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  The Man Who Turned on the World

    Michael Hollingshead

        9.   'A Gram is Worth More Than a Damn'


1968

'Turn on to acid, man,
Get into the channels of your mind
Go see what there is to find—
No one knows the human mind...

There are doors as yet unopened
So much to see,
Drop some acid, man,
Go see what you can find.

I never saw life as I know it, man,
It was all in my mind.
Things have become much clearer
Now that I've opened up my mind.

Before all this, life was such a drag;
Working on Chrysler's pressure line
Just to pay for a shag.
Working on the track
Just to score some bread
So I and the wife and kids
Could be fed and comfy
In our suburban shack.

But all that's gone now
Since I've seen life for the first time
Through the channels of my mind.
Acid was the key, it turned me on
And helped me to find
The right channels in my mind.'

(Anonymous—Found in a book in cell-block beneath Bristol Central Prison)

 


    Returning to America after an absence of nearly four years was much more than a sentimental journey, much more than just filling in time; I was a man trying to maintain his soul alive. Keep the candle flame ablaze.... When all was growing dark. It was the wriggling to avoid death, essentially a poetic thing, undertaken without either rationality or reason. I wanted to probe something solid to live by. And travel was an available means to see, look, find—'la vraie vie'.
    My internal space had changed since Millbrook and our first brief experiment in 'transpersonative living', when acid was the lance with which to ride after the Grail. There was now (1968) little good acid around, and what there was—the so-called 'street acid'—came mainly from California. There was something wrong with the synthesis; it was not pure. And you were never sure what it was exactly that you were taking, so I only dropped it on those rare occasions when someone gave me either 'Sandoz acid' or 'crystal acid'. I think the problem for the underground chemists manufacturing clandestine acid was shortage of ergot, without which the synthesis of d-LSD-25 is impossible. Until 1965, supplies of ergot could be bought with little or no difficulty from three or four European chemical companies; but pressure from Washington put a stop to this, doubtlessly hopeful that this would lead to an end of clandestine LSD. In one sense the Federal authorities were right. The underground ceased turning out d-LSD-25; instead, they discovered a wholly synthetic substance, akin to d-LSD-25 in so far as it produced marked change in consciousness. But the new synthetic acid lacked, in my opinion, that invisible non-pharmacological factor—the magical, spiritual component that was really what acid was all about. Sure, the new stuff 'worked' in the sense that any mind-altering chemical 'works' to produce subjective effects within the body, but it didn't seem to produce in those who used it any particularly noticeable elevation of either head or heart; at least, that was the conclusion I had reached in London. But it was—and probably still is—an unpopular view amongst the 'cognoscenti', who claim that some of the street acid is capable of producing positive subjective effects of a 'long-lasting nature', though they readily admit that a lot of the stuff sold as 'pure acid' is actually methylamphetamine (a concentrated form of amphetamine, first developed by the U.S. Army) or a stripped-down ergotamine compound by modern molecular chemistry.
    My evaluation had nothing to do with the notion that a wholly synthetic drug produced a wholly synthetic experience—the intellectual response—but was based on direct, first hand experience (about thirty trips with street acid in all). And in each session I felt there was something it lacked—it was too 'electric', too 'speedy' and too 'mind-shattering'. The earlier clarity of 'insight' which I had obtained via the Sandoz acid was replaced by confusion, brokenness, words and worlds thrown into absolute dismemberment or even, absolute chaos, though, I must add, often coupled with a feeling that I can only describe as 'sublime inflation', a superabundance of emotive energy; but it could not signify; more a passionate flame and less the life-giving sun, as it were. I have read that d-LSD-25 is a semi-synthetic substance, of which ergot is the organic, i.e. 'living' part. And to say that the 'spiritual' component is contained within the ergot molecules must sound like a superstition to some, but what I intend here is to suggest that 'pure' acid has 'metapolitical' implications—there is a hidden truth or statement in each acid session which is unaccountably missing in most of my experiences using the clandestine stuff, Owsley and 'white-lightning' notwithstanding. There is, it seems to me, a qualitative decline in the subjective acid experience which is something that does not admit of scientific analysis; it is an intuitive thing I'd say. At any rate, I personally observed a voluntary moratorium during this period and would take nothing until I knew the exact chemical synthesis and where it was made and by whom. Besides, there was little or no shortage of good marijuana or hashish, our so-called 'mild psychedelics'.
    A psychedelic is the solvent which dissolves the vigorous stereotypes of egocentric behaviour—it transforms the familiar self without changing a thing; it expands the moment: yet there isn't anything we can count on or accumulate; its value is poetic—it helps ferry us across the abyss and we may thus gain a new amplitude; it is not a 'psychological' experience but a poetic one. It is best of course to undergo such metamorphosis by means of tuning in to nature, though it is only the very rarest of Westerners who can do this; we seem unable to develop our own power of concentration sufficiently to live consciously and continuously in our deepest self. We cannot become more than we are. It may be that we cannot even become what we are—'there is only becoming' e.e. cummings says; for us, then, Being is becoming; yet it remains possibility only, never achievement. It is all a matter of recognition; we must become capable of visualising ideas in order to live at the very heart of our being. It is all so simple that any child could do it (if only we don't try to explain). Or: only a child can do it.

