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Charles Tart, Ph.D.

Exploring the Near-Death Experience: An Interview with Charles Tart, Ph.D.

By David Jay Brown

Charles Tart, Ph.D. is a psychologist and parapsychological researcher. He is best known as one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology, for his psychological work on the nature of consciousness–particularly altered states of consciousness–and for his scientific research into psychic phenomena.

Tart earned his Ph. D. in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1963. His books Altered States of Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychologies have been widely used as academic texts, and they were instrumental in allowing these areas to become part of modern psychology. Some of Tart’s other popular books include States of Consciousness, On Being Stoned: A Psychological Study of Marijuana Intoxication, and Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People.

Tart’s most recent book The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together is the best book that I’ve read about integrating science and spirituality. Tart clearly and patiently demonstrates precisely how new scientific evidence is breaking down outdated paradigms, and he believes that the scientific evidence for psychic phenomena is helping to bring science and spirit back together. He says that his “primary goal is to build bridges between the scientific and spiritual communities and to help bring about a refinement and integration of Western and Eastern approaches for knowing the world and for personal and social growth.”

Tart is currently a Core Faculty Member at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, a Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, emeritus member of the Monroe Institute board of advisors, and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, where he has served for twenty-eight years. To find out more about Tart’s work, see: www.paradigm-sys.com 

I interviewed Charles on December 16, 2009. Charles is a very eloquent speaker, and he speaks about anomalous phenomena with great precision. We spoke about near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, and how psychedelic experiences and other altered states of consciousness are similar to and different from a typical near-death experience.

David: How did you become interested in studying altered states of consciousness?

Charles: I think that part of it was just curiosity. Ever since I was a child I’ve wondered how my mind worked.

David: Can you describe what a near-death experience is commonly like?

Charles: I can always refer to people Raymond Moody’s list of fifteen characteristics that are important in every near-death experience (NDE). But to sum it up in a shorter fashion than that, it happens like this. You think that you’re dying. There are periods of unconsciousness, and commonly–but not universally–you find yourself floating up above your body, which may be in an operating room. You go through the very powerful psychological shock of hearing your doctor pronounce you dead. That’s quite a heavy psychological proclamation. (Laughter) Then, if the experience develops further, I’d call it an out-of-body experience (OBE), because during an OBE you’re fully conscious. Then the NDE goes on to become an altered state of consciousness, not just a feeling of being outside your body. Now, of course, in real life there are times when it’s hard to decide whether an experience is a NDE or just an OBE, but those are the ideal cases.

David: I thought that an OBE usually implied an altered state of consciousness.

Charles: No, the typical thing about an OBE is that a person feels like their mind is perfectly normal, and therefore the situation that they find themselves in is ridiculous and impossible. This is different than being in a dream, for example, where you’re (from our waking perspective) out of your body all the time. When you’re dreaming, you don’t know that you’re not occupying your physical body in a normal way. You’re in dream consciousness. And it’s the clarity of consciousness in an OBE that causes people to think that this simply can not be really happening. People generally feel perfectly awake, perfectly consciousness, and yet they’re floating up to the damn ceiling. So they automatically think, this just can’t be happening!

David: I’ve had OBE-type experiences with psychedelics–such as DMT and ketamine–but I was unquestionably in an altered state of consciousness at the time, and it seemed more like going into other dimensions of reality, which I guess is closer to dreaming than the type of OBEs that you’re describing. With all my psychedelic use, I’ve never had an experience where it felt like my normal mind was just floating above my body. I find that absolutely astonishing that people have that experience.

Charles: Yes, that’s the archetypal OBE; the mind remains clear. There are a lot of psychedelic experiences where the concept of what it means to be in a body can get pretty hazy. We call that an OBE, but I think that can be confusing. I like to get clarity in the descriptions that we’re talking about, and that’s why I say that this feeling of your consciousness being clear, normal, and logical is characteristic of the OBE.

David: How is a NDE similar to and different from a psychedelic experience?

Charles: I wish that I could say we have a lot of studies that have made detailed phenomenological comparisons, but of course we haven’t.

The NDE is, of course, centered around the fact that you think that you’ve died, which is a pretty powerful centering device. It usually includes the feeling of moving through a tunnel, toward a light, contact with other beings, and a quick life review. A psychedelic experience may not have all of these characteristics. Some of the characteristics may be present, but certain details of the NDE may be missing, like the quick life review or the speedy return to normal consciousness. Now, this is interesting. This is one of the very vivid differences between psychedelic experiences and NDEs. With NDEs you can feel like you’re way out there somewhere, and then “they” say that you have to go back, and bang! You’re back in your body and everything is normal again. With psychedelics, of course, you come down more slowly, and don’t usually experience a condensed life review. So that’s what the major difference is. But psychedelic experiences also reach over a far wider terrain of possibilities.

Let me tell you something about the life review. It’s extremely common in NDEs for persons to undergo a life review, where they feel as if they remember at least every important event in their life, and often they say every single event in their life. Sometimes it even expands out into not only remembering and reliving every single event in their life, but also into knowing psychically the reactions of other people to all their actions. For some it must be horrible, because it seems that you would really experience their pain. I very seldom hear people say anything about a life review on psychedelics. Yeah, occasionally past memories have come up, but not this dramatic review of a person’s whole life.

David: Do you see any similarity in the consequences, or the aftereffects of a NDE and a psychedelic experience? Do they have any similar consequences, or long-lasting effects for people?

Charles: The are sometimes consequences that overlap and are mutual, but I would say that the NDE is more powerful. It’s more powerful in the sense that a person may make more drastic changes in their lifestyle, or in their community, if they try to integrate the acceptance of the NDE and make sense out of it. It’s also more powerful in the sense that it’s more liable to cause more lasting changes. A psychedelic experience can also have powerful life-changing effects. But let’s face it, some people can pretty much forget their psychedelic experience afterwards, much less alter their lives. It can simulate certain aspects of the NDE, but it doesn’t carry the same force that the typical NDE does.

David: This actually rings true with my own experience. My psychedelic experiences were pale compared to the time that my car went over a cliff.

Charles: Ah, okay. I didn’t know that you had a NDE.

David: For about a year, the experience allowed me to appreciate life in a completely new and joyous way, and it eliminated my fear of just about everything, including death. However, this new state of perception faded away after about a year. I’m wondering what sort of biological value or psychological function you think that NDEs have?

Charles: To the people who have them, they usually feel that they’ve gotten profound insight into the way that their life ought to be, just from that one experience. With psychedelics, again, there’s a wide of  range of experiences. It can range from a low sensory-enhancement level–where you see a lot of pretty colors and images, and afterwards you just say, now let’s go out and get back to work–up to really deep levels of insight into the nature of one’s mind. So there’s a very wide range of experiences that are possible with psychedelics.

But with NDEs there is the feeling of being absolutely beyond one’s life experience. This raises interesting possibilities then because not everybody who comes near death reports having had a NDE. Could there be a lot of NDEs that are psychologically repressed? Does this happen sometimes? It’s an interesting discussion I’ve been having with some of my colleagues. If you do or don’t recover a memory of this state, how do you know if it’s something that really happened or not? It’s possible that our minds might make something up, or repress certain experiences, so it’s tricky. But it’s also quite interesting that some people come close to death and don’t report having a NDE.

David: What sort of relationship do you see between the NDE and various altered states of consciousness?

Charles: (Laughter) You’re asking me about my life’s work, David. My really active research has been on altered states of consciousness. I began my research on dreams and hypnosis and it was very fascinating stuff. I loved the laboratory work that I was doing, but I slowly became aware that there were a lot of other methods for altering consciousness, and a lot of different altered states. So I had to stop specializing so much, and tried to get a feeling for that whole spectrum, including psychedelics, and learned about methods like meditation. We also included emotional states of consciousness. So your question is almost like asking, what’s the relationship of life to life? You’ve got to narrow it down more specifically. (Laughter)

David: I guess I was just looking to see if there were any aspects of a NDE that are common in other altered states of consciousness, or whether you think there’s something really unique about a NDE.

Charles: Oh, I think it’s pretty unique. Very few people have had a near-death experience, and say, well, there was a little element of this and a little element of that.

David: I’ve heard of some situations where people had hellish NDEs.

Charles: Yes, there are a few like that. The fact that there are only a few is disappointing to right-wing Christians, who think the majority of people should get a taste of Hell, because that’s what they deserve. But it’s very rarely reported. The rarity of reports might be because they actually are very rare. Or it might mean that a lot of cases, if you look at them more closely, are partially forgotten or not reported quite accurately. A NDE could also be very scary to some people who are really afraid of OBEs or altered states of consciousness. Or it might be that they are much more common than we think, but people just don’t report them. Can you imagine someone saying, “I almost died and God told me that I was going to Hell.” That’s not a very good way to enter a social relationship. (Laughter)

David: (Laughter) No, I guess not. Charles, what do you personally think happens to consciousness after death?

Charles: After doing more than fifty years of professional work with consciousness now, one of the things that’s really been interesting to me is that its become more and more clear that there’s an aspect of consciousness that appears to transcend physical or material reality. At the same time, it’s also clear to me that a lot of our ordinary consciousness is very dependent on being shaped by the nature of our bodies, or at least by our brains. Clearly, that shaping is completely gone from one’s reality after death.

I was once asked what I thought about the evidence for survival after death, and I summed it up by saying this. When I die, I expect that I’ll probably be unconsciousness for a bit–but I expect to recover from it. On the other hand, I’m not quite sure that the “I” that will recover from death will be the same “I” who dies. I think that there’s going to be some major changes in whatever survives, and this is a gross generalization.

There is a very large body of literature about the possibility that consciousness survives death, and I’ve been running a discussion group with many of the world’s experts about this  for years. The commonality of the NDE helped to decrease my bias against what I thought was an impossibility. However, I think that although consciousness probably survives death, it probably doesn’t survive in quite the same form as we’re used to. However, if people merely believe in an afterlife it may influence their interpretation of the evidence.

David: I think that it’s just so fascinating that, depending on how one looks at the situation, there’s an abundance of evidence both for and against the survival of consciousness after death. Like psychic phenomena, I think that a big part of what people usually believe about what happens to consciousness after death is based more upon their spiritual or philosophical assumptions than on an examination of the scientific evidence.

Charles: I should also add here too that I’m one of the few people who tried to say, let’s rationally look at the phenomena that might suggest survival, and try and make sense of it–with a little proviso that ordinary rationality is not the only way to understand something. That was very hard to do, and very few people, I think, are anywhere near objectively looking at the evidence at all. Most people form a belief, stubbornly try to protect it, and don’t want to look at anything that might challenge that belief.

Earlier in this conversation I said that I’d like to see a fair, evidence-based comparison between the NDE and other states of consciousness, but I discovered that people, even doctors, aren’t usually interested in asking questions that challenge their beliefs. But this is not science. To me, everything is open to examination. Everything. Now, this doesn’t mean we can really see everything, but we have to look at everything–even those areas where we have a lot of emotional investment.

 

Stanislav Grof. M.D., Ph.D.

Exploring the Nonordinary Mind:
An Interview with Stanislav Grof. M.D., Ph.D.

By David Jay Brown
Few people on this planet know more about nonordinary states of consciousness than Czech-American psychiatric researcher Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D. Grof is one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology, the co-developer with his wife Christina of Holotropic Breathwork therapy, and has been a pioneering researcher into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of healing, personal growth, and spiritual transformation for over fifty years. He is also one of the world’s experts on LSD psychotherapy, and has supervised more legal LSD sessions that anyone else on the planet. Grof’s near-legendary work at the Spring Grove Hospital in Maryland–treating alcoholics and terminally ill cancer patients with LSD–is some of the most important psychedelic drug research of all time.

Although initially interested in film making, Grof received his M.D. from Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1956, and he completed his Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy in Medicine) from the Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences in 1965; he also completed a 7-year  training as a Freudian psychoanalyst. Grof became the Principal Investigator of a program exploring the therapeutic and heuristic potential of psychedelic substances at the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague. In 1967, he came to the United States as Clinical and Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC) in Baltimore, Maryland. He went on to become Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins and Chief of Psychiatric Research at MPRC. It was during this time that Grof, Walter Pahnke, Sanford Unger, and others ran the studies at the Spring Grove Hospital in Maryland, treating alcoholics and terminally ill cancer patients with LSD. The results from these studies, which ran from 1967 to 1972, were extremely encouraging.

From 1973 through 1987, Grof was Scholar-in-Residence at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. During this time, he and his wife Christina developed Holotropic Breathwork therapy, as a non-pharmaceutical means to induce an LSD-like non-ordinary states of consciousness for self-exploration, personal growth, and therapy. They also founded the Spiritual Emergency Network (SEN), an affiliation of psychologists and psychiatrists who offer psychological help to people undergoing a psycho-spiritual crises. In fact, the Grofs coined the term “spiritual emergency to distinguish certain psychologically transformative episodes from schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis. This concept inspired the creation of a new category – Religious and Spiritual Problems – in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV). In 1987, the Grofs founded the Grof Transpersonal Training (GTT) for the training and certification of practitioners in Holotropic Breathwork, and together they have presented workshops and lectures throughout the world.

