Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Doors of Perception

“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.” -William Blake

Since running for President is off my Bucket List, I can freely confess that I took LSD some 5 or 6 times in college. Each time was memorable and I did get the feeling of “the doors of perception” being opened and a world behind the everyday world briefly revealed. I remember a few times feeling like I was gifted insight into the true meaning of all of existence and hastily grabbed a pen to write it down. The next day I would read it and exclaim, “Huh?” If I could read it at all, it would often say something like “The pancake flies south between the vultures.”


One thing became clear. Whatever momentary insight I might have had, no matter what revelation of the true nature of the universe appeared, it didn’t stick. The next day, I was back to ordinary mind and perhaps even less so, exhausted by the previous night’s adventure. Enlightenment may be real, but it wasn’t going to come by popping a pill.


Soon after my last LSD trip in 1973, I went to my first Zen meditation retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center with Joshu Sasaki Roshi. Now instead of a simple swallow of a papered tab, I was sitting with painful legs crossed and back straight for some twelve hours a day for seven days straight. When I wasn’t sitting meditating, I was chanting, listening to an impossible-to-comprehend lecture, walking in meditation, eating in silence (indeed, the whole seven days was in silence). There were three short “free time” rest periods, a short work period and we went to sleep at 11pm and awoke at 3 am. A little bit more effort, to say the least!! 


But whatever insights came, however wide the doors of perception opened ( and I can testify that they were often very wide indeed), they were wholly mine. Not chemically induced, not a flash of lightning to illuminate things and then disappear, but a steady growing light, not to be bought or sold, earned through my own efforts. With one hilarious exception involving a Colorado gummy bear at a family reunion (courtesy of my daughter’s invitation), I haven’t smoked marijuana or taken LSD in the past 48 years. I do drink a half-bottle of beer a day (which I then cork up to finish the next day), but weirdly, I have never been flat-out drunk in my entire life. This is no high-and-mighty boast from some place of purity, simply the facts.


But the punch line is that an outwardly induced chemical change (ie drugs, drink, hallucinogenics) may entertain us, may open up worlds, may close down worlds, may help us soldier through hard times, but any lasting insights and expansions of consciousness come through our own efforts, be it meditation, a walk in the woods, a wrestling match with artistic expression. We can open a door of perception through the simple act of conscious breathing, through reading, through listening to great music or viewing great art. We can keep in open through a discipline of attention, get out of our narrow cavern of limited perception through conscious awareness and a seeker’s mind. 


Why am I writing about this today? Because another place that reveals things to us is our nightly dream life. Last night, I had a lucid dream about an Orff teacher inviting kids to express themselves any way they wanted through movement and at the end of the kids jumping around and screaming in fairly random ways, she said, “Fine. But how much longer do you want to live in this world you just created?” In my dream, I thought this was the most profound insight and awoke in the middle of the night and jotted it down for today’s blogpost entry. And then looked at it again this morning and thought, “Huh?” A little more coherent than the flying pancake. But not necessarily blog-worthy.


So instead I confessed my life in drugs. And now, a breakfast of pancakes. I’ll keep an eye out for the vultures.


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