Sergey Baranov, Contributor
“To fathom hell or soar angelic just take a pinch of psychedelic.” -Humphry Osmond
When we talk about drugs, we have to keep in mind that the word ”drug” is a general term used for a vast variety of substances and plants which has physiological and biological effects on humans. Sugar and coffee, for example, are just a few on the list.
Are all drugs bad? Are all drugs good? Is there a difference between chemicals and plants? Can a truthful education about this matter prevent the negative effects caused by the bad drugs and reveal the benefits of the good ones?
In my previous article: ‘’The Catalysts for Change: Why consciousness expanding plants are feared and deemed illegal?’’, I have proposed an idea of education which is not exactly the type of education we were exposed to in schools. Although some of the things which are taught in schools might be useful later on in life, the absence of truthful drug education in the curriculum can and actually does cause harm, potentially leading to undesirable consequences. I wish I would have had this kind of education during my youth. It sure would have spared a lot of problems for me, my parents and countless other people I knew, some of whom didn’t live long enough to know better.
Is the fear instilled on us by the government slogans: ‘’Say No to Drugs’’, effective? Does this prevent the people from having their lives ruined by the dangerous street drugs, not knowing the difference nor the alternatives?
Is it not the time to have a honest talk?
How about we start from the worse and talk about heroin and cocaine which are found in abundance on the streets of every city. What do we actually know about these substances?
Well, neither heroin nor cocaine in the form which is available on the streets is natural; both are processed chemicals.
Let’s talk about heroin first. Heroin is a street name for a synthesized morphine which is naturally occurring alkaloid in the opium poppy. Morphine is a classic example for abused medicine. Morphine is a powerful analgesic which should be only used for medical purposes. Does the abuse of morphine means that the opium poppy is bad? Of course not. The poppy grows for a reason and has a specific purpose.
Is heroin bad? Yes, if abused. If not, it’s an analgesic medicine.
What is cocaine? Well, what you buy on the street as cocaine is not really cocaine. Cocaine is one of 14 alkaloids found in the coca leafs which we call Sacred in the Andes. On every shamanic altar you will find coca leafs which are prayed with and made as an offering. Coca is truly a gift from Mother Nature. It gives you the strength and stamina when needed, fights fatigue and suppresses thirst and hunger. Make you work or walk all day in the mountains without food, water or getting tired. This is how people survive in the Andes. Fernando Cabieses Molina, respected Peruvian neurosurgeon and educator, founder of Peru’s National Institute of Traditional Medicine, world-renowned authority and longtime defender of native use of herbal medicines including coca, has studied the chemical properties of coca leaf and cocaine for 40 years. He argues that the coca leaf, when chewed in quantity, relieves hunger, thirst and fatigue. His conclusion was certain: chewing coca leafs does not produce the euphoria, anxiety, depression or addiction that is experienced by cocaine users. He further explains that extraction of one alkaloid results in a qualitatively different substance, which like the distinctive methods by which it is introduced into the body, produces different physiological consequences. It is, as he says, “…as if instead of smoking or chewing tobacco, we refined and injected it…”
I do agree and can support the doctor’s views with my own humble experience. Chewing coca is not addictive. It is impossible to get addicted to the leaf. I have been chewing and drinking coca for six consecutive years, and in big quantities when needed. Then, when I don’t need it, I don’t use it.
You are being served coca tea in every restaurant and hotel while being in Cusco or the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru. This is the way of the Andes.
But is the same coca that reaches you? No! What’s reaching you is one extracted alkaloid which then gets mixed with methamphetamines (synthetic drugs) to increase its weigh and thus the profit to the manufacturer. And this is where the problem starts. The synthetic additives are causing the addiction and consequently psychosis.
Is cocaine bad? Yes but not the Coca. Coca is stimulating, highly nutritive, longevity medicine.
It contains proteins, vitamins and high concentration of calcium. Coca is pure medicine when respected and used in traditional way.
It’s how we use the plant that matters.
Let’s say that you left the fire on in the chimney on the way out from your house. Then when you have returned, you found your house burnt to the ground. Is the fire bad? But is it not the same fire that keeps you warm and helps you cook your food?
