Meditation, Psychedelics, and the Hall of Maya (Part 1)
Meditation and psychedelics are the most powerful tools I know for busting out of ignorance. Both have a unique ability to dissolve boundaries and open up our perspective on ourselves and the world. Both offer hope to people trapped in fear, depression, or self-destructive behaviors.
Nobody really knows why meditation and psychedelics work so well. There’s a lot of research and speculation about their effects in the human nervous system. I’m not qualified to have an opinion on those issues, but I can report on the subjective effects which, to me, feel very similar.
My experience of both was like a reprieve from a prison sentence. It felt like I’d been stuck in a small box forever until somebody opened the door and I stood up and stretched and walked out into the daylight. It was a powerful experience of liberation followed by a lasting sense of freedom.
Like a lot of other people, I’m extremely grateful for the help I’ve received over the years from these uniquely valuable tools. I think I’m pretty well acquainted with their benefits by now, but I’m also getting a sense of their limitations. In some cases, the limitations may be a consequence of the benefits.
Both meditation and psychedelics shine a light in the darkness. The light is indiscriminate, however. It shines on all things good and bad, on eternal truths and shiny baubles.
I wish that there was some innate wisdom in human nature or meditation or psychedelics that would have us choose eternal truths over shiny baubles, but it just isn’t so. If you spend any time in spiritual communities you’ll meet plenty of individuals—intelligent, compassionate, enlightened folks—who insist they can read minds or travel to Alpha Centauri or live forever because of quantum mechanics.
I try to speak up for reason when engaging my brothers and sisters on the spiritual path, but I haven’t changed many minds and I don’t expect to. However, I don’t think our paradoxical beliefs have to end at an impasse. I sense an opportunity to work together for our mutual benefit.
I think we can all agree that spiritual practices—including meditation and psychedelics along with plenty of others—open up new areas of the mind. When I learned to meditate forty years ago I was amazed by the new insights and experiences that bubbled up from the depths. I took it all pretty much at face value. For instance, I had an experience of controlling a traffic light with my thoughts. It was unusual, sure, but I believed it because it was one of my own experiences, qualitatively not much different from putting on my shoes or eating a peanut butter sandwich.
I understand now that experience isn’t neutral. It has an agenda. It comes out of a mind programmed by thousands of years of human evolution for survival and not truth. Our minds show us whatever will keep us alive and help us procreate, truth be damned. We see illusory patterns in random events and hear phantom tigers in the dark and it all seems as real as our minds can make it.
Our inner environment is booby trapped. All humans live with this danger, but spiritual people take extra risks. The deeper they travel through the inner realms, the more likely they are to set off a landmine. The techniques that free us from bondage to illusions can also create new illusions. Round and round.
But now we know. We understand that meditation and psychedelics shine a light on all things good and bad. We know that the choice is up to us, and we can remind each other to choose wisely.
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