I wrote this a few months ago and I’ve hesitated in putting it up here. It’s a paradox in doing so in that I’m usually a very private person but I have a strong desire to express what’s inside. It’s a post that’s very much unrelated to my artistic life (though it may well have influenced me subconsciously in that regard) but I’m posting it here anyway, I guess, for the simple desire of expression and an exploration of my thoughts. And anyway, I like writing 🙂
I’d say it was 1986, so that would make me 15 at the time. It was a beautiful Spring morning and, as I left the back gate at home to walk the short distance to the corner shop for the newspaper, I was feeling good, just as anyone may on a fine, bright Sunday morning: Sunday was a no-school day, so that was always a bonus! Minutes later, newspaper under my arm as I wandered back up the little lane to home, I had an experience that altered the course of my life forever. Not a sound accompanied the experience for it didn’t occur in the world of my five senses; it was an internal thing, a quiet detonation inside that blew apart in the gentlest of manners any barriers I may have had against what lay beyond the physical world I lived in. It was, I guess you could call, as many have before and since, a ‘mystical experience’. It appears that other people’s experience like this can vary in depth and length – mine lasted at most a minute, though its strongest effects lasted for years, its tremors still affecting me to this day.
One thing it seems that is congruent with such experiences is the ineffability of them and how words used to describe them become as snowflakes nearing the flames of a fire: they melt and fade, barely touching the heart of what you are aiming for.
The following quote from A Glastonbury Romance, a novel by John Cowper Powys, serves to help illustrate that moment and, upon reading it a few years after my experience, it always stuck in my head as I correlated it to that day.
“At the striking of noon on a certain fifth of march, there occurred within a causal radius of Brandon railway-station and yet beyond the deepest pools of emptiness between the utter-most stellar systems one of those infinitesimal ripples in the creative silence of the First Cause which always occur when an exceptional stir of heightened consciousness agitates any living organism in this astronomical universe. Something passed at that moment, a wave, a motion, a vibration, too tenuous to be called magnetic, too subliminal to be called spiritual, between the soul of a particular human being who was emerging from a third-class carriage of the twelve-nineteen train from London and the divine-diabolic soul of the First Cause of all life.”
So, with that in mind, I’ll do my best to describe my experience.
The first and best word that comes to mind is ‘connection’. I remember looking down at the grass at the side of the lane; I remember looking up at the blue sky and the few clouds that lazily drifted through it; I remember the bird song. I felt a connection to all those things, a connection to everything, as if I were a part of it all and not, as I came to feel years later and as most people do in their daily lives, it seems, apart from it all. There was a quiet joy and a simple happiness that went with it that nothing in this material world, at least that I’ve found, can offer.
Of course, my 15 year old self didn’t intellectualise the experience in any such way. I just remember how wonderful it was and that I wanted it to last forever. So it set me on a course then that was fuelled by a desire to deepen and expand on that feeling of connection, a course that led to a number of different practices and exercises that included the likes of meditation, yoga and even ceremonial magic, the latter of which was only briefly dabbled in. But, whether those things helped or not, my experience did deepen. It was like an enriching of the quality of life, a kind of magic that threaded through everything so that the world and my experience of it, was enchanted. There was meaning in even in the smallest of things.
If I could find one word that described that magical quality it would simply be ‘love’, a word in todays world we’re happy to laud and demean at the same time. But that demeaning only really shows the depth of our own ego’s resistance to love in a world that sees it as an awkward and uncomfortable truth: it’s the ‘L’ word. Yet I believe it’s a given that it’s what each and every single one of us wants more than anything else, even if we think we want something else, no matter how mis-guided our actions. Mis-aligned as it is, love really does change everything. I can say that from experience. I can also say from experience just how much it breaks your heart to lose that connection, that love that’s the bedrock on which all our lives are played out, the truth of which we’re usually oblivious to. For me, it happened fairly quickly, mid-way through 1996. It was like night coming down after the most beautiful of days or the fading of Autumn into Winter. And why? It’s a question I’ve struggled with ever since and I can’t but help think of the protagonists conversation with the demon Mephistopheles in Christopher Marlowe’s ‘The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus’:
Faust. Was not that Lucifer an angel once?
Meph. Yes, Faustus, and most dearly lov’d of God.