When you hear about violent crimes when firearm is used, do you blame the guns or the people using them?
Is it not the same gun that can protect your family from home invasion, robbery, rape or murder?
It’s how we use the tools that matters.
When we dealing with any tools and forms of energy, we need to remember that they are morally transparent and it is our intention that gives them the color. A responsible and knowledgeable use of medicinal plants and psychedelics can be beneficial just as the mindless use of legal substances can be destructive.
Before we proceed to the other category of plants, let us remind ourselves that the two plants above are related to sedatives and stimulants, not to psychedelics or consciousness expanding plants, which are completely different story.
Psychedelic simply means: mind manifesting, a term first sculpted out from the clay of words by doctor Hampry Osmand while preparing for the psychiatric conference in 1956. He was the same doctor who has administrated mescaline, a naturally occurring alkaloid in San Pedro and Peyote cactus, to Aldous Huxley who wrote about his experience in his epic book, “the Doors of Perception’’, which took off like a wild fire, sparkling both delight and critique. Although being aware of the book, for the first time I’ve read it when I already have had 10 years of experience and roughly 700 mescaline journeys, always done in shamanic setting, and was rather looking for faults in Huxley’s writing. Found none, however, I was rather humbled by such a brilliant account of his. He has definitely seen the essence and touched the heart of the mystical experience, to which mescaline served as the key unlocking the forbidden doors of perception.
We should look at psychedelics as powerful tools for studying the inner world of man, just as the telescope is used as an instrument to study stars. That which is seen and learned through the telescope will remain unknown for the man who looks at the stars with the naked eye. And just as the telescope is helping to focus the light emitted from the darker corners of the cosmos, thus making it seen, in similar manner psychedelics are helping us to focus the attention on our consciousness, magnifying it to a comprehensible size.
But what is a psychedelic experience?
Well, for certain, it is not contained in the words describing it. It is in fact a wordless, internal and intimate encounter with the Other, which has many faces. Some of these astonishing, others are bearing teaching. When we refer to the mescaline experience in particular, the closest word to describe an indescribable experience would be: ‘’beatific vision’’, as it has been rightly noted earlier by mystics. We can write poetry about it and still be far from the experience itself. Words are only symbols, a finger pointing to the moon, not the moon themselves. ‘’Words are utter but fail to enlighten’’- as Aldous Huxley has precisely said.
Through mescaline, one gains admission to the real world, escaping limitations of the linguistic prison, which although is rich with a tapestry of words and concepts, is still a prison.
The validation of this experience is a personal quest and a solitary journey, even when taken together with others. It’s like life and death; we are born and die alone. Same with the psychedelic journey. A mescaline experience is capable of opening the inner vision, revealing the unseen. It is a key with which you can unlock the mental shackles and set your mind free. It is the fuel we need to reach the stars without taking off the ground.
But a psychedelic experience cannot be viewed and studied only scientifically as merely a chemical reaction in the brain. In addition to this kind of study, the scientists who are on the case must have the experience themselves. How can one otherwise learn about the water without ever getting wet? This whole phenomenon belongs to another order, another realm of consciousness which undeniably exists although cannot to be measured or captured on the screen. It belongs to metaphysics, which is a fundamental part of a human existence.
As I have myself been interested in the eastern spiritual paths long before I met shamanic plants, divine cactus of Peru and Mexico in particular, I could deeply relate to Huxley’s search and feel his passion for the direct spiritual experience of an objective reality. The stupendous beauty of the world engulfed with life and meaning, which is always present behind the veil of an ordinary perception of reality, which can be gently lifted by the grace of the mescaline cacti, is that very same place which has been known for ages by the Sufis, sages and mystics of the East.
Born an atheist in the Soviet Union in a Jewish family, I was looking for God all my life, trying to prove that God does not exist. But only after having my psychedelic experiences on mescaline, I began to understand that I was looking for God in the wrong places. The God I found was not living in the buildings. Nor present in the books.
During the years, I was pondering the questions such as: was the psychedelic experience real? Was it subjective? Was it a shortcut to Enlightenment? Was it beneficial to me and our species?