Grof was the founding president of the International Transpersonal Association (ITA), which was founded in 1977, and he is the originator of some very compelling psychological theories. Grof developed a theoretical framework for understanding LSD experiences and spiritually transformative states of consciousness that is based upon a memory of one’s experience in the womb or a trauma with the birth process. This theory postulates four “basic perinatal matrices” (BPMs), that correspond to different stages in the birth process. He also described and mapped another new large domain in the unconscious that he calls transpersonal. These concepts are discussed at length in a number of Grof’s books. Grof is the author or coauthor of over twenty books, including Realms of The Human UnconsciousLSD PsychotherapyBeyond the BrainThe Cosmic GameWhen The Impossible HappensThe Ultimate JourneyThe Stormy Search for the Self, and  Spiritual Emergency (the last two co-authored with Christina Grof).

Grof is currently a distinguished adjunct faculty member at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, where he teaches, and he continues to lecture throughout the world. Grof has had over 140 articles published in different scientific journals, and he served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, the Re-VISION Journal, and others. Grof received the prestigious VISION 97 award, which was granted by the Foundation of Dagmar and Vaclav Havel in Prague on October 5, 2007. For more information about Grof’s work see:www.holotropic.com and www.stanislavgrof.com.

I interviewed Grof on March 23, 2007. I found Stan to be unusually elegant with words his ideas were simply mesmerizing. We spoke about psychedelics and creativity, the reality of encounters with otherworldly beings, what happens to consciousness after death, and the difference between a spiritual emergency and a psychotic episode.

David: What originally inspired your interest in psychiatric medicine?

Stan: When I was eighteen years old, I was finishing what we call “gymnasium” in Europe — the equivalent of high school in America. I love to draw and paint and my original plan was to work in animated movies. I had already had an introductory  interview with the brilliant Czech artist and film-producer Jirí Trnka, and I was supposed to start working in the Barrandov film studios in Prague. But that situation change radically when a friend of mine lent me Freud’s introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis. I started reading the book that very evening and I couldn’t put it down. I read through the night and into the next day. Then, within a few days, I decided that I wanted to be a psychoanalyst and I let the animated movies go. I enrolled in the medical school and got in touch with a small group of people in Prague interested in psychoanalysis; it was led by Dr. Theodor Dosu?kov, the only psychoanalyst who had survived the Second World War in Czechoslovakia. Most of the psychoanalysts were Jewish, and those who did not leave ended up in gas chambers.

David: How did you become interested in psychedelics and non-ordinary states of consciousness?

Stan: When I began my career as a psychiatrist, I was initially very excited about psychoanalysis, but then – when I tried to apply psychoanalysis in my clinical practice – I started seeing its great limitations. I was still very excited about the theory of psychoanalysis, but was increasingly disappointed with what you can do with it as a clinical tool. I was realizing that there was a very narrow indication range. You had to meet very special criteria to be considered a good candidate for psychoanalysis, and even if you met those criteria, you had to be prepared not for months, but for years. And I realized that, even after years, the results were not exactly breathtaking. I found it very difficult to understand why a system that seemed to explain everything would not offer some more effective solutions for emotional and psychosomatic disorders.

In order to become a psychoanalyst one had to first study medicine. In medicine, if you really understand a problem, you are usually able to do something quite effective about it–or if you can not, then you can at least understand the reasons for your failure. We know exactly what  would have to change in relation to cancer or AIDS for us to be able to more successful in the treatment of these diseases. But in psychoanalysis I was asked to believe that we have full understanding of what’s happening in the psyche, and yet we can do so little over such a long period of time. So I found myself in a crisis, where I started to regret that I had chosen psychiatry as my profession. I was thinking back nostalgically about the animated movies, wondering if that would have been a better career choice.

At that time, I worked at the Psychiatric Department of the School of Medicine in Prague and we had just finished a large study of Mellaril, one of the early tranquilizers. This was the beginning of the “golden era of psychopharmacology.” The first tranquilizers and antidepressants were being developed and it was believed that most of the problems in psychiatry would be solved by chemistry. So we conducted a large study with Mellaril, which came from the pharmaceutical company in Switzerland called Sandoz. We had a very good working relationship with Sandoz, which meant the usual fringe benefits that psychiatrists get  from pharmaceutical companies: compensation for the trips to conferences where one reports about their preparations, supply of relevant literature, and free samples of various new preparations that they produce.

As part of this exchange, the psychiatric department where I worked received a large box full of ampoules of LSD. It came with a letter which said this was a new investigational substance that had been discovered in the laboratories of Sandoz by Dr. Albert Hofmann, who happened to intoxicate himself accidentally when he was synthesizing it. The letter described how the son of Albert Hofmann’s boss, Zurich psychiatrist Werner Stoll, conducted an early pilot study with a group of psychiatric patients and group of “normal” volunteers. He came to the conclusion that LSD could have some very interesting uses in psychiatry or psychology. So Sandoz was now sending samples of LSD to different universities, research institutes, and individual therapists asking for feedback if there was a legitimate use for these substance in these disciplines. In this letter they suggested two possible uses.

One suggestion was that LSD might be used to induce an experimental psychosis. It could be administered to “ normal” volunteers and conduct all kinds of tests — psychological, biochemical, physiological, electro-physiological — before, during, and after the session. This would provide insights as to what is happening, biologically and biochemically, in the organism at the time when the mental functioning is so profoundly influenced by the substance. This could be a way of discovering what is happening in naturally occurring psychoses. The basic idea behind it was that it is possible that – under certain circumstances – the human body could produce a substance like LSD and that psychoses, particularly schizophrenia, would actually be chemical aberrations, not mental diseases. And if we could identify the chemical culprit, then we could also find another substance which would neutralize it. Such a test-tube solution for schizophrenia would, of course, be the Holy Grail of psychiatry.

So this was very exciting. The Sandoz letter also offered another little tip, which became my destiny. It suggested that this substance might also be used as a very unconventional training or educational tool for psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and students of psychology and psychiatry. The idea was that LSD would give these people a chance to spend a few hours in a world that would be very much like the world of their patients. As a result they would be able to understand them better, be able to communicate with them more effectively, and – hopefully – be more successful in treating them. So this was something that I wouldn’t have missed for anything in the world. I was in a deep professional crisis, feeling very disappointed with the therapeutic means we had at our disposal at the time. So I became one of the early Czech volunteers and had a profound experience that radically changed my life and sent me professionally and personally to a whole other direction.

David: How can LSD psychotherapy be helpful in overcoming traumatic life experiences, alcoholism, or facing a terminal illness?

Stan: We have done studies in all those areas. Psychedelic therapy revealed a wide array of previously unknown therapeutic mechanisms, but the most profound positive changes happened in connection with mystical experiences. We were very impressed with what you could do with very difficult conditions, like chronic alcoholism and narcotic drug abuse. But the most interesting and the most moving study that we did at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center was the one that involved terminal cancer patients. We found out that if these patients had powerful experiences of psychospiritual death/rebirth and cosmic unity, it profoundly changed their emotional condition and it took away the fear of death. It made it possible for them to spend the rest of their lives living one day at a time. We also found out that in many patients LSD had very profound effect on pain, even pain that didn’t respond to narcotics.

David: Why do you think that holotropic states of consciousness have so much healing potential and do you think that psychedelics can enhance the placebo effect?

Stan: What do you mean by “the placebo effect” in connection with psychedelics?

David: The placebo effect demonstrates the power of the mind over the body. We know that placebos–or biologically inactive substances–can have a measurable healing effect simply because people believe in their power. Do you think that part of the healing potential of psychedelics comes from enhancing what we call the placebo effect in medicine?

Stan: Well, when you call something a placebo, you assume that there is no real biochemical effect.

David: I don’t mean placebos, I mean what’s been called “the placebo effect,” which one can measure. The whole reason that we use placebos in medical studies, when we’re testing a new drug, is because of the “placebo effect”–because our beliefs have the power to influence our wellbeing in measurable ways. We know that just believing that something will have an effect can create a measurable effect and neuroscientist Candace Pert’s research showed that positive emotions can effect the immune system and neuropeptide levels. Do you think that what psychedelics are actually doing, when they assist with healing, is enhancing that power of the mind to effect the body’s own natural healing system?

Stan: Well, I never thought about psychedelics as enhancing the placebo effect, because their psychological effects are so obvious and dramatic; one of the major problems we had in psychedelic research was actually to find a believable placebo for them. But I guess if you put it the way that you put it, you could see it as enhancing the placebo effect–because it certainly enhances the power of the mind over the emotional psychosomatic processes.

David: Can you talk a little about the relationship between certain psychological conflicts and the development of certain cancers, which you witnessed as a result of some psychedelic sessions that you ran?

Stan: We have never really systematically studied this. What I have written in the book The Ultimate Journey are mostly anecdotal reports of the insights that came from the patients themselves. For example, sometimes patients had the feeling that their cancer had something to do with their self-destructive tendencies, or that it had something to do with an energetic blockage that occurred in a certain part of their body as a result of traumatic experiences. Sometimes they actually made attempts during their sessions to find psychological ways to  heal their cancer, but we never studied this systematically to the point that I could make any definitive statements about it.

Carl Simonton made a large study where he tried to demonstrate participation of emotional factors in the etiology of cancer. One finding was particularly interesting and constant – a pattern of serious loss eighteen months prior to the diagnosis of cancer. But I think that those cases are all really anecdotal, and I don’t think anybody has really shown this beyond any reasonable doubt.

One thing that I would like to add is that – because of my medical background – I used to doubt that cancer could have something to do with emotions. This was at a time when it seemed that the key problem in the genesis of cancer was what transforms a cell into a cancer cell. This changed radically when new research showed that the human body produces cancer cells all the time. So the problem is not what makes a cell a cancer cell, but what causes the immune system to fail destroying them. And it is certainly possible to imagine that psychological factors could cause a breakdown of the immune system, either generally or in certain specific parts of the body.

David: What kind of an effect do you think that psychedelics have on creativity and problem-solving abilities?

Stan: Oh, a tremendous effect. We have extensive evidence in that regard. In the 1960s, James Fadiman, Robert McKim, Willis Harman, Myron Stolaroff, and Robert Mogar conducted a pilot study of the effects of psychedelics on the creative process, using administration of mescaline to enhance inspiration and problem-solving in a group of highly talented individuals. In 1993, molecular biologist and DNA chemist Kary Mullis received a Nobel Prize for his development of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) that allows the amplification of specific DNA sequences; it is a central technique in biochemistry and molecular biology. During a symposium in Basel celebrating Albert Hofmann’s 100th anniversary, Albert revealed that he was told by Kary Mullis that LSD had helped him develop the Polymerase Chain Reaction. Francis Crick, the Nobel-Prize-winning father of modern genetics, was under the influence of LSD when he discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. He told a fellow scientist that he often used small doses of LSD to boost his power of thought. He said it was LSD that helped him to unravel the structure of DNA, the discovery that won him the Nobel Prize.

In his book “What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry,” John Markoff described the history of the personal computer. He showed that there is a direct connection between the psychedelic use in the American counterculture of the 1950s and 1960s and the development of the computer industry. Steve Jobs said taking LSD was among the two or three most important things he had done in his life.” He has stated that people around him, who did not share his countercultural roots, could not fully relate to his thinking.

Willis Harman collected in his book Higher Creativity many examples of high-level problem-solving in non-ordinary states of consciousness. I think that studying the effect on creativity is by far the most interesting area where psychedelics could be used. Offer them to people who are experts in certain areas, such as cosmology, quantum-relativistic physics, biology, evolutionary theory, and so on – individuals who hold an enormous amount of information about a particular field and who are aware of the problems which need to be solved. Several of my friends from the Bay area who are physicists, such as Fred Alan Wolf, Jack Sarfatti, Nick Herbert, and Fritjof Capra, have had some really interesting insights into physics in non-ordinary states of consciousness. Some had spontaneous experiences of non-ordinary states of consciousness and others psychedelic sessions. For example, Fred Wolf spent some time in South America doing ayahuasca.

David: Nick Herbert lives nearby and is a good friend. We’ve actually discussed the following question quite a bit. Many people report unexplained phenomena while under the influence of psychedelics, such as telepathic communication or uncanny synchronicities. What do you make of these types of experiences, which conventional science has great difficulty explaining, and seem to provide evidence for psychic phenomena?

Stan: The number of these seemingly unexplainable phenomena is growing, and it’s occurring in all kinds of disciplines. In astrophysics, you have the anthropic principle. In quantum physics you have a vast array of problems that cannot be explained, such as the Bell’s Theorem, which points to nonlocality in the universe. We can add some of the dilemmas that Rupert Sheldrake points out in biology, when he talks about the need to think in terms of morphogenetic fields and so on. Ervin Laszlo, in his book The Connectivity Hypothesis, actually looked at all these different disciplines and showed all the so-called “anomalous phenomena” that these current theories cannot explain. He also specifically discusses transpersonal psychology and all the challenging observations that cannot be explained by current theories in psychology or psychiatry. I think Ervin’s concept of the psi- or Akashic field is the most promising approach to these paradigm-breaking phenomena.

So I think that all this points to the fact that the current monistic/materialistic world view is seriously defective and that we need a completely different way of looking at reality. But there is tremendous resistance against the new observations in the academic world because the revision that is necessary is too radical, something that cannot be handled by a little patchwork, by little ad hoc hypotheses here and there. We would have to admit that the basic philosophy of the Western scientific worldview is seriously wrong and that in many ways shamans from illiterate cultures and ancient cultures have had a more adequate understanding of reality than we do. We have learned a lot about the world of matter, but in terms of basic metaphysical understanding of reality, Western science went astray.
David: What sort of lessons do you think a conventional western physician could learn from an indigenous shaman?

