like schizophrenic psychosis! We were also interested in the claims around Zen Buddhism at that time.
Despite the preliminary reading and my previous trials with weaker psycho-active agents, I was really quite unprepared for the earth-shaking scale of the inner upheaval that came. I had not even imagined that psychosis, which LSD has been said to simulate, could be anything like as disastrous as what overtook me during the first hour or so of 'hell'. Nothing in my previous life was even remotely as intensely beautiful and awe-inspiring as the 'heaven' that superceded it.
It was a brilliant morning in February, as if the light of the sun from the frozen crystal snow was penetrating everywhere, which all seemed very nice and promising. Not for long! The first ominous sign of what was to come was great mental agitation that grew more and more intense. It was as if I were being forced to observe the normally restless or over-active condition of my mind while I was at the same time somehow and most frighteningly dissociated from myself. I appeared to myself from without, from which viewpoint my self-images were seen as illusions, not only my secure and comfortable being, but also the most basic body-feelings were disturbed. At one point in the process that was upon me, I even 'saw' my wrist break and the bones stick through my flesh. Many other unnameable sensations 'came back' to me from before anything my memory clearly knew. My mind became uncontrollable, rushing hither and thither with sickening speed into a vortex of thoughts. It was a disintegration of myself – my mind speeded, torn, 'deranged' - yet 'I' was nonetheless was somehow observing it all. If the state known as schizophrenia was like this then I really pitied the poor sufferers. "God help them!" I said aloud, doubtless really in the desire for such help myself.
My mind and seemed to be left behind me and lost, like cast-off clothing. The regular routes it had worn for itself through the field of experience criss-crossed one another, yet left huge tracts of reality untrammeled and unnoticed. I thought I would be destroyed along with the mind, out of which I was rather actually being driven. That abnormal or supernormal condition of duality, perhaps known as 'split-mindedness', was like being at once both the body-mind entity and the totally unattached witness of it. This was a most intensely unpleasant ‘split-minded’ feeling. It was the sheer impossibility of remaining my normal self, the intolerability of it, that forced me out of it. A genuine case of 'going out of my mind', but – surprisingly - leading to the vast improvement of 'coming to myself' an unruffled and joyous witness of myself. The only significance I could find in myself was my relative insignificance in the face of infinity. Time lost its significance - hours, weeks, months of life experience even seemed to be compressed into minutes. I found that the core of my being was located, oddly enough, centrally in the chest, which felt warm and completely open, a loving free-floating awareness, like being a new-born child, lighter than a ball of fluff flowing trustfully along on whatever stream of events arose and offering no resistance to anything.
What remained of me, then, when all the intricately-layered convolutions of my mind had been torn off and laid aside was an indescribably vibrant and yet inexcitable joy. Where my mind had felt to be bursting, it had dissolved to allow the plenitude of infinity itself to overflow into me where I witnessed and embraced it. For this was more real, more poignantly clear and conscious than anything previously seen, known or felt by me. I could review the 'old' identity, my name and status - with much irony and laughter - as a delusive joke, a mirage that the mind created, which I viewed the mind creating of itself. In trying to hold onto such penetrating insight, however, the mind again would try to fixate the real and devise a new illusion all over again, though in a fresh way.
I was fully aware of my 'normal' surroundings whenever I looked or listened and I could converse with others, yet everything had the mark of permanence. This I can neither explain nor recapture properly. What previously was being wide awake now seemed as uncertain as a dream had then seemed. The marvel of being welled up. The body was an exquisite instrument of feelings, the imagination was unbounded awareness able to penetrate wherever it chose. There were no thoughts as such, nothing was separate or closed off from me.
An acquaintance who was present asked me if I realised what I was saying when I spoke of infinity. Indeed, it was not a mere idea of it but the reality itself I was intuiting. By what means I do not know, yet I could directly perceive from his manner of talk and being that he possessed only an idea of infinity. For him to have the experience itself, I 'saw' in some indisputable intuition, he must somehow cross the deep internal gulf between his mind and the awareness that filled everything and of which I was then an integral part. That it might perhaps be crossed by long and sustained efforts - even though I had been forced across it in a brief period – seemed possible.