    Cambridge, Mass., is the home of both Harvard College and M.I.T. and stands across from the city of Boston, separated by the River Charles, about thirty minutes by taxi from Logan airport. It was snowing when I reached Gunther's house in Mount Auburn Street; the town was as if deserted by man. The gigantic apartment block on the opposite side of the street towered up from a snowy wasteland, surrounded by a few straggling trees. Every now and again one saw the lights of a car slowly moving along the driveway flanking the river; visibility was soon almost reduced to nil. The lady taxi-driver swore as I paid the fare, wishing she'd stayed in Boston. Then she propositioned me. 'We could get to know each other in the parking lot,' she added, waving to the back seat. 'There's not much else to do on a night like this.' I said I was bushed after the long flight from London but this only seemed to add spice to her game. 'I've only made it with one English guy before, and he was the best ball I've ever had, though a fucking bastard otherwise,' she added. Why not? She was pretty, in her late twenties. 'Okay. Let's get to the parking lot,' I said. 'Crazy! But in case you're kinky or something, you know, want to cut off my tits or anything, Jack-the-Ripper style, I'll blow your brains out with this.' And reaching inside the glove compartment she suddenly produced an enormous revolver. 'Protection, you understand. If you want to live in Boston, baby, you've gotta have a piece. Bam! Get it?' 'Are those things legal here?' I asked, seemingly dumb. 'Legal, regal; the fuzz ain't gonna bust ya for a piece, though they get pretty rough if you kill someone. No, it's protection.' 'But what if everyone carried a gun, then what...?' 'Then you'd be stupid not to, right? Anyway, I was only kidding. It ain't got no bullets in the chamber, maybe just two or three. I use it to scare drunks who get fresh.'
    I was in the right mood when, a couple of hours and several drinks later, I rang Gunther's doorbell. I had called Gunther from the airport but the baby-sitter said he was at the Gurdjieff centre and wouldn't be back much before midnight—(a well-observed ritual vouches for the truly human and therefore natural sequence of human behaviours; if the meeting which a person needs is missed, then the psyche feels cheated, and a sense of loss and remorse or worse is bound to follow. Gunther believed in the ritual attendance of the Gurdjieff meetings; he didn't necessarily believe in Gurdjieff rituals, which, so far as one can understand them at all, seem to depend on the presence of the Master himself, but the weekly thing was important for the harmonious function of his creativity.)
    But Gunther was back, and we greeted each other warmly with hugs and smiles and 'Wow-it's-great-to-see-you' stuff. Yes, it really did feel good to be back; (almost) as though I'd never been away. We spent the first few hours rapping, filling in the blanks, trying to find out what had happened to us both across the random and haphazard years since Harvard and Millbrook. For myself change, unceasing change, as though change was the only constant in my life. And Gunther? He was now teaching at Boston College. 'A bit ironic, really, a Jew teaching at a Jesuit establishment', working as a consultant with a New York media company, 'They sent me to India recently to tape some Indian music for a record', and running the Boston Gurdjieff Centre. 'Man, that cat knew more about human psychology than anyone I've come across before. I really dig his work.'
    I then discovered that quite a number of the old Harvard psychedelic class of 1961-62 now worked for the Harvard Corporation—George Litwin was a professor at the Harvard Business School, Al Alschuler lectured at the Harvard School of Education, Dave Kolb was an instructor at M.I.T. and Huston Smith was still professor of religious philosophy (M.I.T.), Dave Katz was teaching at Boston's Brandeis University, Walter Clark was a professor of the psychology of religion at Tufts University and had helped start the Cambridge Neurobiological and Psychedelic Study Group (together with Clemens E. Benda M.D., and the late Max Rinkel M.D.).
    Obviously, the medicine of hallucination and the wonders of indiscipline had lost their appeal—everybody wanted to forget the 'Harvard Drug Scandal'.
    'It all seems so ordinary now.' Gunther was almost apologetic when he spoke about former times. 'People turn on differently nowadays, you know, sans drugs, sans trips. Not Young-Man-Left-to Old-Man-Right but evolution of sensibility. Today people dig astrology, Meher Baba, the Tarot, the I Ching, Gurdjieff, macrobiotic food, yogas, even plain work.... '
    Sure enough, when I did the telephone rounds the next morning, everyone was into their own 'non-drug' thing. It was as if Tim Leary and the Harvard Psychedelic Project had never existed—Al Cohen hadn't taken acid for over four years and now busied himself as head of the American Meher Baba Group. 'I dropped acid for three years, and it took me three years to transcend acid. Now I don't even think about it. Of Acid, the Avatar had this to say: "It doesn't bring you closer to God, for I am God and I tell you it takes you further away from Me".' Rolf von Eckartsberg, who used to co-edit The Psychedelic Review was a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and was running a 'global village' project in Pittsburg; Paul Lee, also a former co-editor of The Psychedelic Review was teaching humanities and religion at the University of California in Santa Cruz; Stanley Krippner was the director of The Dream Laboratory at the Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn; Frank Barron was a professor at Berkeley and the author of 'Creativity and Psychological Health'; Joe Havens was also still lecturing and writing papers on the theme 'Religion Ponders Science'; and Richard Alpert was in India with his Hindu Guru, Neem Karolli Baba, or simply 'Maharaj-ji' as he is usually called, who told him, propos LSD, 'In a quiet place where it is cool and you are feeling much peace, taken alone, it can bring you into the presence of Christ to do pranams. But you can only stay a few hours and then must leave. Better by far to become Christ. For that, Love is the best medicine, better than LSD. LSD is not the true Samadhi. These medicines were known about in the Kulu Valley, but now that knowledge is lost.'
    It felt almost obscene to mention this three-letter word under the circumstances and I began to wonder whether I had got things cocked or somehow not quite right. I was frequently asked the same question: 'Do you still take acid?' which always contained a definite, if unspoken clause—after what happened in Manhattan's Lower East Side and the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, after reports of people jumping out of windows or staring at the sun until they were blind, can the psychedelic experience still claim to a place in the New Age? Did Leary do for LSD as the liberal-humanist did for stereotaxic surgery (leucotomy), (which is the selective destruction of brain tissue—'Law'n Order surgery') and its claim as a therapeutic adjunct to mental anguish?
    Not a few thinkers have thought so. During the years following the Leary-Alpert firings many attacks against non-prescriptive drug usage have appeared in the mass media. The corruption of the original mystical insights reported in the early (1960-63) literature has led to the corruption of popular opinion, who now view the psychedelic experience as a subject too complex, too weird to be discussed in a rational way. The mystic with the gift of the third eye expected to proclaim the reign of the happily integrated modern soul but instead he had found himself considered something of an oddball, and a resented one at that. Now he sits in solitary exile or behind the bars of the lunatic asylum whilst the village idiot walks Times Square with a gun in each hand.
    'Do you still take acid? Does Leary still proselytise for LSD, trip out for days?' our visitor asks, as one may also be supposed to know about heroin, cocaine, speed, glue-sniffing and nitrous oxide. 'Mass-mysticism is poetry, an open secret—the message is in the seed.' As ancient Zen might have had it—'Take LSD for ten years, become LSD, and then forget about it'.
    The power of Zen—there is nothing to hold on to; the power of the aphorism. In his Frederick William Atherton lecture (Harvard University, 1967), Norman O. Brown reminds us that