Stan: It would be above all the knowledge concerning the healing, transformative, and heuristic potential of non-ordinary states of consciousness. This would be especially true for shamans who are using in their practice psychedelic plants. They use these extraordinary tools that provide insights into the psyche and therapeutic possibilities that by far surpass anything available in Western psychiatry and psychotherapy. When I had my first psychedelic sessions and started working with psychedelics, I felt very apologetic toward shamans. The image of shamans that I inherited from my teachers at the university was very conceited and dismissive; it described them as primitives, riddled with superstitions and engaged in magical thinking. Our own rational approaches to the study of the human psyche, such as behaviorism or psychoanalysis, were seen as superior to anything the shamans were doing.

So, when I discovered the power of psychedelics, I saw the arrogance of this kind of attitude. The potential of the methods used by modern psychiatry did not even come close to that inherent in psychedelics or in various native “technologies of the sacred,” which induce non-ordinary states by non-pharmacological means. Then I began understanding what had happened historically. Three hundred years ago, the Industrial and Scientific Revolution brought some important scientific discoveries, which spawned technological inventions that started radically changing our world. This led to glorification of rationality and intoxication with the power of reason. For example, during the French Revolution the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was declared the Temple of Reason. In its juvenile hubris, the Cult of Reason rejected without discrimination everything that was not rational as embarrassing leftovers from the infancy of humanity and from the Dark Ages. The overzealous reformers did not realize that not everything that is not rational is irrational; there exist phenomena which are transrational. The mystics are not irrational; they can be perfectly rational in everyday situations, but as a result of their experiences they also transcend the realm of the rational. We are now slowly realizing that in this historical process, the baby was thrown out with the bath water and are learning to make the distinction between the irrational and transrational.

David: What are your thoughts on the extraterrestrial encounters that many people report on high-dose psychedelics and do you think that the beings encountered on high-dose psychedelic experiences–such as DMT or ayahuasca–actually have an independent existence?

Stan: I have seen those experiences frequently. We have seen them in psychedelic sessions, in holotropic breathwork, and in some spiritual emergencies. I have spent a lot of time with my close friend John Mack, who conducted at Harvard extensive research of the alien abduction phenomena. Did you know John?

David: I interviewed John for my book Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse.

Stan: Unfortunately he was killed by a drunken driver in London and is not with us any more. Like John, I believe that these experiences belong to the category of “anomalous phenomena,” paradigm-breaking observations for which we do not have explanations within the current conceptual frameworks. The kind of explanations that have been given by traditional researchers just are not satisfactory–that these phenomena are hallucinations, various meteorological events, new secret US spacecrafts, balloons, birds, satellites, planets and stars, or optical effects such as reflections, mirages, “sprites,” “sundogs,” and refractions caused by inversion layers in the atmosphere.

I think that these are painfully inadequate, and that there are significant aspects of the UFO abduction phenomena or even UFO sightings that simply cannot be explained within the current scientific world view. One possible explanation is that the source of these phenomena is the collective unconscious, as C. G. Jung suggested in his book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. As Bud Hopkins and others have shown, people who have the UFO experiences often report very similar things, often with great detail, even if these observations occur completely independently and there is no connection between these people. One of the most astonishing examples was a sighting in Africa, which involved a group of school children and a teacher. The interviews with these witnesses were done by John Mack and resulted in a remarkable video.

In the past, similar things were described in The Bible, in the Book of Ezekiel, and other places. Jung has shown that these sightings have been described repeatedly n certain periods of human history. The collective unconscious certainly is a reasonable source of these phenomena. If something comes from the collective unconscious then individual people can have intrapsychic access to it but, at the same time, they can receive consensual validation from other witnesses in the same way in which consensus can be reached on visions of archetypal figures or realms from different mythologies. The distinction between the subjective and objective is transcended. Jungians refer to this realm as “imaginal” to distinguish it from the “imaginary.”

When I think about the collective unconscious, I see the parallels with the world that we have created with modern electronics. As we are sitting here right now, we are immersed in an ocean of information. It’s coming from the different short wave radio stations around the world, from the television satellites, from the Internet, the i-phones, and so on on. So, if we had what it takes to access this information, we could have a vast array of experiences right here, where we are sitting, and it would not be your experiences or my experiences. We would be tapping into something that is objectively real, although under normal circumstances it is invisible. When different people tune into these programs, they can reach a consensus that they have experienced the same kind of thing. So, from this perspective, the UFOs would be phenomena that are not just intrapsychic or just objective in the usual sense, but would lie in the twilight zone in between the two.
David: Do you think that the archetypes and information that is stored in the human collective unconscious is of a genetic origin–that is, stored in our DNA–or do you see them as being more like a morphic field that permeates the biosphere and incorporates cultural as well as genetic information?

Stan: I don’t think it’s in the DNA or in the brain. I don’t think it’s in anything that we can consider to be material substrate, at least not in the ordinary sense.

David: So do you see it more like a morphic field?

Stan: Yes. The best model that we currently have is Ervin Laszlo’s concept of what he used to call a “psi field;” now he calls it the “Akashic field,” In his last two books, The Connectivity Hypothesis and Science and the Akashic Field, he describes it as a subquantum field, where everything that has ever happened in the universe remains holographically recorded, so that under certain circumstances we can tune into it, and have the corresponding experiences. For example, in non-ordinary states of consciousness, we can have experiences of scenes from ancient Egypt or the French Revolution, because there’s an objectively existing record of these events in that field, and people who tap that information can reach consensus that they experienced the same kind of things.

David: How does transpersonal psychology differ from conventional psychology, and could you talk a little about your involvement with it?

Stan: I was part of the small group that formulated the basic principles of transpersonal psychology, together with Abe Maslow, Tony Sutich, Jim Fadiman, Miles Vich, and Sonya Margulies. Transpersonal psychology was a reaction to a number of “anomalous phenomena” described by mystics of all ages, scholars of the great Eastern religions, anthropologists who had done field research with shamans and native cultures, and psychedelic researchers.

In the first half of the 20th century, psychology was dominated by two schools of thought — Freudian psychoanalysis and behaviorism. In the 1950s, there was increasing dissatisfaction with the limitations of these two systems and Abe Maslow became the main spokesman for this  increasing dissent. He and Tony Sutich launched humanistic psychology, which in a very short time became very popular in professional as well as lay circles. However, within the first ten years of the existence of humanistic psychology, Abe and Tony became dissatisfied with the field they had created, because it did not include important aspects of human nature, particularly the spiritual and mystical dimensions, creativity, meditation states, ecstatic experiences, and so on. When I met them, they were working on yet another new branch of psychology, which would incorporate the elements that humanistic psychology was lacking.

They originally wanted to call this new psychology “transhumanistic,” going beyond humanistic psychology. I brought into this group the data from ten years of my psychedelic research in Prague and a vastly extended cartography of the psyche that had emerged from this work. Part of this cartography was a category of experiences that I called “transpersonal,” meaning transcending the limits of our personal identity, of the body-ego. Abe and Tony liked this term very much and they decided to change their original term “transhumanistic psychology” to “transpersonal psychology.”

The best way of describing transpersonal psychology would be to say that it studies the entire spectrum of human experience, including what I call “holotropic” experiences. This includes the experiences of shamans and their clients, of initiates in the rites of passage, in healing ceremonies, and other native rituals, of the initiates in the ancient mysteries of death and rebirth, of the yogis, Buddhists, Taoists, Christian mystics, Kabbalists, and so on. Transpersonal psychology includes all of these experiences.
David: What’s the difference between a spiritual emergency and a psychotic episode?

Stan: After we had had extensive experience working with psychedelic therapy and with the Holotropic Breathwork, it became increasingly difficult to see many of the spontaneously occurring episodes of non-ordinary (holotropic) states as being pathological. They included the same elements as the psychedelic sessions and the sessions of Holotropic Breathwork – experiences of psychospiritual death and rebirth, past life experiences, archetypal experiences, and so on. And if they were properly understood and supported, they were actually healing and often led to a positive personality transformation.

So it became increasingly difficult to see as pathological experiences, which a sample of “normal” people in our workshops and training would have after forty-five minutes of faster breathing. Moreover, if these experiences could be healing and transformative when they are induced by faster breathing and music, or by miniscule dosages of LSD, why should they be considered pathological when they occur without any known causes? So we coined for these spontaneously occurring episodes the term “spiritual emergencies.” It is actually a play on words, because it shows the potential positive value of these experiences. They certainly are a nuisance in people’s lives and can produce a crisis, an “emergency,” but – if correctly understood and properly supported – they can also help these individuals to “emerge” to a whole other level of consciousness  and of functioning.

Now, the question that you ask — the question concerning “differential diagnosis” — is difficult to answer for the following reasons: The concept of differential diagnosis comes from medicine, where it is possible to accurately diagnose diseases on the basis of what you find in the blood, in the urine, in the cerebral spinal fluid, on the X-rays, an so on. You can accurately establish the diagnosis, and if you make a mistake, another doctor can show you that you made a wrong diagnosis and – as a result – prescribed the wrong treatment. In psychiatry, this is possible only for those conditions that have an organic cause. There is a group of psychotic states, where this is the case – the so called “organic psychoses.” However, there exists a large group of conditions diagnosed as psychoses for which no biological causes have been found.  These are called “functional” or “endogenous psychoses.”

Anybody familiar with medicine knows that this essentially means admission of ignorance wrapped in a fancy title (endogenous means “generated from within”). This is not a medical diagnosis backed by laboratory data. It is a situation characterized by unusual experiences and behaviors for which the current conceptual framework of psychiatry has no explanation. To make a differential diagnosis, we would first have to have a diagnosis established as rigorously as it is done in somatic medicine. Because that is not the case, we have to use a different approach. We can try to identify the criteria that would make the person experiencing a non-ordinary state of consciousness a good candidate for deep inner work. If they meet these criteria, we try to work with them psychologically to help them get through this experience, rather than indiscriminately suppressing their symptoms with psychopharmacological agents.

The first criterion there is the phenomenology of the individual’s condition. A positive indication is presence of elements that we see daily in participants in Holotropic Breathwork sessions or psychedelic sessions – reliving of traumatic memories from infancy or childhood,  reliving of biological birth or episodes of prenatal existence, the experience of psychospiritual death and rebirth, past life experiences, visions of archetypal beings or visits to archetypal realms. Additional positive indications are experiences of oneness with other people, with nature, with the universe, with God.

The second important criterion is the person’s attitude. The individual in spiritual crisis has to have some sense of understanding that this is a process with which is happening internally. Very bad candidates for alternative psychological work are people who use a lot of projections, who deny that they have a problem and that they are dealing with an internal process. They are convinced that all their problems are caused by outside forces: it is the neighbor who is poisoning their soup and placing bugging devices in their house; it is the Ku Klux Klan trying to destroy them; it is a mad scientist attacking them by a diabolic machine, or the invading Martians. So there is a tendency to blame that condition on somebody or something outside of them and being unwilling to accept the possibility that there is something within their own psyche that they can work on. So, unless that attitude changes, it is very difficult to do this type of work.
David: Why do you think that the conditions surrounding one’s birth have such a lasting effect on one’s outlook toward life?

Stan: Birth is an extremely powerful, elemental event that for many children is a matter of life and death. This is especially true for those who were born severely asphyxiated – dead or half-dead – and had to be resuscitated. In any case, it is a major trauma that has a physical as well as an emotional dimension. The position of current psychiatry and psychology toward birth is unbelievable – contrary to elementary logic, we see a massive denial of the fact that birth is a major psychotrauma. The usual reason given for the fact that birth is psychologically irrelevant – inadequate myelinization of the newborn’s cortex – is hard to take seriously. It is in sharp contrast with data from both postnatal and prenatal life.

There exists general agreement among child psychiatrists that the experience of nursing is of paramount importance for the rest of the individual’s emotional life. Obstetricians and pediatricians even talk about the importance of “bonding” – the exchange of looks between the mother and the child immediately after the child is born – as the foundation of the future mother-child relationship. And extensive prenatal research of people like Alfred Tomatis has shown extreme sensitivity of the fetus already in the prenatal period. How should we reconcile this with the belief that the hours of life and death struggle in the birth canal are psychologically irrelevant?

It seems really bizarre that psychiatrists and psychologists believe that there is no consciousness in the child during the passage through the birth canal, but then suddenly appears as soon as the newborn emerges into the world.  And the argument about the lack of myelinization of the newborn’s cortex violates elementary logic and doesn’t make any sense either. We know from biology that memory does not require a cerebral cortex, let alone a myelinized one. There are organisms that don’t have any cortex at all and they certainly can form memories. Several years ago, the Nobel Prize was given to Austrian-American researcher Eric Kandel for studying memory mechanisms in a sea slug called Aplysia. So it’s very difficult to imagine how people in the academic circle think, if they can accept that the sea slug can form memories but a newborn child, with an extremely highly developed nervous system and brain, would not be able to create a memory record of the hours spent in the birth canal.