Notwithstanding the transparent clarity of everything, nothing lost its value or entrancing meaningfulness, the meaning seemed actually to arise from the great and inexhaustible mysteriousness of everything. I did not properly understand how the mind became stilled so perfectly, in which way 'I' had entered such serene inner silence to allow for all to arise and flow by. Breathing and moving in this element of all-pervading truth it seemed I knew that the truth of it all simply is, it is not a means to anything else, has no special application or use… being beyond all worldly concerns and yet it is also subtly in them. This may well sound like shallow, circular reason now, but it was felt as very meaningful then. To my great fascination I saw the body as a rhythm of perfected movements, an illumined and most intricate dance of itself, whatever 'it' did. That there was always some higher awareness in me - constantly directing and coordinating its every function seemed undeniable.
Not only was all this evident to me, but also to my friend Eric Steadman, with whom I shared in perfect unspoken telepathic awareness from the start of the blissful period. We were capable of silent communication surpassing any other I knew. If we chose to say anything it was just gratuitous, or for other persons' benefit, for it was quite unnecessary for us. Nothing we could say could enhance the unity of mind we already shared. We could jokingly pretend not to hear or understand each other, knowing full well that neither of us could or would conceal anything at all, so natural and total was the sense of trust that had overwhelmed us.
Nothing seemed to matter, in the sense that there was no sense of self or distinction between myself and anyone or anything else that I had to defend or support. This sounds ‘unworldly’ and indeed it was as if there was only spacious mind extnding in all directions and without apparent end. No doubt one could not live and survive long in this way, for the many unavoidable cares of ordinary existence were in complete abeyance. I felt that this was how I had been in early childhood. Eric and I could relate as freely and without preconceptions as children at their innocent play, both to each other and to anyone else who came by. Once the famous words of Jesus came to mind: "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein."
While I had been emerging from the confines of my limited mind I had noticed that the mind was itself a web of ingrained habits of thought and feeling, of response patterns that could be both conscious and subconscious. These were supported by my will, which was closely allied to the mental status quo. Everything was far clearer than I had imagined possible.
"How on earth can we manage to remember all this, Eric?" I said. "It doesn't matter" was his reply. This struck me as being just the very thing we needed to remember; it was the
perfect expression of the attitude that the mind must adopt to everything. I forgot his words in a moment. "What was that you said just now again?" "It doesn't matter", said Eric, making me laugh heartily. "That's it!" I went on: "We must write that down!" "But it doesn't matter," he reminded me. Later we agreed that in one sense nothing can ever matter once the cosmic vision can behold things but that some things matter very much in life which must be lived.
This episode was preserved on a tape recorder that I had switched on. Afterwards, when listening back, I heard myself say: "If one knows absolute truth, there is absolutely nothing one can do with it." Reflecting on what then lay behind those words I interpret them to mean that the ultimate purpose of each thing, object, event, act and so on is its gratuitous being, its intrinsic worth, but not any finite, human purpose we may attach to it. The real meaning of anything is thus not actually expressible, being above and beyond what importance and meanings we find or create in our everyday dealings with it.. Once known, it can never be entirely forgotten or distorted.
Though I had previously read of mystical consciousness in books on Zen Buddhism and similar literature, they had provided me with no real intimation whatever of the actual experience. I could only recognise phenomena that the books had been referring to after the event. The best that words can do is to lead one to the limits of one's own understanding and point from there towards the fathomless. It appeared, however, that everything one could perceive, examine or desire was simply the product of mental activity. Each idea or feeling was a figment floating by on the river of time, a phenomenon illusively appearing to be as such and to be more real than the ceaseless generator itself. The nature of that generator is the great question facing humanity… the answer which can perhaps eventually be known when humanity’s researches have progressed through future millennia.
To see my considered position on LSD 25 and similar substanves, see http://robertpriddy.com/inv/lsd-25.html#LSD
To read of some of my most illumining experiences. see LSD 25 and a vision of cosmic energy
To read my description of my first most transformative experience with LSD 25, see here (I later expressed th experience partly in terms of Indian spirituality - which I now consider to me almost irrelevant.