'Aphorism is instant dialectic
    the instantaneous flip instead of the elaborate system...
And so perishable
    that it cannot be hoarded by any elite
        or stored in any institution.'
'Aphorism: the word smells of literary self-consciousness the
reality is         brokenness
                    words in absolute dismemberment
                    or even, absolute self-contradiction.'

    Like the historical Oxford Movement the Psychedelic Movement is a Western response to the pathogenic signs of our inner disruption, and is recognised as such by the New Radicals and by a tiny circle of metaphysicians in both the West and the East, just as the revolutionary anarchist movement was a century ago. For LSD is anarchistic, it shatters our complacency, explodes our stereotypes of ideology and dogmas, wakes, shakes, and makes the inner sleeping man from the somnambulist gravity of rectitude or righteousness. It is the madness that revels in the categories of being in which not one member is sober.
    Madness need not necessarily be a cause for gloom—our greatest blessing, says Socrates in the Phaedrus, come to us by way of madness—provided; and the madness comes from God, he adds, someone like the God Dionysus or the spirit Mercurius or Siva, a condition which cannot be programmed, something whose truth lies beyond all power of words. Yet smile at our sad impasse. We cannot simply let ourselves go. 'I am fully aware of this,' Ionesco says, 'teach me how to untie the knots. I know I ought to undo them on my own and that this is a task everyone must carry out for himself, but at least give me a little guidance, so that I can see how the bonds I cannot loosen are tied.' But no help is forthcoming. The only reality is the truth of our own contradictory nature; truth is simply a more efficient form of fiction, Maya like everything else.
    Can anyone teach Ionesco to untie the knots? 'The principal instrument of monopoly and control that prevents expansion of consciousness is the word lines controlling thought, feeling and apparent sensory impressions of the human host,' says Burroughs, but he makes a common error for he fails to distinguish the word from the experience. Another answer: according to Joey Mellen and Bart Huges, is that it is man's rigid cranium that prevents him from expanding his consciousness, not his words...
'When the skull seals the tide of brainbloodvolume is
out on the beach the adult dangles from the gallows—
around his neck a chain of word associations—
suspended on his own sentence
the adult passes judgement on his children—
his children—if they've any sense—pay no attention
but bounce about
on a cushion of intra-cranial pressure
until their skull seals.... '

    Ionesco, the new message is: 'If you want to get ahead get a hole in your head.' Perhaps the advantage is with Tibet where prayer wheels are another way of arriving at the same result—an egoless involvement with the abyss inside the self—any fool can do it: the mechanism is external while the mind if left vacant; and vacancy is not the worst condition of the mind; the go, being non-existent, does not have to store, retrieve, catalogue, analyse or identify. But perhaps the last word can be left to Norman O. Brown, speaking of the place (and need) for the 'transforming spirit of play' and of that great revolutionary intellectual of the twentieth century, James Joyce:
'who reduced all that solemn nonsense to nonsense leading us in the path to which Wittgenstein directed us from disguised nonsense to patent nonsense a transition that is accomplished not by linguistic analysis but by poetry.'