David: What do you think of applying Konrad Lorenz’s notion of biological imprinting–as opposed to conditioning or learning–to the lasting psychological effect that psychedelic experiences often produce?

Stan: The term “imprinting” is most relevant here in relation to the very early situations in an organism’s development. As you know, ethologists have shown that the early experiences of life are extremely influential. For example, there is a period of about sixteen hours in the early life of ducklings when whatever moves around becomes for them the mother. So if you walk around in red rubber shoes, they ignore their mother and follow the shoes. Psychedelics can induce deep age regression to the early periods in one’s life and offer the opportunity for a corrective psychobiological experience. This new experience then seems to have the same powerful influence on the individual’s life as the natural imprinting.

I ultimately don’t believe that the memories we experience in psychedelic sessions are stored in the brain, certainly not all of them. I think that many of them obviously don’t have any material substrate in the conventional sense – ancestral, collective, phylogenetic, and karmic memories, archetypal matrices, etc. Recently, there has been much discussion about “memory without a material substrate” – for example, Rupert Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields or Ervin Laszlo’s Akashic field. So I don’t believe that what we experience is stored the brain. I believe that the brain is mediating consciousness, but does not generate it, and that it mediates memories, but does not store them.

David: Why do you think it is that the LSD experiences have such a lasting effect on people?

Stan: Isn’t that true about every powerful experience? The more powerful the experience is, the more of an effect it has. It is true even for experiences that we have forgotten, repressed, dissociated from consciousness. Everything that we experience in life is shaping us with a lasting effect. Some of these influences are more subtle, and some of them more dramatic, but certainly traumas that people experience in childhood can have tremendous impact. Events in human life can have everlasting impact of people.

David: What do you personally think happens to consciousness after death?

Stan: I have had experiences in my psychedelic sessions — quite a few of them – when I was sure I was in the same territory that we enter after death. In several of my sessions, I was absolutely certain that it had already happened and I was surprised when I came back, when I ended up in the situation where I took the substance. So the experience of being in a bardo in these experiences is extremely convincing. We now also have many clinical observations suggesting that consciousness can operate independently of the brain, the prime example being out-of-body experiences in near-death situations (NDEs).

Some out-of-body experiences can happen to people not only when they are in a state of cardiac death, but also when they are brain dead. Cardiologist Michael Sabom, described a patient he calls Pam, who had a major aneurysm on the basilar artery and had to undergo a risky operation. In order to operate on her, they had to basically freeze her brain to the point that she stopped producing brain waves. And, at the same time, she had one of the most powerful out-of-body experiences ever observed, with accurate perception of the environment; following her operation, she was able to give an accurate description of the operation and to draw the instruments they were using.

So what these observations suggest is that consciousness can operate independently of our body when we are alive, which makes it fairly plausible that something like that is possible after our body is dead. So both the experiential evidence from my own sessions and what you find in the thanatological literature, certainly suggest that survival of consciousness after death is a very real possibility.

David: What is your perspective on the concept of God?

Stan: When Jung was over eighty years old he had an interview with a BBC reporter. At one point this BBC reporter asked him “Dr. Jung, do you believe in God?” A smile appeared on Jung’s face and he said, “No, I don’t.” Any Jungians who are watching this tape cannot believe it: “What? Dr. Jung doesn’t believe in God?” Then, after a dramatic pause, Jung says: “I know. I had the experience of being grabbed by something that was by far more powerful than I could even imagine.” Like Jung, I had experiences – actually quite a few of them over the years – of what I would refer to as God.

I have experienced in my sessions many gods – archetypal figures of many forms from different cultures of the world. But when I refer to God, I am talking about an experience, which is beyond any forms. What I experienced as God is difficult to describe; as you know, the mystics often refer to their experiences as ineffable. It could be best described as an incredibly powerful source of light, with an intensity that I earlier couldn’t even have imagined. But, it doesn’t really do it justice to refer to it as light because it was much more than that. It seemed to contain all of existence in a completely abstract form and it transcended all imaginable polarities. There was a sense of infinite boundless creativity. There was a sense of personality and even a sense of humor (of a cosmic variety).

The experience of God seems to be under certain circumstance available to all human beings. If you haven’t had the experience, then there’s no point in talking about it. As long as people have to talk about believing in God or not believing in God or, for that matter, believing in past lives or not believing in past lives, it is irrelevant because they do not have anything to go by. Their opinion doesn’t have any real basis; it reflects the influences of their parents, their preacher, or something they have read. Once you had the experiences, you know that the experiences were real and very convincing.

David: What types of research and therapies do you foresee for psychedelics in the future?

Stan: I think that the most interesting area waiting to be explored is to use psychedelics for enhancing creativity, as we talked about it earlier. It is something that would facilitate completely new ways of looking at various areas and generate extraordinary new insights into the nature of reality. But I am afraid it will take some time before we see research of this kind. The most difficult challenge has always been to get permission to use psychedelics in populations where there is no serious clinical reason (e.g. terminal cancer, chronic alcoholism, etc.).

David: What are you currently working on?

Stan: Christina and I are writing a long overdue book on the theory and practice of Holotropic Breathwork. It will be a very comprehensive book, covering a wide range of topics from the history of the breathwork to the therapeutic use of breathwork sessions andits social implications. It will include the description how to prepare a session and how to run a session, as well as the complementary methods that you can use following the session. It discusses the therapeutic effects, the posibilities of developing a new worldview and new life strategies, as well as the possible importance of working with holotropic states as a means of alleviating the current global crisis.

David. Is there anything that we didn’t speak about that you would like to add?

Stan: One of the areas I am particularly interested in is the revolutionary development on various scientific disciplines and the emergence of the new paradigm. I firmly believe that we are rapidly moving toward a radically new world view and that transpersonal psychology and spirituality will be integral parts of it. A worldview that will synthesize the best of science and the best of spirituality and would demonstrate that there is really no incompatibility between science and spirituality, if both of them are properly understood. The other area that I am very deeply interested has to do with the phenomenal digital special effects, which are now available in the movie industry.

David: Are you still interested in making animated films?

Stan: It is ironical, isn’t it? As I look at it, my career has not changed as much as I initially thought when I became interested in psychiatric research. Psychedelic experiences with their rich imagery are not that far from animated movies. But I am not interested any more in making animated movies; what I am interested in is the spiritual potential of these new special effects. I believe that the special effects are so powerful these days that they could not only portray mystical experience, but they could actually induce them in people if they were properly constructed. If we could combine what we know about the inner logic of these experiences with these new special effects, the results could be truly extraordinary. Unfortunately, the new special effects are being used mostly for portraying destructive movies scenes.

Hollywood movies portray with formidable power scenes reflecting what I call BPM III – the violent and sexual imagery associated typically with the final stages of birth. The destructive scenes are so boringly stereotypical that they are almost  exchangeable from movie to movie; only the danger takes different forms – alien invaders, natural disasters, dinosaurs or other monsters, demonic beings, and all kinds of dangerous villains threatening to destroy the planet.  Most of these movies end up in a situation where the enemy is overcome and people celebrate the victory on a trashed, devastated planet.   What is missing is the shift to BPM IV, lifting the experience to the transcendental level, to spiritual death/rebirth experience. I don’t know if you know that Christina and I were consultants on the movie called Brainstorm, which was an attempt to portray a transcendental experience.

David: I had read that, and found that very interesting, as Brainstorm is one of my favorite films. I thought that there were a lot of fascinating ideas in it.

Stan: That was an effort to bring to the screen the transcendental aspects of the death experience.  Unfortunately, the special effects were very compromised, because of the tragic death of Natalie would shortly before the movie was finished. MGM didn’t want to put any more money into the movie; they believed that it was not viable, because there were three scenes of principal photography with Natalie that were still missing. Doug Trumbull convinced the MGM people that he could finish the movie. He did his best to put it together, but it didn’t really come out very well. If you watch the movie, it is not only the lack of the special effects, but there is a kind of a logical gap; you can tell that there is something missing. But I think that the topic of the movie is so interesting that it deserves a remake, as they are remaking all kinds of other movies. I think that this is one that deserves to be remade and done really well.

Robert Anton Wilson – 2

Quantum Sociology and Neuropolitics
David Jay Brown Interviews Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson is a writer and philosopher with a huge cult following. He is the author of over 35 popular fiction and nonfiction books, dealing with such themes as quantum mechanics, the future evolution of the human species, weird unexplained phenomena, conspiracy theories, synchronicity, the occult, altered states of consciousness, and the nature of belief systems. His books explore the relationship between the brain and consciousness, and the link between science and mysticism, with wit, wisdom, and personal insights. Comedian George Carlin said, “I have learned more from Robert Anton Wilson than I have from any other source.”

Wilson is a very entertaining writer, and both his fiction and nonfiction books can be as reality-shifting as a hearty swig of shamanic jungle juice. Wilson has an uncanny ability to lead his readers, unsuspectingly, into a state of mind where they are playfully tricked into “aha” experiences that cause them to question their most basic assumptions. The writers of many popular science fiction films and television shows have been influenced by Wilson’s writings, and they will sometimes make subtle cryptic references to his philosophy in their stories–often by making the number 23 significant in some way, which refers to Wilson’s strange synchronicities around that number.

Since 1962 Wilson has worked as an editor, futurist, novelist, playwright, poet, lecturer and stand-up comic. He earned his doctorate in psychology from Paideia University, and from 1966-1971 he was the Associate Editor of Playboy magazine. He is perhaps best known for the science fiction trilogy Illuminatus!, which he co-authored with Robert Shea in 1975. The Village Voice called the trilogy “the biggest sci-fi cult novel to come along since Dune.” His Schroedinger’s Cat trilogy was called “the most scientific of all science-fiction novels” by New Scientist magazine.

Some of Wilson’s popular nonfiction books, which blend social philosophy with satire, as well as with personal experiments and experience, include Cosmic Trigger, Prometheus Rising, Quantum Psychology, The New Inquisition, The Illuminati Papers, Right Where You Are Sitting Now, and Everything is Under Control. His most current book is TSOG: The Thing That Ate The Constitution, a satirical commentary about the loss of constitutional rights in America. (TSOG is an acronym for “Tsarist Occupation Government”.)

Wilson has also appeared as a stand-up comic at night clubs throughout the world, and he made a comedy record called Secrets of Power. His more academic lectures are best described as “stand-up philosophy”, and they are as funny and thought-provoking as his comedy routines. He also teaches seminars at New Age retreats, like the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, and his Web site–www.rawilson.com–is in the top two percent of the most visited sites on the internet. Rev. Ivan Stang, cofounder of The Church Of The Subgenius, described Wilson as “the Carl Sagan of religion, the Jerry Falwell of quantum physics, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of feminism and the James Joyce of swing-set assembly manuals.”

Wilson starred on a Punk Rock record called The Chocolate Biscuit Conspiracy, and his play Wilhelm Reich in Hell was performed at the Edmund Burke Theater in Dublin, Ireland. His novel Illuninatus! was adapted as a ten-hour science fiction rock epic and performed under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Great Britain’s National Theater (where he appeared briefly on stage in a special cameo role).

A documentary about Wilson’s life and work entitled “Maybe Logic” (by Lance Bauscher) was released on July 23, 2003. At the premiere of the film (at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz, California), the mayor of Santa Cruz (Emily Reilly) officially declared that, from that day forth, July 23rd would be “Robert Anton Wilson Day” in Santa Cruz.

It was Bob’s book Cosmic Trigger that not only inspired me to become a writer when I was a teenager, but it was also where I first discovered many of the fascinating individuals who would later become the subjects of my interview books. So it was a great thrill for me when Bob wrote the introduction to my first book, Brainchild. I interviewed Bob for my second book, Mavericks of the Mind, in 1989, and wanted to check in with him again to see what he thought about some of the things that we spoke about fourteen years ago, as well as the present state of the world. Bob and I have been good friends for many years, and he continues to inspire me. He is particularly fond of the writings of James Joyce and Ezra Pound, and I’ve learned a lot about Finnegan’s Wake and The Cantos by going to his weekly discussion groups.

I interviewed Bob on September 23, 2003. At 72 he remains as sharp and witty as ever. Bob has an uncanny ability to perceive things that few people notice, and he has an incredible memory. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of many different fields–ranging from literature and psychology, to quantum physics and neuroscience. He is unusually creative in his use of language, and he has his own unique style of humor. Despite many personal challenges over the years, Bob has always maintained a strongly upbeat perspective on life, and–regardless of the circumstances–he never fails to make me smile every time I see him. Everyone who meets him agrees; there’s something truly magical about Robert Anton Wilson.

I spoke with Bob about the nature of optimism, why politics on this planet is such a big mess, his decision to run for governor of California, our vanishing constitutional rights in America, the philosophy of “maybe logic”, extraterrestrial intelligence, and why he thinks Hannibal Lector would make a better president than George W. Bush.

David: What were you like as a child?

Bob: Stubborn, it seems; maybe pig-headed. My mother often told me how, when I had polio at age 4, I kept trying to get up and walk. She said that no matter how hard I fell, I’d stand and stagger again until I fell again. I attribute that to Irish genetics–after 800 years of British occupation, the quitters did not survive to reproduce, you know. But I still loathe pessimism, masochism and every kind of self-pity. I regard loser scripts as actively nefarious and, in high doses, toxic. Due to that Nietzschean attitude, and the Sister Kenny treatment, I did walk again and then became highly verbal.