I wanted to find my own answers to my questions, knowing that I cannot take opinions of other people for an answer. Those, to me, would be merely words.
So here, I would like to share some of my answers to myself which perhaps you will find useful to you as well. My view is an ordinary view of non-ordinary reality which under certain conditions is accessible to all.
Is the psychedelic experience real?
Well, that depends on what we think as being real. If we think that real is something we can touch with our hands, then the answer is NO. But if real means something which can be observed and repeatedly experienced, then the answer is YES.
Is this experience subjective?
Yes. Any type of experience can only be subjective since any experience requires a subject to be experienced. Thus objective reality can be only experienced subjectively.
Is this a shortcut to Enlightenment?
This question would first demand a definition of Enlightenment. If enlightenment means something different that the act of bringing the light into our own ignorance about ourselves and the world we are living in, while making us aware of our own embodied consciousness which was lucky enough to experience life thought the human body, which together with the galactic mass rotates in the limitless space on a tiny but beautiful cosmic oasis we call Earth, while realizing the miracle of life made of cosmic dust, which in fact is an illusion that irrefutably exists, then I would not know the answer. But if enlightenment means that expanded and all inclusive consciousness which can recognize itself in all other life forms, while remaining a sovereign point of perception of the infinite reality of which it is also a part, then the answer is YES. But would this ‘’shortcut’’ not be welcomed if it allows a man to live a normal life as human being, a life of joy and love, while exploring his own consciousness and finding God in the atom? Would the fast-track not be welcomed as opposed to the tedious work and a lifelong, self-restraining path prescribed to eastern adepts?
I am mortal; I want it now and I want it all.
Said that, however, I do not mean to put down the ancient eastern paths which indeed are valid. In fact, Huxley’s study and involvement in Vedanta for over 20 years has allowed him to recognize the essence of the mescaline experience, transfiguring a psychedelic journey into a spiritual one. This psychedelic spirituality or as we also call it an evolutionary shamanism simply means the use of the energy of the psychoactive plants to ponder the nature of reality and ourselves in it, as oppose to the traditional shamanism which mainly deals with healing.
There is still an open debate about whether or not a glimpse of awakening guided by psychedelics substances and plants is valid and equal to the eastern paths of mysticism. Here, perhaps we can answer this question with another question: does the way to knowledge matter more than the knowledge itself? Is the method paramount to results? If both can lead to the same levels of being and understanding, then what would be the difference and what are the indications of one being inferior or superior to the other?
Both ways are valid and can be complementary. Both must be experienced.
It is important to note that a millennium long rich spiritual tradition of India, which is active to this day, has created a certain egregor of enlightenment which serves as a fertilizer for its own kind. Deeply embedded in the culture, its influence still gives birth to a sporadic awakening in people of this land. For us, westerners, who have been disconnected from our spiritual roots, first by religion and later by science (or shall we say scientism, for science has become dogmatic), and whose perception of reality has been conditioned and narrowed down to the world of superstition and physical appearances, incapable of seeing beyond either – another type of help is needed, that which is capable of catapulting us into the realm of consciousness where saints feel at home.
Is psychedelic experience beneficial?
Well, that would depend on the person. There is no cure for stupidity. But generally speaking, a responsible use of psychedelics can be quite beneficial not only to the person who is experiencing but for his family, his surrounding and ultimately to the world we live in. It can be liken to the alchemical process during which the impurities in man are burnt, while purifying him into a better person.
If the experience is able to have an impact on our behavior patterns, while helping us stop being destructive to ourselves and others, if it can trigger both physiological and psychological healing, helping a person to get rid of alcohol and drug addictions while in itself remaining non-addictive remedy, if it has the capacity to open artistic abilities which otherwise would remain in the latent form, and make one think, thus contributing to cultivation of peace, love and consciousness within oneself and surrounding, then what would be the answer?
Said that, however, it is also important to mention that no psychedelic substances or plants should be taken lightly. It is a serious undertaking for mature and responsible people who are looking for healing, understanding and expansion of their perception of reality, and willing to engage with life, instead escaping it.
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