    Leafless trees, the cold, clear air of winter; wide, snow-covered streets on which students wander about, whose physical appearance is different from when I was last here. Odd, really, how quickly the young respond to change. Whilst only seven or eight years ago the style was teeth-and-tweeds, button-down shirts and college ties, the mode of dress now veered on the far side of informality—jeans, denim shirts, cowboy boots and Afghan coats; and beards and long hair were everywhere prevalent. It was as if one psychic atmosphere had spread from California to Italy. Millions of similar people everywhere in the West. And their lifestyle was loose, unstructured; they seemed to roll on like the waves, whose movement is regulated by invisible forces emanating from the moon. They were beings who were in possession of a secret which provided the impetus to their lives; their aims were more inward; they had a feeling for values; they had achieved a certain level of consciousness. Were they not somehow more open than in any age previously, which gave them this new amplitude and a sense of purpose? And if you were to ask them, 'What for the future?' it is to themselves they would point. What folly to believe in a Providence which guides life from the outside! This is the change in itself. Where growth is guided by conscious volition, development of the personality takes place; everyone progresses, marches onward, further and further, and no end is in sight. Here was a new generation for whom time is real before eternity.
    How good for the mental health of modern youth to imbibe a little Eastern wisdom. Everybody who believes in himself, no matter who he is, stands on a higher level than the timorous—yes, the formative power of the Brahmanic and Buddhistic, but also the Islamic East, can help us achieve the ideal of universal brotherhood, whereas the received teachings of the West fail in spite of their ideals. For whatever power the spiritual message has exerted over the minds of men has surely come from the unique degree of involvement which it posits between the divine and the here and now.
    As I wandered the Cambridge streets, I thought of my earlier days of largely harum-scarum activity and what had happened to us all across these random and haphazard years of pilgrimage. And sometimes, when I am in a reflective mood, I wonder if there is a secret connection between spiritual necessity and empirical accident? How is it that this strange drug LSD had such immense consequences, and was discovered seemingly by accident alone? For the revolution in sensibility produced results which the LSD-users did not—and perhaps could not—foresee. But this is true for all revolutionaries—revolutions have to be considered as very complex series of actions initiated in highly particular circumstances and at particular points in time. 'Each age gets the revolution it deserves', is perhaps a truism, yet it is in fact that a small change of empirical circumstances, and the psychedelic revolution would not be the widespread manifestation which it is. It was now possible to see that an acceleration in our brief new renaissance had turned the Leary-Alpert streams into a river and that the whole movement, first of Harvard 1960-61, then of the International Federation for Internal Freedom in 1963-64 and the Castalia Foundation of 1964-67 and the League for Spiritual Discovery of 1966-68, etc., etc., was the result of a series of accidental circumstances in which groups of LSD-users discovered a peculiar disposition in their thought which allowed them to transform a triviality into a profound spiritual belief and allowed them to appreciate individual human existence as the living expression of metaphysical reality, because the psychedelic experience signified the reality and the beauty of the flower of the spirit. And thus the Age of the Flower Children was born out of the individual experience of transcendence, just as, in an earlier age, the Vedic Soma brought the light of consciousness into the world.
    What is the significance of the psychedelic movement? I do not know myself. I have struggled with the problem for years. But the facts are beyond question: the psychedelic renaissance, like all great periods of culture, cannot be explained altogether out of a demonstrable series of causes. If anything, they seem to owe their existence ultimately to a spiritual influx which bears the unmistakeable stamp of divine grace, something given rather than made. And once the source of inspiration has dried up, no effort and no talent is of any avail. Further, since the height of the psychedelic impetus, the insights have declined, in spite of all the psychedelic sessions which have occurred through these years, and today the LSD-user probably possesses less creative taste than any educated non-user, although they are still spiritually the most developed. What does this signify?—I know only that LSD has decorated the world of ideas. In what then lies LSD's unique quality, its appeal for the person who takes it? Perhaps it is the discovery of the existence of shades of inner meaning one would not normally credit with the capacity for signifying so much.
    Let us transpose ever so slightly the elements of visionary knowledge, or change the varieties of the spiritual, or use a different method for gaining deeper insights; or place the individual, as he is, into another setting which is subject to different environmental conditions, such as, for instance, a damp, ill-lit and unheated cave somewhere high in the Himalayas: it would be the revelatory 'mystical' experience no longer. I have seen such non-drug revelatory methods for getting westerners 'high' not fifty miles from Kathmandu: they lack the crystal-like clarity or immediacy of the psychedelic experience. The psychedelic experience makes particularly clear what the nature of individuality really is. It must seem a pity to some that anything could be metaphysically real which is manifestly so dependent upon empirical circumstances, in this instance, upon a psychedelic drug. It illustrates, on the other hand, that the spiritual component in man can only become visible subject to special empiric conditions. It doesn't solve the riddle of man's spiritual nature, nor is it a key to a metaphysics of ecstasy (as some thinkers have claimed); no matter how many causes and relations we establish: the essential escapes us. This says little in favour of those who incline to the belief that the LSD-user may thus far participate of metaphysical reality. But the visionary experience is essentially brief; once achieved and expressed, it becomes subject, like everything else, to the merciless downward pull of gravity and the world of three dimensions, that non-miraculous world of appearances we call either prison or home, which is manifest everywhere around me even now as I type these lines.
    But reality must still count for something, and this is perhaps more true in America (than in any other country I've ever lived in), where prosperity is regarded as normal; he who simply contents himself, i.e. turns himself on, is regarded as feeble. The idea that divine blessedness and prosperity are connected is still effective today: the man who discovers Christ within him will become rich, healthy, an accomplished individual in this lifetime; it is a religious belief that teaches the possibility of uniting one's struggle for the goods of this world with ideal aspirations. The man who is pleasing to God must become rich; the fruits, which hitherto have fallen only to the lot of him who renounces the world, can now be shared by him who affirms it. This is the teaching of 'a religion of democracy'; the materialism of our era is Hallowed in Thy name...

    I am constantly relapsing into didactics, though no teacher I; on the contrary, I discourage any kind of followership, since my capacity for head-work is limited. I am also without the necessary information. So I drift; I am that aimless drifting man who, setting out in the first light of dawn like a ship to sea, never knows when or with what cargo he will return to port; and to invite anyone to follow me on such a reckless enterprise would be akin to negligence, if not actually actionable. One has a few friends, and of course they help sustain one through periods of change or difficulty, but in the final analysis, one must chart one's own drift course through the peculiarities of our modern kind of existence. It is a situation I once discussed with Tim Leary—who confided in me his own strategies as a mentor of modern youth, which again confirmed my belief that he is one of the wisest, most illuminatory beings that the world has ever known.... The main theme of his philosophy, which he has dealt with in his book, The Politics of Ecstasy is the 'seven levels of consciousness—solar, cellular, somatic, sensual, symbolic, stupor (emotions) and sleep', what he calls 'the seven tongues of God'; 'seven dialects of energy, each triggered by the appropriate chemical—LSD, mescaline, hashish, grass, stimulants, booze, narcotics'.
    Leary's message is that we die, creatively speaking, when we cling too fast to the definite, and that beyond the falsifications of egocentric consciousness lies the world of awareness which we must locate, pry out and finally weld to our being and in this way achieve affirmation of God, the world and the other people in it.

'The yoga of drugs is of course a key method. The sexual yoga is also key—access to and control of sexual energy. Nothing can be renounced. All is God. Every energy is divine. All must be understood and controlled for spiritual purposes, including the yoga of power. All energy is available to him who accepts the basic energy formula; all energy is available to him who knows that it must not be grabbed, held, possessed or used for any other purpose except spiritual.' (Private correspondence.)

    It is a beautiful message and one that could become a proper matter of concern for a generation raised on Marx, Dulles, Thieuing gum and Coca-Cola. It is thus not without precedent that Leary, like Socrates before him, should be convicted by his peers of corrupting a nation's youth, for history, like the big wheel in a cosmic funfair, spins slowly towards the final revolution... and mankind has not progressed even one iota. And, most tragic of all, the protoplasm seems happy.