A neighbor said, even before I started school, that I should become a lawyer because no judge could shut me up. I attribute that, not to genetics, but to the polio and polio-related early reading skills. Due to a year of total-to-partial paralysis,I missed a vital part of normal male socialization and never became any good at sports, but I devoured books like a glutton. The nuns at the Catholic school where my parents sent me did shut me up for a while. Catholic education employs both psychologocal and physical terrorism: threats of “Hell” and physical abuse. But they never stopped me from thinking–just from saying what I thought.

David: What inspired you to become a writer?

Bob: The magic of words. One of the biggest thrills of my childhood came at the end of King Kong when Carl Denham says. “No, it wasn’t the airplanes–it was Beauty that killed the Beast.” I didn’t know what the hell that meant, but it stirred something in me. In fact, it felt like what the nuns told me I would feel after eating Holy Eucharist–what we call a mystic experience–except that I didn’t get it from the eucharist but from a gigantic gorilla falling off a gigantic skyscraper and having that line as his epitaph. I wanted to learn to use words in a way that would open people’s minds to wonder and poetry the way those words had opened mine.

David: What is “maybe logic”?

Bob: A label that got stuck on my ideas by film-maker Lance Bauscher. I guess it fits. I certainly recognize the central importance in my thinking–or in my stumbling and fumbling efforts to think–of non-aristotelian systems. That includes von Neumann’s three-valued logic [true, false, maybe], Rapoport’s four-valued logic [true, false, indeterminate, meaningless], Korzybski’s multi-valued logic [degrees of probability], and also Mahayana Buddhist paradoxical logic [it

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Alex Grey – 2

Sacred Reflections and Transfigurations

David Jay Brown
Interviews Alex Grey

Alex Grey is a visionary artist recognized the world over for his astonishing paintings. His work has been exhibited at museums and galleries around the globe, including the New Museum and Stux Gallery in New York City, the Grand Palais in Paris, the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil, and the ARK exhibition space in Tokyo. His paintings have been used in extremely diverse venues–from Newsweek magazine and the Discovery Channel, to Rave flyers and sheets of blotter acid. Grey’s art has been featured on many posters, greeting cards, book covers, and as album art for such bands as Tool, the Beastie Boys, the String Cheese Incident, and Nirvana. 

Grey’s unique painting style is unmistakable. His work often depicts naked translucent people, as though they were caught in the midst of a mystical experience, with uncanny scientific precision. Grey’s paintings are painstakingly detailed, revealing anatomically accurate views of the inner body. Intricate blood-vascular configurations, eerie skeletal structures, and nervous systems that are exploding with electrical activity, are visible inside bodies that radiate spiritual auras, acupuncture merdians, and metaphysical energies. The subjects are often engaged in activities that make the most of this incredible, eyeball-grabbing technique that “x-rays” multiple levels of reality simultaneously. Grey applies this multidimensional perspective to such archetypal human experiences as being born, dying, praying, meditating, and making love. I find that merely looking at one of his paintings can trigger a mystical state of consciousness. Deepak Chopra said, “Alex Grey’s art will bring you face to face with your soul and move you to a new level of enlightenment.”

Grey went to the Columbus College of Art and Design for two years (1971-73), then dropped out and painted billboards in Ohio for a year (73-74). He then attended the Boston Museum School for one year, to study with the conceptual artist, Jay Jaroslav. Grey then spent five years at Harvard Medical School working in the Anatomy department studying the body and preparing cadavers for dissection. He also worked at Harvard’s department of Mind/Body Medicine with Dr. Herbert Benson and Dr. Joan Borysenko conducting scientific experiments to investigate subtle healing energies. Grey was an instructor in Artistic Anatomy and Figure Sculpture for ten years at New York University, and now teaches courses in Visionary Art with his wife Allyson at The Open Center in New York City, Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado and Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. 

Grey began his career as a performance artist, doing live pieces that often involved dark ritualistic elements related to death and rebirth. Although his later work has become much more positive, rapturous, and even ecstatic, his early art demonstrates that he wasn’t afraid to explore the dark side of his psyche. Grey began doing performance art in 1972, which he describes as “rites of passage, in that they present stages of a developing psyche.” Grey’s approximately fifty performance rites, conducted over the last twenty five years, move through “transformations from an egocentric to more sociocentric and increasingly worldcentric and theocentric identity”.

A large collection of work by Grey and his wife called “Heart Net” was displayed at Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum in 1998-99. In 1999 the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego honored Grey with a mid-career retrospective. Many of Grey’s paintings have been collected in his books Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey (Inner Traditions, 1990) and Transfigurations (Inner Traditions, 2001). In addition to Grey’s two large format art books, he is also the author of the book The Mission of Art, which traces the evolution of human consciousness through art history, exploring the role of an artist’s intention and conscience, and reflecting on the creative process as a spiritual path. He also co-edited the book, Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics (Chronicle Books, 2002). Grey’s recent video exploring the healing potential of sacred art is called ARTmind. To find out more about Grey’s work visit his web site: www.alexgrey.com

Alex lives in New York City with his wife, artist Allyson Grey, and their daughter, actress Zena Grey. I first interviewed Alex while he was visiting San Francisco on March 15, 1995, at the beautiful Victorian bed and breakfast where he was staying. I spoke with him again, nine years later, to update the interview on March 2, 2004, although I’ve had a number of interesting conversations with Alex over the past few years. He has a very warm and generous spirit. I found him to be unusally focused, with great clarity of mind. He came across as a deeply spiritual person, with a strong commitment to integrating his work with his own personal evolution. We talked about the inspiration for his art, what it’s like to cut up bodies in a morgue, and the relationship between shamanism and art, mysticism and creativity. 

David: What were you like as a child?

Alex: The first memories I have are of lying in bed and seeing textures. First, I would see a pure field, white light, like bliss–ecstatic space. Then I remember a narley snaggle-branched, brownish, ugly dark force moving into that space from the periphery of my perception, coming in clumps, and then taking over. This dynamic, ugly sharp texture would terrify me, and it seemed to consume me. I guess it was the primordial chaos. Then little islands of purity would crop up. The pools would clear away and I’d have a white light ocean again. I was around two years old. Very strange.

David: So your earliest memories are tactile, not really visual?

Alex: Well, they were internally-based visions of texture, like yin-yang energies, the constant flux of repose and motion, or darkness and light. As I got a little older, I became interested in dead animals. I started a small pet cemetery in the back yard, and buried numerous animals back there.

David: Were you dissecting any of them?

Alex: I didn’t really do much dissection. I wasn’t so interested in that. It was just being aware of dead animals, and seeing them close up.

David: Were you fascinated by the differences between a living and a dead animal?

Alex: Yes, absolutely. They were so still. One day some kid said, “Oh, look there’s a dead bird.” When I picked it up, I found out it wasn’t a dead bird. It was a rabid bat, and it bit me on the hand (laughter). I didn’t know it was rabid, but it had evidently fallen out of a tree. So, I took it home to show my mom. She said, “Aaah, get it out of the house!” Then I tried to hang it in a tree, because I knew that they were supposed to hang upside down. I came back an hour later to draw a picture of “Bobbie” the bat, but it had fallen out of the tree again. My mom said that was probably a bad sign. So we put it in a shoe box.

The next day people in like radioactive suits came out with tongs to pick up the poor thing. They put it in a big metal canister and took it away. Sure enough, it was rabid, and I had to go through all these shots in the fleshy parts of the stomach area, and in my back. The antitoxin that they injected me with contained dead dried duck embryo and it would leave a lump under my skin. It was very painful. I think that stopped me from picking up dead animals for awhile.

David: Was your mother scolding you, saying things like, “Alex, enough with the dead animals already!” ?

Alex: No, I think she was more worried about my interest in monster magazines, or monsters in general.

David: You mean like Famous Monsters of Filmland?

Alex: Right, and I had a lot of nightmares about devil-dogs. There was a recurring dream of a devil-dog that would kill me in various ways. Maybe it was some kind of a shamanic beast. One of my first performance pieces had to do with a dog.

David: Do you think that your early childhood interest in monsters and death led to an interest in the occult, which later led to an interest in altered states and mystical visions?

Alex: I had a particular interest in whatever was strange. Monstrosities, fetal abnormalities, genetic malformations, became strong interests. They were like real monsters. The caprice of God, as a designer in these various genetic strains, was quite an amazing and fascinating thing–that we could have two heads, or flippers instead of feet. And it’s really miraculous that we don’t. We live our lives within normal routines. Altered states of consciousness are condensed experiences that provide crystallized insights. Like dream experiences, they run counter to normal experience and let us see our life in another context, from the vantage point of the altered state. The monster recontextualizes reality and shows you that life could be another way. A monster is an alternative being, rather than an alternative state of consciousness.

David: What was your religious upbringing like?

Alex: Every week, when I was young, my family went to Methodist church and I always respected the teachings of Jesus. But I never got hooked into a sincere spiritual search until my parents left the church. My parents left the church in a huff of disillusionment and became agnostic-atheists. That’s when God and spirituality started to interest me.

David: What age were you?

Alex: I was about twelve. The teenage existential years had started to come on heavy. I knew there was something undiscovered, but I had to get through a lot of depression before I could find it.

David: So the age of twelve is when you first started to really question how we got here?

Alex: Well, a couple years earlier, my grandmother died. I saw her get progressively yellower from jaundice, and eventually die. When I asked my father, “When is she going to get better?”, I remember him saying, that she was not. I knew what dead animals were like, but this was the first person who was close to me who died. It had a big impact.

David: In what way?

Alex: I felt life’s impermanence, that this body is temporary. Maybe it indirectly fueled the commitment to my work. I think that every artist or anyone who is trying to accomplish something before their own death has the specter of death grinning over their shoulder .

David: Meaning the sense of urgency that death gives you because you feel the constraint of the time-limit on your life’s work?

Alex: Right. You have to appreciate each day, and do what you can while you’re alive.

David: What was it like working as an embalmer in a morgue?

Alex: I worked in a morgue and a museum of anatomy. I created displays on the history of medicine and disease. I once did an exhibit on bladder stones.

David: What’s a bladder stone?

Alex: It’s like mineral deposits in the bladder.

David: Like a kidney stone?

Alex: Yeah. They used to get rather large and painful, making it difficult to pee, before the invention of ultra-sound detection. Medical science developed ways of cutting for the stone. The museum had a collection of bladder stones, kidney stones, and gall stones, and the surgical tools used to operate on them. They had collections of weird stuff, like a hairball the size of a human stomach taken from a guy who worked in a wig factory and ate hair. There was a skeleton of a guy who had such bad rickets that he pushed himself around in a big wooden bowl. We had specimens of malformations that you rarely see today. Medical science can intercede more effectively and faster now. In the museum there were jars with siamese twins of all different kinds– connected at the head, connected at the thorax, connected every which way. That was the most astonishing collection.

Then there was the morgue work. I would accept bodies when the funeral home brought them in. It was a medical school morgue, so we prepared the bodies for dissection. When a new body came in, if no one else was there, I would do a simplified Tibetan Book of the Dead ritual, calling their name, and encouraging them to go toward the light.

David: Wait, was this on your own that you did this?

Alex: It was not with the permission (laughter) of the medical school. “Oh, he’s over there reading the Bardo to the dead guy.” No, it wasn’t standard operating procedure there at the morgue, but I couldn’t with full consciousness accept these bodies as pieces of meat. Their spirit might still be hovering around the physical body.

David: You definitely felt presences around you?

Alex: Oh, I definitely felt it. Maybe it’s a projection of my fear of death. I might die today or maybe tomorrow. It’s going to happen but I don’t know when. There’s also a simultaneous repugnance and fear–terror in a way–of this awesome energy, the Mysterium Tremendum of one’s life. Life’s limitations are confronting. Basic questions of selfhood arise. Who am I? What am I? If life and mind goes on after death, where does it go? All those questions come, like a freight train, through your mind whenever you’re with dead people.

There was the work-a-day stuff that I did. I had to pump the bodies full of phenol and formalin, a kind of embalming fluid. I didn’t drain the blood before putting in the embalming fluid, like in a commercial morgue. Gallons and gallons of embalming fluid would saturate the body, and it would puff up. All kinds of nauseating substances would ooze from every orifice during that process. Then it would drain off a little bit, and you’d wrap it up. Put a little lanolin on the hands and face, wrap them like a mummy, and stick them in the freezer. Occasionally there would be a request from a professor for only particular organs, or particular appendages, like hands were needed once to train hand surgeons. I had to hacksaw off dozens of pairs of hands.

David: I don’t understand. Why did you have to do that?

Alex: Well, there was a convention of hand surgeons doing a workshop. They needed a lot of hands to study and dissect.

David: These people had donated their bodies?

Alex: Right. But the hand surgeons, for instance, didn’t need the whole body, so somebody had to go and hacksaw off the hands, or the head. Now the head–that was a more intense thing. They had a kind of chainsaw-like device and you could create kind of a sculpture bust–down the shoulders, and then across the middle. You’d have a head, which you’d stick on a tray, and take to the place. That was wild. That was too much.

David: How old were you when you were doing this?

Alex: Around twenty to twenty four.

David: How did this affect you emotionally?