Faust. How comes it then that he is Prince of devils?
Meph. O, by aspiring pride and insolence;
For which God threw him from the face of Heaven.
Faust. And what are you that you live with Lucifer?
Meph. Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer,
Conspir’d against our God with Lucifer,
And are for ever damn’d with Lucifer.
Faust. Where are you damn’d?
Meph. In hell.
Faust. How comes it then that thou art out of hell?
Meph. Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?
Obviously, I’m not where Mephistopheles is, but hopefully you get the idea. In the above play, the fall of the biblical angels was down to pride and insolence, but with me? After a long time (20 years or so), it’s possible I’m finding an answer, an answer as to why it left me and to why it even began in the first place. In short, LSD. It’s an idea that’s been forming over the years, hearing stories of people’s mystical experiences occasioned by the use of psychedelics, including natures own version psilocybin (LSD is synthetic).
How close I’d taken LSD to that Spring morning in 1986 I’m not sure, though I’m pretty certain I’d had probably 2 on different occasions before then, definitely one. I know I was in high school when I had my first, a liquid, phosphorescent night full of strange visionary hallucinations; a night of wonder and laughter and (dare I say) great fun! The second I had was much the same, though I remember little about it – it’s possible the memories of both have bled together. There was no ‘mystical experience’ in either, though. I just wonder if maybe the LSD opened certain ‘doors’ and, like a faucet slowly turned, the universe seeped into my consciousness until it basically just overflowed into my normal waking state. And maybe the loss I experienced years later was simply the effects naturally wearing off. Possibly the effects would’ve worn off sooner if I hadn’t done one or two more LSD trips around my early 20’s. I really don’t know.
My only use of ‘magic mushrooms’ was around my 25th year which wasn’t the best of experiences – I was paranoid and was glad it was over and I haven’t touched psychedelics since, though my use of ayahuasca in 2017 was probably in a similar ball park. Did that last ‘bad’ mushroom trip actually help turn off the faucet that had opened me up in the first place? Again, I’ve no idea. What is certain is that I ‘disconnected’ not too long after and I’ve pined ever since.
My happiness levels back in those days, to put in it some kind of percentage, would be at least 95%. Afterwards, 5% maybe? It really is that marked a difference.
A brilliant episode of Mysterious Universe (MU19.20 – free download link (right-click on ‘Download’ and then ‘Save Link As’ to save to computer) – https://mysteriousuniverse.org/2018/05/19-20-mu-podcast/) has once again had me thinking about psychedelics and my ‘mystical experience’ and prompted me to buy ‘How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics’ a so far excellent book, charting the rise and fall and rise again of psychedelic research. Whatever the reasons for this researches fall in the 60’s and LSD’s subsequent classification as a Class A drug alongside heroin and cocaine (unusual as LSD is not actually addictive), it’s rise again has been mainly due to the startlingly high success rate of their efficacy in treating addiction, depression and anxiety, particularly for those suffering from what’s termed ‘existential distress’, the deep anxiety that can be felt for those facing death from terminal disease.
Something you regularly hear from people’s experiences is a kind of ‘falling away’ of this material world, almost like it’s an illusion (which I believe it is, but that would be another blog post in itself) and that beyond it all is simply love. These people who describe their experiences know how commonplace and trite such a claim sounds but that’s what they feel to be the truth. Let’s hope we never have to be stripped to a literal bare-naked existence as Viktor Frankl was during his time in the concentration camps of World War 2 before we have such a realisation and which he relates in his 1946 book Man’s Search For Meaning:
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honourable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.””
In my head, there’s this idea rattling around that LSD affects the pineal gland in the brain which, in a number of mystical traditions, is associated with the ‘third eye’, an esoteric concept that purportedly allows for sight beyond the material world to inner realms and higher consciousness. I think of it as the interface between our physical, five-sense world and and the world beyond that we don’t generally see. I can’t help but think of the title of Aldous Huxley’s book ‘The Doors of Perception’ which, interestingly enough, is taken from a 1973 poem by William Blake called ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’.
As I said earlier, these experiences are coupled with ineffability. Trying to pluck out the right words and ideas to convey the indescribable is hard and I’m not sure I’m up to the task, but all you can do is do your best. At the least, I hope it’s something to think about 🙂
I’m outta here,