    Seeing how many of the original Harvard Psychedelic Project were working for the Corporation, it was not too difficult to persuade the university to have me back, this time, however, not as a four-hours-a-week instructor to third-year graduate students in psychology but as a trainee librarian at the Harvard University Library. The plan was that I should work as an assistant curator of Scandinavian Aquisitions, attend a two-year course in Library Science at Boston's Sammer's college, and then stay on as a full librarian, with faculty privileges; and perhaps teach one course after this probationary period. The authorities were nervous, perhaps understandably, but in their own way showed a remarkably liberal, open-minded attitude about having me back.
    The first few weeks were spent learning how books were indexed and catalogued and how to find my way around the 'stacks' underneath the main library building, which is an art in itself, for the Harvard Library (second only to the Library of Congress in Washington) had been assembled through the years with stolid incompetence, and I dare say that no one is entirely sure where all the books are. Certainly in my section, the Scandinavian language collections were catalogued in such a manner that it could sometimes take a whole day to locate a particular book, even for an experienced librarian. The reason given for this odd state of affairs was that until quite recently the Curators were usually eccentrics and not infrequently quite possessive about 'their' books, often devising an elaborate personal coding system to stop students borrowing them; that is, unless you asked the Curator himself to locate the particular book for you. But times and people change. A new breed was taking over, as it were; soon only professional librarians would be in charge. No more muddling through. Efficiency was now the touchstone by which a librarian was to be judged. The library did not offer a complete life, as enclosed and dedicated as a monastery, but a career, like any other. Certainly, it helped if you had a taste for books or reading, but the main thing was knowing how to catalogue the stuff. It was even envisaged that, in time, the entire library would be computerised, though plans for this innovation had met with little response from the higher 'invisible' echelons who contemplated such suggestions in the cloistered calm of their private rooms. I was told about one Curator, in charge of Burmese Acquisitions, I think, who had been dead in his private room for nearly two months, and was only discovered when a student, due to some error in his walk, had accidentally opened the door and saw this decomposing figure huddled in a huge leather armchair. The story goes that the student, far from being surprised at the condition of the old man, actually asked him for directions to the Poetry Room.
    The work was interesting enough, however, and I suppose I could have stuck it out through the two-year training period, but something happened to change my direction. Gunther and some other friends had obtained space in a huge loft-like building in Nutting Road near Harvard Square. It was called the 'Cambridge Readeasy'—a sort of free university-cum-workshop in 'Communication, Creativity and Awareness'. And they invited me to run a poetry workshop involving poets and students in the greater Boston area. This was fine as far as I was concerned for it gave a focus to my life and an excuse to meet and hear some of the younger poets, who I encouraged to drop around and take part in the experiment.
    The Readeasy soon became quite popular with the local Underground, who kept us all well-supplied with grass and the occasional pipe of opium. But this was not the reason why I left Cambridge (in fact, it was probably the high quality of the grass that was keeping me there), but the arrival of Leary for a lecture series in Boston, when we met and he invited me to join him in Berkeley. I was a bit hesitant at first, perhaps because I felt more at home on the East Coast, but my curiosity got the better of me, and a few weeks later I resigned from the library and was jetting across America to San Francisco, where Tim picked me up at the airport; and the start of a new adventure.
    California—land of the Brave or land of the Freaks? Tim had no doubts in his mind: 'California is at least one year ahead of the East Coast in Aquarian life-styles, sophistication, and enterprise. Here is where it is all happening.' I said the weather was nice. 'Yeah; warm, sunny and soft, just like a beautiful woman.'
    Soon we were in the city and Tim said he'd give me a tour, starting on Fisherman's Wharf and home of some of the best seafood restaurants in America. From there we drove along Chinatown's Pacific Avenue and Grant Avenue, where the sole business seemed to be food. Chinese variety shops ran like a strip of tinsel through the heart of the city. From there we drove up to Nob Hill, home of the rich and the elegant, where tradition is slow to change and the residents carefully preserve an air of bygone days while sparing no modern convenience. Then back to Market Street where we dropped by a couple of bars before going on to the Haight and a Japanese restaurant for lunch.
    Then in the afternoon we visited Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers, a very impressive personality who was in the middle of his campaign to become the first coloured president of the United States. Basically, the line he presented was something like this: 'When you vote for me you are voting for this finger'. He would then hold up the index finger of his right hand. 'This finger. Because this finger is the finger that presses the button. And, man this finger ain't never going to push any button. Do you trust Nixon's finger anywhere near that red button? I don't. So when you vote, remember, you're voting for the finger that won't push the button', etc., etc. He'd been out campaigning most of the morning and seemed a bit tired when we met him, but he welcomed Tim warmly, like an old friend, joking and fooling, and every now and again telling Tim that the Black Panther Party was really getting it together. A very remarkable man, I thought.
    And on to Menlo Park just south of the city to meet Ken Kesey, who I remembered from the early Harvard days, when he was then known as the author of One Flew the Cuckoo's Nest, a brilliant novel about the goings-on inside a mental hospital. Now he was into his political bag, and had hopes of uniting the various hippie factions in the Bay Area into a coordinated party, something similar to the Panther organisation, but looser, without too many rules. Tim said that he was considering running against Reagan as Governor of California: 'I'd strip the cops of their guns, double their salaries and encourage them to smoke dope. I'd also introduce a "marijuana tax"—like the annual automobile tax, only much higher, say, one thousand bucks a year. And then I'd distribute the revenue amongst the Californian middle-class. In that way, everyone would be happy.' There were immediate and voluble objections from Ken and the others in the apartment, 'Man, one thousand bucks to smoke weed? You'd never get any of the heads to vote for that. Fifty bucks, maybe. But one thousand... man, do you know how much weed you could buy for that? Enough to keep you stoned for months. Better think again "Uncle Tim" if you want to get my vote.'
    An hour or so chewing the breeze, and back to San Francisco again, to a small building across from the Panhandle Park where 'The Messiah' lived with his commune of followers, and the headquarters of 'The Messiah's World Dope Crusade'. There was no reply when we knocked on the door, but it wasn't locked so we walked in. The house was silent. Tim then opened one of the doors leading into a huge living-room where a group of perhaps six beautiful girls were seated in a circle on the floor holding hands. They all seemed to be crying. No one looked up as we entered, and Tim immediately put on a serious expression and quietly joined this tearful circle.
    After a few minutes had passed, Tim asked after The Messiah.
    'He was busted this morning. The fuzz came round and busted him for ten keys (kilograms) of grass. Man, like we needed to raise bread on that for our new macro bakery.'
    'Where is The Messiah now?' Tim gently asked.
    'Down at the Precinct, I guess. They said they'd been watching him for weeks and that this time he'd go down for a long time.'
    'Why didn't he pay them off?'
    ' 'Cos we'd spent all our bread on this new consignment and only had a couple of hundred bucks or so in the house.'
    'Is there anything I can do?'
    'Just pray. That's what we're doing.'