Alex: It was an unforgettable experience. I felt like I probably could have declined, but then I would never have had that experience in this lifetime. It’s doubtful, except in the case of a psychotic murderer, that anyone would have that experience outside of a medical school where dismemberment is part and parcel of the daily activities. Maybe if you were a Tibetan funeral preparator doing sky-burials, you chop up the bodies.

David: Have you gotten to hold a human brain in your hand?

Alex: Oh yeah, plenty of times. To me, that’s the most amazing thing–just to hold the brain. I teach anatomy now for artists at NYU, and we go to a medical school anatomy lab. They always have brains with the spinal cord attached. All those fine threads of neurons, it’s awesome.

David: It’s incredible to hold a brain in your hands, and know that’s where the person’s whole life experience took place. Have you noticed that when you look at a dead body, and compare it to them when they were alive, it doesn’t even look like them anymore without the animating muscles?

Alex: Yeah, I’ve noticed that.

David: As though the animating force, which tenses and holds together the facial muscles, just isn’t there anymore.

Alex: Right. There’s complete relaxation and no tension at all left. If a body came in that had been dead for a few days in the Summer, there was a completely different coloration than if they came in Winter. Bodies prepared by funeral directors are obviously fixed-up to match the person you might have known.

David: So would you use a photograph to work from?

Alex: We never got into that. Although, I used to do make-up work on my own, and worked with morticians wax to create make-up effects, like Quasimodo and other monsters, but that was not part of the job description there. The medical school diener just embalms and prepares the bodies for dissection, or for simple burial afterwards.

David: How did you become involved in performance art?

Alex: That happened when I went to art school in 1970-71 at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio. I was there for two years. I started reading art magazines, and read about artists like Vito Acconci and Chris Burden, and the so-called “body artists.” There were a number of Viennese actionists, who worked in Austria. I got to meet one of those guys, a fellow named Otto Muehl. In the Sixties they did performances that were very violent and sexual. They used a swans head to enter a women, and then cut off the swans head in orgiastic displays of passion, throwing the blood around. Hermann Nitsch, one of the Viennese actionists, continues to do these kinds of performances where they slaughter lambs, and let the entrails fall all over nude figures strapped up underneath a sort of crucified lamb.

They’re very grisly, and supposedly cathartic displays of performance energy. This fellow Muehl started a place called Actions Analysis Organization. It was based on LSD use, communal living and Wilhelm Reich’s bodywork. Muehl was a cross between Charlie Manson and a Neo-Reichian bodyworker. He was a charismatic character, and was my introduction to performance work. Soon after that, in ‘72 I started working with dead animals myself. It seemed appropriate since I had worked with dead animals early on, that I should get back to examining the subject of mortality. Many artists, even well known artists today, who are working with meaning and content (rather that formal concerns) often use performance or installation art to express themselves, rather than painting. Painting that is rich in meaning and narrative content has been given short shrift during this century, since modernism.

David: Are you including people like Laurie Anderson?

Alex: She does create some content-driven work. Chris Burden, Vito Acconci, Paul McCarthy, Rachel Rosenthal, Karen Finley, and Diamanda Galas, are all using very strong content in their work.

David: There was a dark quality to your early performance art pieces, unlike your contemporary paintings which have a more positive transcendent quality to them. Can you tell me what caused the shift of focus in your creative work?

Alex: I had a dramatic series of vision states that occurred after doing certain performances. They were performances that were done in the morgue where I worked, using the dead bodies. Using people’s bodies in my artwork had questionable ethical ramifications. It was trespassing and there were consequences. I experienced a vision where I was in a courtroom being judged. I couldn’t see the face of the judge, but I knew the accuser was a woman’s body who I had violated in the morgue work. She was accusing me of this sin. I said “It was for art’s sake.” This excuse didn’t hold up under scrutiny for the judge. I was put on lifetime probation and not forgiven. The content of my work and my orientation would be watched from that point on. It made me consider the ethical intentions of my art. The motivation that moves us to creative work is critical.

David: In terms of the consequences?

Alex: Yeah. What does one intend for the viewer to experience? I also had an intense experience after I shot photographs of about thirty malformed fetuses from a collection. One night I was lying in bed, but awake. I saw one malformed fetus hovering in front of me. It was like a holographic projection in space which spoke with many voices, all saying the same thing. “It’s time for you to come with us. We’ve come to take you.” The being itself, the creature in the jar that I photographed, was not an evil being. But somehow, in this holographic hallucination it was a personification of malevolence. It was threatening me, seeking to take over, take control, and I felt like I was on the precipice of sanity, about to go over the edge.

I started calling on divine love. I said, “Divine love is the strongest power,” and I just kept reaffirming that in the face of this being who was calling me. I made a commitment from that point on to reorient myself. After calling that out several times the hallucination dissolved, as if it were banished, and it was replaced by a bluish light that spoke. The light identified itself as Mr. Lewis, an interplanetary angel, who said he was going to watch over me for a little while. He would be helpful and guide me. That was mind-changing and life-changing.

David: Have you any experiences with Mr. Lewis since?

Alex: I’m not sure. I think he’s been working back-stage, and manipulating things.

David: What other kinds of experiences like this have you had?

Alex: In Tibetan Buddhist practices one projects visions of deity and guru forms like Garab Dorje, who is one of the earliest Dzogchen masters. Garab Dorje is a very strong spiritual archetype and guru. Although he lived over two thousand years ago, he is accessible as a helper-being because he attained the pinnacle of realization known as the ja-lus or rainbow body. By following certain secret practices, a yogi can dissolve their physical body into the essence of the elements, hence the name rainbow body, leaving behind only their hair, fingernails and toenails. It takes about seven days to shrink and disappear completely. There is a continuous lineage of Tibetan masters who have accomplished this seemingly unbelievable feat of self-liberation. The same thing is true with the great master Padmasambhava. who wrote theTibetan Book of the Dead. With the right mantra and visualization you may experience these masters presence and blessing.

David: What relationship do you see between sex and death?

Alex: They are both inevitable, and they are crystallizations of our life force and our loss of vitality. Orgasms have been described as mini-deaths. Certainly there can be an ecstatic ego-death, a convergence with the beloved during sex. I hope that death will be like a cosmic orgasm, where I’m released into convergence with the infinite one. Certain tantric traditions have sexual rituals to be performed in charnel grounds, and there are some pretty intense paintings of Kali astride corpse Shiva.

David: Do you view yourself as a shaman?

Alex: I can’t really claim that pedigree.

David: In Carlo McCormick’s essay in your book, he compares you to a shaman, and says that it was a necessary part of your journey to go through the darkness.

Alex: Metaphorically, the path of the wounded healer, or the journey of the shaman has very important implications for the future of spirituality. No other metaphor sufficiently deals with the journey of humanity. We are wounded, and whether we’re going to be the wounded victim, or the wounded healer is our choice. We have wounded the planet. We have wounded our genes. We’ve wounded the coming generations. Whether we make some remediation to the environment, and to our psyches, is something that only time will tell.

We need transcendent vision to guide us, and the vision of a common good to motivate and drive our creative efforts. That’s critical.  Another role that is critical at this time is the role of the Bodhisattva, because this is an archetype of ethical idealism. In Buddhism, the Bodhisattva, one whose being is enlightenment, expresses their compassion by working for the benefit of all sentient beings. Bodhichitta is altruistic positive motivation in all ones actions. These Mahayana Buddhist teachings emphasize a universal compassion and responsibility, and are the logical consequence of realizing that we are all connected and that we can’t turn our backs on a suffering world.

I love the yogic and shamanic path as a metaphor. A lot of my work is related to those paths. My early performance work started with an animal, the dead dog pieces, Secret Dog and Rendered Dog. That was my power animal that opened me up to the world of mortality and decay and led me to the underworld of death.

After the morgue pieces and a positive reorientation, my performances dealt with the possibilities of global death from nuclear war, and ecotastrophy. I think that everyone with a conscious sense of responsibility carries around a heavy sadness, fear or guilt about these possibilities. My daughter at age five made a little book about the earth. It started with the a happy earth from the earliest times when Adam and Eve were around. The globe had a happy face. Then the earth was being trashed and the trees and people were dying. The earth was dying. It frightens everyone. Even young children know the fear.

David: How and when did you start painting?

Alex: My father was an artist, a graphic designer, and he started teaching me how to draw. So at a young age I was drawing a lot. In first grade I was recognized by my teacher who said to the class “Alex is going to be a great artist someday.” This made me very proud and it probably gave me confidence early on. I think my ability to draw exceeds my ability to paint.

David: There’s a scientific precision to your work–even when you’re painting spiritual energy systems, it all appears anatomically accurate.

Alex: Right. I use the effect of simultaneous X-ray and Kirlian photography in my paintings. This combination evokes the appearance of a clairvoyant healers vision. Artists like Malevich, Kandinsky and Mondrian intended their art to be spiritual and my motives are not that different than theirs. After the twentieth century, these and other early Modernists wanted to create a new spiritual image divorced from representation. To them, Realism had been an impediment to the development of the spiritual in art. In some ways, I suppose they were right. The nineteenth century European Academies were filled with competent representational art. 

A stiff kind of neo-classical realism abounded which occasionally had its peaks in Jacques Louis David and Ingres, but for the most part was simply tiresome and totally bourgeois–portraits or still lifes, scenes from mythology or history. Art seemed like a mirror to the white man’s world without a glimpse of the individual visionary soul, let alone a glimpse of the World Soul. The early modernists wanted to bypass the natural world and simply invent forms from their minds. This resulted in a great leap forward in the purely mental and formal development of art. 

Art was free from the drudgery of representational art. But, when you eliminate references to the body and the external world, it’s difficult for some people to identify with the aesthetic object. Abstraction is seen as no more than an arrangement of shapes. If you ask Joe Six-pack whether Kandinsky’s work is spiritual, that thought might never have occurred to him. It took weirdo renegade symbolists like Blake, Redon and Delville to deepen the spiritual discourse of art.
Like those symbolists, I want to make work that is obviously spiritual. Even if a person doesn’t entirely understand the work, they can tell that it points to mystical, idealized or clairvoyant states of consciousness–states where the mind is expanding into sacred spaces. I want to make visible the body, mind, and spirit on a two dimensional canvas. Take a multi-dimensional experience, and collapse it into a two-dimensional framework. I started painting because I was having strong visions that I wanted to represent. At first, I had no idea about spirituality. I was just showing my raw psyche.

At one time in my late teens, I was feeling miserable and depressed about the break-up of a relationship, and had not slept in a few days. I was tossing and turning, and had this vision of a two-headed person. The healthy side was trying to pull off the sick side, and the sick side was laughing, because attempting to remove the shadow was self-destructive and fruitless. The vision was about the tension of these forces within.

It was existentialist adolescent hubris, but it seemed significant enough to make a painting of it. It was a visionary self-portrait. The process of vision and working with the imagination started to interest me. I never wanted to do surrealism or fantasy art. My work had to directly relate to the nature of the self–who am I , what am I. The work gets lumped in with surrealist work because it’s not traditional representational art.

David: That’s really a good point. There’s a big difference between surrealist and visionary art, and many people confuse them.

Alex: I think their intentions are different. Athough, there were artists who were motivated by surrealist and visionary intentions. Pavel Tchelitchev, for example.

David: Visionary art would more aptly be termed as a form of realism, I think.

Alex: There were artists like Ivan Albright whose work was called magic realism.

David: Or spiritual realism.

Alex: Yeah, or metaphysical realism. I’ve struggled with words that would describe it. There’s never been an adequate term. Jean Delville was a great symbolist painter and he called his work idealist. He was an idealist in the German Romantic philosophical tradition of Schelling and Schopenhouer, the Neo-Platonic idealists. I’m not uncomfortable with the terms symbolism or idealism. My work is symbolic and projects ideal archetypes. The wounded healer has to project an image of health in order to heal, and has to fight on the side of good.

David: Who are some of the other artists who have influenced you?

Alex: There are two or three painters from this century who I relate to strongly. There’s the Belgian symbolist painter Jean Delville. His work addresses the dualisms of body and soul, spirit and matter. The second is Ernst Fuchs who is a much under-appreciated Viennese “fantastic realist” painter. The third artist is Pavel Tchelitchev, who’s most famous painting, “Hide and Seek” is in the Museum of Modern Art, and well-known to many psychedelic afficianados. It’s a magnificient piece done in 1940-41. He spent the remainder of his career, 1942-56 studying the human anatomy, the subtle anatomy and spiritual networks of energy.

My work relates strongly to Tchelitchev. After acid trips, I started having visions of glowing bodies with the acupuncture meridians and points, chakras and auras all inter-relating. I started painting these images and a friend of mine told me that Tchelitchev was doing this kind of thing forty years ago. He was starting to do translucent bodies that I think were influenced by “The Visible Man” or “Visible Woman” seen at the New York World’s Fair of 1939. Also, the use of X-rays must have influenced him to envision a translucent body. Tchelitchev sometimes painted a glow around the body, as well. He was well-versed in Pythagoreanism and alchemy and was deeply into the occult.

