The Hero’s Journey
I did not know it at the time but I would embark on what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. This is the process to heal the wounds of the past by doing the deep work of inner healing. It is the aspiration to wake up from the unconscious. This journey can be so painful that some will have a glimpse of what lies ahead and decide it will be easier to stay asleep. Others are not aware enough to know they are even asleep! I wanted to wake up regardless of the method including hallucinogens. I was a big fan of the writings of Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, Huston Smith and Ram Das. They had all tried it and I began to think about it.
I was 17 when I graduated from high school. The next six years was a time of experimentation and exploration. I lived in various places including a farm house in the country with an abandoned chicken coop and commuted to a local college. I meditated and read in the coop. It was so quiet there like my personal sanctuary or meditation cave. I empathized with the plight of chickens. Sometimes I felt like a stranger in a strange land, an outlier from popular thinking. I was an outlaw from the materialistic values of my parents. I felt emotionally cooped up. I dropped out for a while and dropped back in taking 5 years to complete the BA in Arts and Humanities. During the drop out time, I worked in factories and delivered office furniture. I needed a break from formal education. Once I got some intense partying out of my system, I was ready to go back with a stronger desire to learn.
In addition to coursework; in 1971 I discovered Be Here Now by Ram Das, several books by Allan Watts, Huston Smith and Krishnamurti and my personal mind changer How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, who by the way wrote the Berlin Stories, the inspiration behind Cabaret! They were also friends of Aldous Huxley and Huston Smith. It cost me $3.95 in 1971 and I still have it. I recommend to my yoga students if you are going to buy a “How To” book this is the one to get. Huston Smith’s World Religions launched me into a decade of studying comparative religions. I also re-discovered some ideas I first learned from Marcus Aurelius.
Another mind-blowing book was the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. It was an amazing inner adventure of miracles, mysteries and magic. He demonstrated ways to experience reality that excited me. However, I was impatient with the samskara or tendency toward instant gratification. Drugs seemed like the quick path to other states of consciousness. It took me a long time to realize its many shortcomings. He was born on January 5, 1893. He was a rock star yoga teacher in America from the 1920’s to 40’s teaching Bhakti and Raja Yoga. This memoir was launched on January 6, 2017 in honor of his anniversary and his amazing story – the supreme adventure.
In my 30’s, I would experience a Bhakti Yoga community led by a Shaktipat Guru (the ability to awaken spiritual energy in others) where they liked to say, miracles were commonplace. Depending on how we define and understand miracles, I did have experiences in my private practices as well as in this community that were outside my normal experience of reality.
An enthusiasm for personal pharmacological research led me to experiment now with alcohol, stimulants (amphetamines, caffeine, nicotine and cocaine), depressants, alcohol, barbiturates, tranquilizers and benzodiazepines like Valium and Librium), hallucinogens (LSD, peyote, PCP and Psilocybin) and cannabis. I smoked opium once but never did any other opioids. They were prescribed for me decades later to relieve pain post surgery but I never liked the feeling of them. My mind and body became a laboratory for exploring different types of consciousness.
What will this do? What will that do? It did not take me long to realize I liked the mind expanding euphoric stuff like cannabis and LSD. My addiction to TV as a child had been replaced with a new addiction.
Some friends from high school had an almost weekly Friday hallucinogenic night. Friday night lights and colors indeed. There was the music keeper whose job was to keep spinning vinyl all night based on the stack at hand and he had to play everything. Everything mind you was played in order from top to bottom. This created some issues if not bad trips. The rule was every record had to be played in its entirety.
One time I slipped in Frank Zappa’s Just Another Band from LA, LP featuring one entire side devoted to the 24 minute Billy the Mountain with asides to Here’s Johnny and Suite Judy Blue Eyes. Here are some of the lyrics:
Billy was a mountain
Ethel was a tree growing off of his shoulder
Ethel was a tree growing off of his shoulder
( hey, hey, hey! )
Billy had two big
Caves for eyes
With a cliff for a jaw
That would go up or down
And whenever it did
He’d puff out some dust
And hack up a boulder, hack.
Hack up a boulder, hack, hack.
We almost broke the rule. A revolution was brewing or if you will smoking from the peace mongering mind expanding loungers. Our favorite mantras were saying good scene and bad scene. There was a chorus of bad scenes yet the record keeper held his ground. Some went outside till it was over. I looked at some flowers for hours and enjoyed their sweet soulful songs.
Most of the time, it was a good scene. Drop around 7 or 8pm, hang out till 5am then go get breakfast. We listened to a lot of music and laughed a lot or just spaced out on imagery. Most of the time it was harmonious but one time a girl took speed and drank a lot triggering her inner rage and we got scared. She chased some of us around the house and I hid behind a sofa till she was escorted out. That was a bad scene. There were a few bad trips like seeing a large black spider on the moon that began to slide toward earth on its gossamer thread. Yogananda never saw that! I began to see that this side trip was not the lasting trip I wanted to be on. I was developing fortitude for a lifetime of meditation.
The Friday night ritual went on for over a year until I realized LSD could not be a sustainable lifestyle. I was beginning to burn out. The bar scene was boring and I did not like numbing out with alcohol. I didn’t need to be less inhibited. I was naturally to open without emotional boundaries or borders. I was raised without boundaries. My family did not hold back. It was easy for me to sometimes share my life with a stranger. I learned later this was not always a good idea. Knowledge is power and some would use my candid disclosures against me. Maybe some will use this memoir against me but I hope my transparency will support others who may at times feel alone and not supported on their journeys.
In Matthew 7:5, Jesus said: Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
This reminds me of the Jnana Yoga practice of Self-Inquiry to see clearly. To see what is there and not what appears to be there. The Jnana sages like Shankara called projections superimposition where we might project our mentally conditioned mind or past on reality distorting our experience of it. If there is something we dislike about ourselves like negative judgment, impatience, anger, greed or envy and have not brought those tendencies or samskaras into consciousness we may project it onto others. We may have an aversion to those who mirror those qualities in us.
Today it is called having your shadow triggered or your buttons pushed. Once we bring the unconscious into consciousness and own our “stuff”, the buttons are removed. No one can push our buttons if they are gone! Then we are free (Moksha) or liberated from the mind-body concept or ego while still in this body (Jivamukti). This is the goal of the traditional Yoga’s: Bhakti (through devotion), Jnana (through discriminative discernment), Karma (through selfless service) and Raja (through these other methods and much more).
Once we remove the beam from our own eyes we will not even see the mote in another’s eyes. Instead we will the see the spiritual light that reflects our own light. We will see the “One in the Many” according to Vedanta philosophy. However; as one of my Swami teachers used to say, try to see God in everyone but in some cases, use your discernment and see God at a distance!
The traditional goal of Hatha was to prepare for Raja. Today, if we practice postures in an unconscious way with no interest in Self-growth, we will stay stuck in our samskaras. We may leave class feeling temporarily relaxed then something or someone will push one of our buttons before we arrive home! I like to think of Hatha as reducing the stress related symptoms of the ego but Raja as removing the causes of stress- the ego.
My perception of reality had been altered by these psychedelic experiences and I felt a deep oneness with everything. It was the same feeling I had had as a child walking in nature and realizing the vastness of my being. The hallucinogens had served their purpose. I was ready to move on. I was ready to go back to college with a purpose to somehow serve others in a socially meaningful way. I had no idea that would mean teaching yoga 20 years later as a vocation.
To Be Continued…