    On the way to Berkeley mention of the raid was made on the FM news. It seemed that The Messiah had told the desk sergeant that unless he was released that afternoon he'd have to take 'drastic action'. He was reported as saying that he'd use his telepathic powers to cause a two-hour traffic jam on the Bay Bridge during the evening traffic rush. He was released on a nominal bail, a few hours later.
    Soon we were in Berkeley and Tim's house in Queen's Road, high in the hills overlooking the campus and the Bay. We made it just before the curfew—the Free Speech Movement was rioting against the Vietnam war. There had been campus revolts every day for a week, and the police had introduced a curfew after nightfall.
    Tim used to refer to his house as 'The Embassy'. There was a constant stream of visitors of all shapes, shades and sizes, each one involved at some level with the revolutionary Underground. And they would make their reports to Tim who'd then comment or make suggestions or give them some LSD. I was thus able to get a picture very quickly of what was happening in California, mainly talk actually, though sometimes you'd meet a veteran of some campus riot or other. I think the only really sensible and coherent person in the area was Jerry Garcia of 'The Grateful Dead'. 'Acid,' he used to say, 'has changed consciousness entirely. The US has changed in the last few years and it's because that whole first psychedelic thing meant "here's this new consciousness, this new freedom, and it's here in yourself".' He was later to develop his thesis in a Melody Maker interview...

'I think we're beginning to develop new capacities just in order to be able to save the world from our trips—you know, pollution, etc.—if for nothing else. Just for survival. The biological news is that in 100 years from now life on earth is finished, so what has to happen is this organism has to adapt real quick and develop new capacities to stem this flow, to maybe head it off somehow. In this scheme of things, politics and all those things belong to the past. They're meaningless, going down the drain.'

    After a couple of months in Berkeley, we moved to Southern California, to a ranch in Idyllwild near the San Bernardino Forest and the headquarters of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a former Los Angeles motor-cycle gang who had taken acid and dropped out of crime and into dope-dealing. And Tim it was who had become their leader/guru/teacher. The ranch was sited a couple of miles along a dirt road off the Palms-to-Pines Highway; the hills at the back overlooked Palm Springs and the desert. It was a beautiful place, and there were some thirty of us living there. Tim lived in a small bungalow with his wife, Rosemary, while I had a room in a smaller building adjacent. The Brothers either lived in the ranch house or in small outbuildings.
    The ranch hadn't been lived in for over a year, so there was a lot of work to be done. For my part, I built a sauna hut, utilising a couple of old stoves for the purpose and insulating the walls with sand. There was room inside for perhaps half a dozen people, and we'd often retire there in the evenings with a couple of cherry pipes filled with hashish, and sweat and smoke until we'd either pass out or freak out in the heat. I also worked the huge caterpillar bulldozer in an attempt to smooth out some of the bumps in the earth road leading to the ranch, but it kept breaking down or, perhaps due to my inexperience with heavy-duty machinery, it would sometimes swivel off the road and into the ditch and it could take all of us a whole day to get it back on the road again.
    The summer passed gloriously, and apart from the occasional police helicopter hovering overhead, we were not troubled much by contact with the outside world. There was also a lot of good acid available, and we would celebrate each Full Moon in the mountains, when the sessions would be run along the lines of the Indian Peyote ceremonies—that is, we'd all be seated in a circle around a blazing fire chanting or shaking an Indian rattle to ward off evil spirits. There would also be drums and guitars, and sometimes one of the Brothers would dance around the fire shouting incoherently as though touched with the 'gift of tongues', though you'd hardly call us Pentecostal. We also tried to communicate with flying-saucers of which many had been reported in the skies above the ranch.