Whether he ever took mescaline, I don’t know. He was dead before much acid was available. He died in ‘56, and yet he was embraced by psychedelic culture. His career has had its ups and downs in the legitimate art world. His work is currently gaining momentum after years of neglect. In the early Forties, he got a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. After that, his anatomical work went out of favor because it wasn’t related to “hot” artists like Jackson Pollock. Jack the dripper was big news in Life magazine, and there was a tidal wave of abstract expressionism that wiped out the magic realists. I think the 21st Century will look back and see the significance of the symbolists–work that is content-diven, sacred art that is idiosyncratic and personal. I think Tchelitchev’s career will be reassessed, and accorded more value. At any rate I see him as a forefather to my artwork.

David: How long does it take you on average to complete a painting?

Alex: Sometimes just a few months or it can take a year or more.

David: Do you ever do several pieces simultaneously?

Alex: No, I focus on one piece at a time. Each piece absorbs me. Meanwhile, there are visions circling overhead a-mile-a-minute, wanting to land on the easel. My notebooks are filled with extensive little scribbles of potential pieces.

David: Your painting style demonstrates extensive knowledge of human anatomy. Have you ever given thought to the fact that you share the last name with the man who wrote and illustrated Gray’s Anatomy ?

Alex: I changed my name to Grey at a time when I was doing a lot of performance works about resolving and exploring polarities. It was prior to my name change that I went to the North Magnetic Pole, and I shaved half my head of hair, in alignment with the rational and intuitive hemispheres of the brain.

David: So Grey represents a merging of the light and dark.

Alex: Exactly, Grey is the middle way. I took the name not thinking about the relationship with Gray’s Anatomy. But, it was fortuitous, and who knows what energies a name will draw into itself? My project has been to revision the human anatomy and include the non-material dimensions. Medical texts don’t address the soul level. Dissecting the body cannot reveal a soul.

David: Can you talk a little about the “Sacred Mirrors” project?

Alex: The “Sacred Mirrors,” are a series of twenty one panels that examine in fine detail the human physical and metaphysical anatomy–the body, mind, and spirit. Each Sacred Mirror presents a life-sized figure directly facing the viewer, arms to the side and palms forward (the “anatomical position”). This format allows the viewer to stand before the painted figure and “mirror” the image. People have reported that by using the paintings in this way, a resonance takes place between one’s own body and the painted image, creating a sense of “seeing into” oneself. 

The last time they were exhibited all together, I had the opportunity to trip with them. I felt like I was experiencing a new kind of subtle body work. When I was standing in front of the “Psychic Energy System” my “vital essence” was pulled out through my eyes, and into the painting, like a magnet. My vitality went into this glowing body, and like electrons zipping around a hard drive, I was being reformatted by the painted image of a perfect template. My vital essence was unkinked, purified and intensified. Then this essence oozed out of the painting and back into my body. The painting acted like a tool that catalyzed the evolution of my consciousness.

The “Sacred Mirrors” were a job I was given to do. They were a gift from the future, projected into my mind stream to bring benefit to others through healing art– a life-preserver tossed back into the time stream to be yanked towards the evolutionary future.

David: The Omega Point.

Alex: Right. The Sacred Mirrors have periodically been exhibited at various museums and galleries around the world. Allyson and I are committed to making them accessible to people in the form of a chapel, a permanent public space for the Sacred Mirrors. A Chapel of the Sacred Mirrors would bring together all twenty-one paintings in a domed circular room with guardian sculptures between each piece.

I think of the Chapel surrounding the Sacred Mirror room as a pyramidal structure containing a Sacred World Globe. The Globe symbolizes the collective spiritual consciousness of the planet, the noosphere, to use de Chardin’s term. The pyramidal architecture of the Chapel will symbolically draw in and focus healing and spiritual energies on planetary and personal awareness. The Chapel will act as a catalyst or an accelerator for the evolution of consciousness by displaying visionary and sacred art which evokes higher mind states. The spiritual legacy of humanity, East and West, from indigenous shamans to the world’s major religions would be acknowledged and honored there.

I’m creating an architectural model of the Chapel and working with a software company to make a virtual Chapel on CD-ROM, or possibly a Web-site which will make the space more accessible. This is a step towards the development of an actual chapel.

We need support to create this chapel. The site has not yet been chosen. It will be a space for personal transformation, for ritual and ceremony, for gatherings and cultural events. At this critical time in human history, we need places where all spiritual paths are honored. The Chapel of the Sacred Mirrors will celebrate the co-existence of religious diversity and fulfill the desire to enter into a unitive vision of World Spirit. 

David: What do you think happens to consciousness after death?

Alex: I accept the near-death research and Tibetan bardo explanations. Soon after physical death, when the senses shut down, you enter into the realms of light and archetypal beings. You have the potential to realize the clear light, our deepest and truest identity, if you recognize it as the true nature of your mind and are not freaked out. If you don’t, you may contact other less appealing dimensions. No one can know, of course until they get there. Some people have had experiences which give them certainty, but consciousness is the ultimate mystery. I’d like to surrender to the process on it’s deepest level when death occurs, but I will probably fail, and be back to interview you in the next lifetime. (laughter)

David: What’s your concept of God?

Alex: My daughter said the other day, “God must think it smells down in the sewer.” I thought that was an interesting statement. She said that because God is everywhere, and God is everything, God would be in the stinky places, too. God is the infinite oneness. Oneness, but also infinite. That is the meaning of non-dual. God is love. While we were tripping we thought, “Love is the part of the all that’s all of the all.” Divine love is infinite and omnipresent, but our experience of it is partial and incomplete from day-to-day. If you have a loved one you have access to the infinitude of divine love.

Even though Buddhists would not use the word God, the non-dual nature of mind, voidness, clarity, and infinite compassion, as described in the Buddhist teachings, is not different than the experience that I call God. Ken Wilber uses the ladder metaphor. There are different rungs, the material realm, the emotional, the mental, then the psychical, and progressively more spiritual hierarchies of states of consciousness and awareness. The highest rungs of the ladder give one the highest context, wherein the entire ladder is seen. The experience of God is the highest rung, and also the entire ladder. That’s the transcendent and the immanent aspects of God. God is the beyond and also the manifest world–“the entire field of events and meanings,” as Manjushrimitra puts it. One without the other is not the full picture.

David: You’re describing God as a state of consciousness. Do you see there being any type of intelligent design in the universe.

Alex: Absolutely. Wilber says that the materialists can’t offer more than a “whoops!” theory for the universe manifesting. Whoops, it occurred by some chance. That’s an infantile orientation to the complexity and beauty of the evolutionary design of the earth and cosmos. I think we can come up with something deeper. Spirit, God, Primordial Nature of the Mind, whatever you call it, is the source and goal of it all.

David: How have your experiences with psychedelics influenced your work and your perspective on life?

Alex: When I came back from the North Magnetic Pole, I knew I was looking for something.

David: How old you were?

Alex: I was 21, and I was searching for God. I didn’t know what that was. I was an existentialist. Within twenty four hours of returning from the Pole, I was invited to a party by an acquaintance who would become my wife. She invited me along with our professor, so the professor took me there. On the way, he offered me a bottle of Kalua laced with a high dose of LSD. It was the end of school, and I decided to celebrate. I drank a good deal of it. Allyson drank the rest. That was my first LSD experience.

Tripping that night I experienced going through a spiritual rebirth canal inside of my head. I was in the dark, going towards the light, spinning in this tunnel, a kind of an opalescent living mother-of-pearl tube. All paradoxes were resolved in this tunnel–dark and light, male and female, life and death. It was a very strong archetypal experience. The next day, because it had been my first trip, I called Allyson up, to talk to her about it. I asked her out that night, and we never left each other. It’s been over twenty years.

Within twenty-four hours of announcing that I’m looking for God, an LSD experience opened me up on a spiritual, evolutionary path, and I had met my wife. It was miraculous. My prayers were answered. Allyson and I have maintained an ongoing psychedelic sacramental relationship. We have often tripped laying in bed, blindfolded or in a beautiful environment. Then, coming out of blindfolds, we write and draw.

David: You created the isolation masks that I used to see advertised in High Times.

Alex: The Mindfold.

David: That was a brilliant idea, I thought, and so simple–putting together ear plugs and eye shades. Sort of a portable isolation tank. I made my own pair actually. So you’d wear those when you were tripping?

Alex: We used it as a blank screen to project our imagination on to. I saw it as an art object, as well. We made a limited edition of twenty-five hundred, and sold them all over the world. Then we sold the business.

David: You’ve tried one of John Lilly’s isolation tanks haven’t you?

Alex: Oh yeah, isolation tanks are great. You do get a different sense with immersion.

David: Have you ever actually tried to do any work while you were tripping?

Alex: A little–the results are interesting and remind me of the trip, but it’s not my most successful work. My work takes a steady mind, eye and hand to accomplish. The psychedelic helps me to access the infinitude of the imagination, allowing me to see countless interpenetrating dimensions. William James says that no model of reality can be complete without taking these alternative dimensions of consciousness into account. Since I want to make art dealing with the nature of consciousness and spirit, I have to experience higher dimensions of consciousness.

During a trip I will have visions that are crystallizations of my life experience, or something completely surprising. You may enter a dimension that you’ve never known before, and it seems very real, more real than this phenomenal world. That “other” reality seems to be tinkering with this one, or acting like a puppet-master to this one. I want to reveal the inter-relationships between the different dimensions in my work.

David: To act as a bridge between dimensions?

Alex: Consciousness is that bridge. Making interdimensionality visible validates it for people who have had that experience. They can see a picture outside of their own heads, and say, “It was something like this. I’m not crazy.” There’s plenty of people who’ve had those experiences. Perhaps the work can be useful in that way. I’ve talked to people who use my paintings as a tool to access the dimensions that are represented. Some people trip and look at the book, or look at the art, and key into the states that are symbolized there. That is a psychedelic or entheogenic full circle. I glimpsed the visions while tripping, come back and made the work. Then people trip and access the higher state that produced the vision. The painting acts a portal to the mystical dimension. That is the real usefulness of the work, and it is the great thing about any sacred art.

David: To act as something like an access code, or a doorway to a particular dimension, reality, or vibration?

Alex: Exactly.

David: How has your wife influenced your work? You say that you met her on that night you did psychedelics together. Has she remained as powerful of an influence?

Alex: Totally. Together we are a third mind that neither one of us alone could ever be. We guide each other’s art. We did a performance together called “Life Energy” in 1978, and I made these life-sized charts of the body–one of the Eastern model of Life Energy, and the other was the Western anatomical model of the nervous system. I demarcated an area in front of the image, so that a person could stand in that zone and try to mirror the system on the chart within their own body. We led several exercises during the Life Energy performance. As we were walking away afterwards, Allyson said, “It would really be great if you did fully detailed oil paintings of these different systems that people could stand in front of.” The charts had been the most successful thing about that performance. At that moment I was doomed to doing the “Sacred Mirrors”. Allyson was really the inspiration behind it. She’s inspired me to do numerous paintings–some of my best work. She’s a great designer in her own work and I collaborate with her on her paintings, too.

David: And you’ve worked on paintings together as well.

Alex: Yes. Allyson did the “secret writing” in the halo of the “Sophia” painting. My most recent works, “Transfiguration” and “Prostration”, use Allyson’s geometric grid systems. They relate to the kaleidoscopic DMT complexities and to sacred geometries. Her own work is very strong, and I’m influenced by being around it.

David: In the preface to the book Sacred Mirrors , you say that you and your wife actually shared the same vision of the energy fountains and drains.

Alex: Right. The Universal Mind Lattice. That was an extraordinary trip that really convinced me of the reality of the transpersonal dimensions. We experienced the same transpersonal space at the same time. That space of connectedness with all beings and things through love energy seemed more real to both of us, than the phenomenal world. It changed our work. From that point on we had to make art about that vision. There was nothing more important than that.

David: How has raising a family affected your creativity?

Alex: I have a wonderful daughter. Spending time with your family takes a lot of time away from painting, but it’s my opportunity during her youth to be with her. She’s going to be our only child during this lifetime. If I don’t spend time with her now, I will have missed out. So, we take advantage of it and enjoy seeing her stages of growth. Her art development is wonderful. She teaches us and is a great teacher. You need to spend time with your teachers in order to learn new things, and these things find their way into my work. All of my life experiences influence and deepen my work. Having a family, and profound, loving relationships, gives me tremendous joy. The world needs this positive energy. I accomplish less because I spend more time with my family, but I use the experiences we’ve had to make more profound work.

David: Have your dreams inspired you? If so, how have they influenced your work?

Alex: Sure. I had a dream that I was painting the “Transfiguration” painting before I actually did it. I did DMT a few weeks later, and I was immediately thrust into the space of that painting I had dreamed of. I was experiencing what it would be like inside of the painting, and what state of being I would try to project. Having seen it in a dream, I could clarify certain elements. It became clearer, although not all questions were solved. Shaving half of my hair off was an image that came in a dream, as well. In the dream, I opened up a garbage can and saw myself with this haircut.

David: Are there any other avenues that you use to access the unconscious, and what else has inspired you?

Alex: Oh sure. Creative visualization is surprisingly effective. Also shamanic drumming can be a pathway to expanded, imaginative territories. Sometimes doing nothing at all you can receive powerful visions. Once I was waiting for the subway, tired after a day of teaching, and I saw the “World Soul” piece which I then worked on for two years. I was in no altered state and was not anticipating anything in particular. I like to keep the “door open” and be permeable to these transdimensional blow-darts of vision. I believe that I am being used by the Logos. The images are sent to me.