    However, by the Fall, I was again restless, this time for a more solitary refuge, somewhere where I could simply be, and preferably alone. I had met too many people in California, heard too many things, maybe even taken too much acid. Now I wanted out. And it was thus to Tonga in the South Pacific that I went...
    Nine hours after leaving San Francisco, I caught my first glimpse of the tropical islands of the South Pacific as we flew low over Fiji. The richness of the landscape below was overwhelming everywhere. Perfect beauty abounded, in which meaning and expression are one. This peaceful island of lush jungle which blossoms like flowers was surrounded by dark green hills and encircled by a rich blue sea, as still and as peaceful as a lake.
    And then Tonga! This Other Eden of palm trees shooting upwards to the sky, rich, luxuriant, yellow beaches and an exquisitely blue sea lapping against the shores. When I stepped off the plane I was so thrilled that I immediately set off on a long walk, and when I returned, feeling weary, I thought, as I reclined in a comfortable wicker chair on the shaded balcony of my tiny hotel: thou art in paradise. Here should I be; and be free from myself.... And as I looked out across the garden over the tree tops, I saw hordes of monkeys who pursued, in a silent tight-rope dance, their fodder for the evening meal. How delightful it is to be in a world which was finally created on the fifth day! Here nothing has changed, here everything is simple and true. I was beginning to understand why most truly great minds prefer 'nature to human society'. The latter limits, the former liberates.
    How harmonious the landscape in the light of the sunset. The sea reflects the last light of the sky. The screeching of the gulls high above the water and the shrill chirping of the cicadas fills my mind as no music ever could. In the narrow road opposite an old fisherman carries his nets; I can hear him singing to himself, softly, to the rhythm of the breaking waves. He is faithful to himself and to the spirit of nature; I could believe that this solitary wayfarer understands the doctrine of nirvana in the way in which an enlightened saint wishes to have it understood. Here there is no striving, for everything happens of its own accord. One's volition wanes irresistibly. I feel in this hothouse air it is futile to work, to wish, to strive; it is not I who think, but nature thinks in me, it is not I who wish, but something wishes in me. For this native fisherman, Buddha's doctrine of cognition is a matter of course, the result not of self-determination but of his own psychic process developing at one with nature; its truth is something which the most cultured Westerner only very exceptionally perceives. Here thought seems somehow superfluous; here nothingness is the background of semblance; the intellect turns away, as it were, from its possible content; it becomes more and more empty, till at last no thought remains. The mind is as bland and as blank as a bank of snow. Such simplicity of mind signifies a form of existence which proceeds without effort. And everything happens naturally, without conscious effort and without the direction of the will; indeed, in the tropics the will is so small that the wish fails to become father to the thought. Life is thus essentially a mindless involvement with nature, with mediocrity as the purest form of normality. Here it is possible to achieve everything by doing nothing.
    Tonga itself is a collection of perhaps 150 small islands, mostly uninhabited. It is Blessed, for it was dedicated to Heaven at Pouono by King George Tupoul, and there is a strong sense of the religious amongst its peoples, their faith is firmly rooted in the worship of Christ.
    I spent the first week in Nukalofa, the capital, resembling in appearance a sort of shanty town you normally associate with the ghetto districts of Georgia or Alabama—lots of corrugated iron and shed-like dwellings, semi-derelict store fronts and flaked woodwork, but still charming for all that. But I longed for isolation, for I was impatient of humankind and wanted to live in the jungle where the only sounds would be natural ones.
    After consulting a map I decided upon Vava'u, a tiny speck of an island some 150 miles distant from the main island, and a two-day sail by steamer. I telephoned the Governor to ask his permission to stay on the island, explaining that I was a writer and needed the peace and quiet in order to write a book. He was most gracious and hospitable, and even offered to send his Land Rover to pick me up at the pier. Perfect. Now I could unwind; find there my final dwelling place, and forget all the despairs of consequence which had plagued my life in the West. Somehow, incredibly, I had escaped from the concrete jungles of London and New York and San Francisco, and in a tolerably good state. Now I could begin the slow work of salvage, become whole again, maybe even find that peace of head or heart I had sought through all these years of largely accidental activity. I had found an excuse for living. And I intended to plan my own death very, very, carefully, which alone can give the meaning to one's life.
    Vava'u was all that I had anticipated; indeed more, since it manifested itself in the form of the most delicately sensuous natural beauty, especially in the morning, when the sea flows in golden waves towards the rising sun; the whole island seemed to be divinely transfused: one feels inclined, like the pilgrims on the Ganges, to sink down every morning before the beauty of the place in fervent gratitude.
    You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when, on my second morning—I had rented a bamboo and thatched hut a couple of miles from the tiny port on the edge of the bush—I was awakened by the sound of pop music. Nothing could have been more incongruous or unexpected, and I feared at first it was an auditory hallucination. But the noise persisted, and, quickly dressing, I followed the sound into the bush until I came to a small hut. I knocked on the door. No answer. So I knocked again. This time a voice, an American, answered—'Who is it?' 'Friend,' I said. 'Enter, friend.'
    I pushed open the door and inside were three young men dressed in jeans and sweat shirts. The air was redolent of marijuana, and everyone appeared to be pretty stoned. I said I'd heard the music and, curious, had followed the sound. Did they mind if I sat down and joined them? 'Nope.'
    It turned out that they were members of the Peace Corps, of which there were about 120 scattered about the islands, seven of whom were on Vava'u. The Tongalese called them 'voluntary workers'. Some taught English in the schools, some worked as medical assistants for the Medical Department, and some were working as farmers. These three seemed a nice bunch of guys. And the ice was quickly broken when I told them I was writing a book about psychedelics. 'Did you bring any acid with you?' one of them asked. 'I did as a matter of fact—about 100 trips of "sunshine", which is about as pure as you can get. Have any of you taken acid?' None of them had, but each said he'd like to try some. 'How about some grass? Do you have any?' I asked. 'Sure,' one of them said passing me the plastic bag filled with marijuana. 'Roll yourself a joint. It's great weed. We grow it locally. It's dynamite. '
    The effect was excellent, and soon I was as stoned as they were. Jefferson Airplane were playing on the Sony cassette, loud and energetic, playing tight and clean, blowing our minds. You didn't have to listen to it with great concentration. You can just sorta drift with it. Then followed some Grateful Dead—Anthem Of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa; very soulful and communicative, a liturgy of the hip. The music was creating good vibes all around, with everything becoming one music; or rather, everything inside becoming all music, which is what true pop music is all about, the obliteration of thought for sensation.
    One of the Peace Corps guys was really uptight about a recent debate in the Parliament. Apparently, a member of the Tongan Parliament had complained that they were starting their own private businesses by growing small gardens, selling the produce, and feeding chickens so as to sell the eggs. He said they were trying to change Tongan customs.

'Here, let me read you some of what this cat said—"Our women who used to wear a dress, the traditional tupenu and ta'ovala are now clothing themselves in one yard of cloth. Even the huge women use up only one yard, making it so tight that their sharp-shinned legs show and it makes them look thick on the right side and thin on the left." Crazy! Now dig this, "When they are walking in the streets, you can't tell if they are coming or going! This has come from the examples set by the voluntary workers. All the spiritual feelings I experience when I am in the church vanish when these voluntary workers enter the church building with the clothes they wear. Very often I feel like getting up and throwing them out. Therefore I ask the Premier that if a copra boat should come, let us pack them all in it and send them back to America. Soon they will be wearing only underwear to church." But he got no steam from the Premier, who also happens to be the king's brother, Prince Tu'ipelehake. He really took the wind out of the sails, telling this uptight cat, Tu'akoi' that instead of being critical he should be grateful.... "God made their visit possible. It is often a mystery that, without knowing or being acquainted with anyone, they are willing to sacrifice t o give such help. The sacrifice and usefulness have been proved today not only to the Government, but also to the people, the country and the church. Love is repaid with love, and the understanding and the willingness to help is the most important of all. We should consider such gratitude and sacrifice. I believe that if they have sacrificed for Tonga, not one of us here in this house could do more for Tonga. We should be grateful and we have given an oath to be rightful and loving in our work for His Majesty King Tupou IV and the country".'

    After a few days I had got to know the seven local Peace Corps quite well. We'd spend a lot of time rapping. And there was plenty of grass from their gardens. We also discussed having a 'sunshine' session together, on one of the small uninhabited islands close by. We settled on one weekend, and taking supplies of food and water for two days, we took the motor-boat to a small island of palm trees and golden beaches about three miles from port. I had previously explained at some length what sort of reaction to expect and how to overcome any paranoia by fixing the mind on a natural object like a stone or a coconut, or by chanting the 'Vajra Guru Mantra'—OM AH HUM VAJRA GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUM—which represents the vital essence of the 84,000 sections of the Dharma, 'and in this way attain the siddhis of the wrathful deities'.
    The session began shortly after we landed. It was a morning of bright golden sunlight and a clear blue sky and sea, no sound from anywhere; a perfect setting. Soon the 'sunshine' began to take effect, and again I was transported into the heart of my intra-atomic self, that place of reconciliation and bliss in which all life lives in the unity of the One. But I was unable to stay there for long; one of the group had begun to declare himself as Jesus Christ and insisted that we were his disciples. And the force of his conviction, coupled with an increased rapidity and volume of his speech, began to take over our heads so that soon we were lost in a maze of contradictory thoughts and feelings, expressed variously in anger, laughter, dismay and fear. In vain I tried to get him to keep quiet, but he continued to expatiate on the evil he saw in life and insisted that we follow him on a crusade to save the world. Very soon the harmony of the session was lost, and people either wandered off by themselves or sat as if transfixed by this Christ figure, submerged under the non-stop repetitious flow of words. As there was nothing now I could do to silence him, I too ambled off along the beach, just hopeful that our new Christ would talk himself into silence by the time I got back. OM AH HUM VAJRA GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUM I intoned as I slowly walked along the shoreline stopping every now and again to pick up a shell or observe the miracle of the sand turtle or the vigorous motion of tiny crabs....
    When I got back several hours later, everyone was there and seated around a small fire. Jesus was curiously observing each face one after the other, as if seeking an answer to some private question, a sort of vacant look on his face, an expression of disbelief; but he was mercifully silent.
    We slept on the beach that night, gazing at the million sparkling stars, thinking, wondering, seeking answers to man's age-old question 'What is the secret of this universe in which we live?' until, exhausted, we finally fell asleep.
    We returned to Vava'u the next day. The boy Jesus seemed a little embarrassed by what he had said and done, but soon we had him laughing at his own stupidity. He later told me he had been a divinity school student for two years before switching to social science, but after this 'trip' he wondered that perhaps he ought to have stayed on and become a minister. I told him that he could be anything he wanted, this time around. Besides, he was probably serving God better by helping teach Tongans how to run their social services than preaching his word each Sunday in church. I gave him my copy of the New Jerusalem Bible.
    But it was all too good to last. Already there was gossip on the main island about the Peace Corps growing pot on Vava'u, and now rumour had it that they were taking LSD. This was confirmed when I received a note from the British Consul saying that some questions were being asked about me and the purpose of my stay in Tonga. He was also in possession of a file from the Foreign Office, and the local CIA had filled in a few more details. Would I care to visit him to discuss the matter? It was exactly one month since I first arrived in Tonga when the Minister of Police and about a dozen detectives arrived on Vava'u and started searching for the marijuana beds. The Peace Corps were clearly implicated, and a cable was sent to Washington to this effect. By return came a cable from the Peace Corps Director asking that they return to Washington immediately, when there would be a hearing before the committee. As for myself, I decided to leave before I was kicked out, and soon I was on the jet, this time for New York, where at least it was still possible to smoke pot without getting paranoid, as now even office girls were smoking the stuff, which meant nearly everyone in the city was.
    And the fellows from the Peace Corps? It seemed that they had not returned to Washington as instructed but had decided to live in Fiji instead, turning on the local Peace Corps, as well as their former colleagues on holiday from Tonga. Again and again I am surprised at the effect that LSD has on people's lives, how it seems to change their directions or goals, making it somehow impossible for them to exist in the formal, structured world so favoured by the Establishment. In this case what a few micrograms of LSD had done was to transform a bunch of ordinary, middle-class Americans with clear-cut expectations and achievement-motivations into missionaries of a new order, for they were now possessed of a self, or of a self-conscious similar to that of the mystics, rishis, and saints. How was such a change accomplished? Only by the realisation of the God within, and by the willingness to accept the validity of this vision, and moreover by the ability to re-create this insight as immediately in terms of a living manifestation: they have made of themselves whatever art it is in the life of each one of them, unconcerned with the trappings of outer forms or appearances: they live according to an inner rhythm, not that of the metronome but of music. They had recognised the Atman within themselves, and now wanted to realise him in the world; they wanted to assist Brahma, whose partial expression they believed themselves to be.

Chapter 10


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