David: Do you feel like sometimes you’re not really doing it, like it’s just happening though you? 

Alex: No, I know that I’m physically creating the work. But the vision is being given as a gift. Other creative and receptive people are receiving other visions, but these are my gifts, and I’m supposed to manifest them.

David: Was there anything else in particular that inspired you beside psychedelics, your relationship, and dreams?

Alex: Art of different cultures. There’s shamanic art from various world cultures. Tchelitchev was not the only artist painting translucent bodies. Shamanic artists from all over the world have made X-ray art, where they see into the body and the interpenetrating energies. Some artists have a clairvoyant perception of the body. The Huichol Indians of Mexico base their culture and spiritual life on their ritual and ceremonial peyote use. Huichol artists see through the body and see energies surrounding it and show great jets of light around the bodies in their yarn paintings. There are numerous cultures with a tradition of subtle body art.

David: Like Pablo Amaringo’s work.

Alex: Ayahuasca visions. Yeah, terrific stuff. I’m inspired by psychedelic art of all kinds. Ernst Fuchs and Mati Klairwein were European painters who were inspired similarly. Thangka painting, the sacred art of the Tibetan Buddhists, has been an influence. I feel like we now have access to the spiritual traditions and visual cultures of most of the world’s great civilizations. Artists have never had that before. It’s like the seals of the Apocalypse are opening and during the Twentieth Century we get to see humanities past life review. Cave art was recently discovered in France. Art done tens of thousands of years ago, inspired by the Goddess and Shamanic magic is now available. Artists are in a unique position at the end of the Twentieth Century to access all visual traditions, and synthesize them in an evolving universal spiritual tradition.

David: What are your views on the evolution of consciousness?

Alex: It seems to me the universe is like a self-awareness machine. I think the world was created for each individual to manifest the boundless experiences of identity with the entire universe, and with the pregnant void that gives birth to the phenomenal universe. That’s the Logos. That’s the point of a universe–to increase complexity and self-awareness. The evolution of consciousness is the counter-force to the entropic laws of thermodynamics that end in stasis, heat death, and the loss of order. The evolution of consciousness appears to gain complexity, mastery, and wisdom.

Lessons are learned over a lifetime– maybe many lifetimes. And the soul grows and hopefully attains a state of spiritual awakenedness. Buddha was the “Awakened One”. To be able to access all the simultaneous parallel dimensions, and come from a ground of love and infinite compassion like the awakenedness of the Buddha, is a good goal for the evolution of consciousness. The spiritual “fruit” in many spiritual paths is compassion and wisdom.

David: So then, are you optimistic about the future evolution of humanity?

Alex: That’s a big leap. (laughter) I have some optimism about the potential for human beings to manifest Buddhic qualities of compassion, spiritual heroism, and reverance for all life. There’s always problems in this phenomenal world, but if we maintain ideal ethical views we can cause less harm. There’s hope for a future to hand our children, and their children. There is also despair over the deludedness and the catastrophic disasters that human beings have created.

I don’t like vacillating between fear and hope. The Buddhist teachings caution against entrapment in those emotions. But we’re in samsara, and subject to emotions. Ultimately, I’m optimistic because the primordial nature of mind will never change no matter what happens. Our consciousness may appear in another universe, or in another dimension, but in some form the energy will be around. Consciousness just recycles.

David: Do you think that the human species will survive the next hundred years, or do you think we’re in danger of extinction?

Alex: Yes, I think we are in danger of bringing down much of the web of life with us. We are a drunken suicidal adolescent species. Nevertheless, what better time to wake up, get over ourselves, forgive and love each other, and fix the mess we’ve created.

David: Assuming that we do survive, how do you envision the future evolution of the human race?

Alex: Self-illuminating non-dual mystics, dedicated to the repair of the water, air and soil, and nurturing the species that still remain.

David: What are you currently working on?

Alex: I’ve been working on my current painting for many months.  It is called The Great Net of Being.  Why great?  Because it is infinite in all directions. It is coming along very slowly.

Every full moon Allyson and I have been holding a prayer gathering in our home, for the proper alignment of forces to manifest the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. These gatherings were the inspiration of our friend the great shaman and geomancer, Alex Stark, Marie-Elizabeth Mundheim and John Lloyd. The prayer gatherings have grown to 200 people sometimes. Some miraculous synchronicities have occured this year and now we are at work on creating the first version of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, renovating a space in the Chelsea art district of Manhatten that will be a long-term exhibition of the Sacred Mirrors and about 20 other pieces.  We will open by the Summer of 2004.  The space in Chelsea will hopefully help us to gather the support we need to actually build 21st century sacred architecture to permanently house the Sacred Mirrors and other works. Check it out at www.alexgrey.com 

Valerie Corral – 2

Valerie Corral

David Jay Brown
Interviews

Valerie Leveroni Corral is the cofounder and director of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), the most highly praised medical marijuana collective in California. Corral was the first person in California to challenge the marijuana laws in court, based on the necessity defense, common law doctrine dating to the Magna Carta, and win. She also helped lead the 1996 battle to pass Proposition 215, the state’s medical marijuana law. An article in The New York Times referred to Corral as “the Florence Nightingale and Johnny Appleseed of medical marijuana rolled into one.” And according to High Times magazine, “Valerie’s leadership role in the battle for medical marijuana is unquestioned.”

Corral was in a serious automobile accident in 1973 that left her so severely epileptic that she often suffered from five grand mal seizures a day. With “deliberate application and mindful monitoring”, Corral began using marijuana as an adjunct medicine to help control her seizures in 1974. This treatment soon replaced her rigorous pharmaceutical regimen, and it

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Ram Dass – 3

Ram Dass

David Jay Brown
Interviews 

Ram Dass is one of the most respected and best loved spiritual teachers in the world. His books and lectures are responsible for exposing many Westerners to Eastern philosophy, and he has been an inspiration to many people. He is the author of twelve books about topics such as personal transformation and compassionate social action–including the classic book on Hindu Philosophy Be Here Now

Ram Dass was born with the name Richard Alpert in 1931. He earned an M.A. from Wesleyan University, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, both in psychology. After earning his Ph.D., he served on the psychology faculties at Stanford and the University of California. From 1958 to 1963 he taught and conducted research at the Department of Social Relations and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. In collaboration with Timothy Leary and others, Alpert began researching the psychological effects of psychedelic drugs. This research lead to a storm of controversy, and eventually to their dismissal from the Harvard faculty in 1963.

However, Alpert, Leary, and others continued their pioneering research into the effects of psychedelics at the Millbrook Estate in Dutchess County, New York, which members of the Mellon family had made available to them as a center for their psychedelic research. Here artists, writers, scholars, scientific researchers, spiritual teachers and seekers, celebrities and socialites, came to this grand and beautiful estate to explore the mind-expanding effects of LSD, psilocybin, and other psychedelic plants and potions. Millbrook was where the cultural origins of the Sixties counterculture and the consciousness transformation movement began, and it flourished until the estate was raided in 1966 by G. Gordon Liddy, who was then the District Attorney of Dutchess County.

In 1967 Alpert made his first trip to India, where he met the spiritual teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, who gave him the name Ram Dass, which means “Servant of God”. Under his guru’s guidance, he began to study yoga and meditation, and this profoundly affected his life. Since 1968 Ram Dass has pursued a variety of spiritual practices–including Hinduism and Sufism. His bestselling book Be Here Now was first published in 1971.

Ram Dass created the Hanuman Foundation in 1974 to spread “spiritually-directed social action” in the West. The foundation has developed many projects, including the Prison Ashram Project, designed to help inmates grow spiritually during incarceration, and the Living-Dying Project, which provides support for conscious dying. Both projects still operate today. In 1978 Ram Dass co-founded the Seva Foundation  (Seva means “service” in Sanskrit), an international service organization dedicated to relieving suffering in the world. The Seva Foundation works in public health and social justice issues, and has made major progress in combating blindness in India and Nepal.

Ram Dass is the author or coauthor of twelve hooks. In addition to Be Here Now, his books include Identification and Child RearingThe Psychedelic ExperienceLSDGrist for the MillJourney of AwakeningMiracle of LoveHow Can I Help?, and Compassion in Action. His most recent books are Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying, and One-Liners : A Mini-Manual for a Spiritual Life. Ram Dass has lectured in over 230 cities throughout the world, and a documentary about his life and work entitled Ram Dass: Fierce Grace was released in 2002. To find out more about Ram Dass visit: www.ramdasstapes.org

Ram Dass had a stroke in February of 1997, which paralyzed the right side of his body. Despite the difficulty that he has speaking and walking, Ram Dass continues to teach, write and lecture. To help with the symptoms from his stroke, Ram Dass uses medical marijuana, and is a member of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), which was started by Valerie Corral, who is also interviewed in this volume. On Nov. 7 2002 WAMM had a fundraising benefit featuring Ram Dass in Santa Cruz, California. At the benefit the Mayor of Santa Cruz, Christopher Krohn, officially proclaimed November 7th as Ram Dass day in Santa Cruz. 

I’ve interviewed Ram Dass on three occasions, and have spent some time hanging out with him at various social events over the years. It’s been a real pleasure spending time with Ram Dass, as he had a big influence on the development of my spiritual perspective. I carried his book Be Here Now around with me everywhere that I went when I was a junior in High School, and, to this day, I still turn to it for inspiration. It feels good to be around Ram Dass, as he seems to simply radiate ‘positive vibes’. He has an uncanny ability to make other people feel good about themselves. Ram Dass is a funny, lovable guy, and he has a lot of charisma, but I think that it’s his profound honesty, and openness about his own spiritual evolution, that makes his teachings so powerful.

I first interviewed Ram Dass in 1994 for my book Voices from the Edge, and then in the Spring of 1997 for Tricycle magazine, several months after his stroke. I interviewed Ram Dass again for this book on May 13, 2004. What follows is a composite of these three conversations. During the post-stroke interviews, Ram Dass had trouble finding words. There were a lot of long pauses, but I could tell that his mind and spirit were essentially unchanged, and I found him more inspirational than ever. I spoke with Ram Dass about how Hinduism and psychedelics helped shape his philosophy, what he thought about such timeless topics as God and death, and how the stroke affected his outlook on life.

 

David: What were you like as a child?

Ram Dass: Cute. I was the littlest member of the family. When I was ten or eleven I played the cello. I was a good kid, except I smoked with my friends. We’d go on our bicycles, in the back of the garage, and we’d smoke. (laughter)

David: How old were you at the time? You mean like early adolescence?

Ram Dass: No, before that. I must have been eleven, or something like that.

David: What originally inspired your interest in the evolution of human consciousness?

Ram Dass: I’m inclined to immediately respond “mushrooms”, which I took in March of 1961, but that was just the beginning feed-in to a series of nets. Once my consciousness started to go all over the place, I had to start thinking it through in order to understand what was happening to me. It wasn’t until after I’d been around Tim Leary, Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts, that I started to reflect about issues like the evolution of consciousness.

David: What drew you to study psychology?

Ram Dass: I’m embarrassed to admit what drew me to psychology. I didn’t want to go to medical school. I was getting good grades in psychology. I was charismatic and people in the psychology department liked me. It was as low a level as that. My whole academic career was totally out of Jewish anxiety, and issues surrounding achievement and adequacy. It was totally sociopolitical. It had nothing to do with intellectual content at all. I taught Freudian theory. Human motivation was my specialty, so I thought a lot about all that stuff. That served me in very good stead because it’s an exquisitely articulated subsystem. If you stay in that subsystem, it’s very finite and not very nourishing. But when you have a meta-system, and then there’s the subsystem within it, then it’s beautiful. It’s like a jewel, just like with chemistry or physics. But when I was in it, it was real. When I was a Freudian, all I saw were psycho-sexual stages of development. And as a behaviorist all I saw were people as empty boxes.

David: How has your experience with psychedelics effected your view of life?

Ram Dass: It had no effect on me whatsoever and nobody should use it! (laughter) The predicament about history is that you keep rewriting the history. I’m not sure, as I look back, whether what appeared to be critical events are really as critical as I thought they were, because a lot of people took psychedelics and didn’t have the reaction I had. That had something to do with everything that went before that moment. In a way I just see it as another event, but I can say that

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Deepak Chopra

David Jay Brown 

Interviews Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra, M.D. is a physician, inspirational speaker, and a prolific writer. Dr. Chopra combines conventional Western medical approaches with traditional Ayurvedic medicine from India, and has been one of the leading figures in mind/body medicine for around twenty years. His work has had a significant influence on many Western physicians, and he helped to bring the notion of holistic medicine to many people’s attention with his innovative combination of Eastern and Western healing. Dr. Chopra  has written over thirty books (both fiction and nonfiction) on the topics of alternative medicine, self-improvement, and spirituality–including the New York Times bestsellers Timeless Body, Ageless Mind, How to Know God, and Quantum Healing. He is especially well known for integrating modern theories of quantum physics with the timeless wisdom of ancient cultures.

Dr. Chopra attended medical school at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where he was trained as an endocrinologist, and graduated in 1969. Formerly the Chief of Staff at Boston Regional Medical Center, Dr. Chopra built a successful endocrinology practice in Boston in the 1980’s. His teaching affiliations included Tufts University and Boston University Schools of Medicine. In 1985 Dr. Chopra  left a successful and highly regarded position as chief of staff at The New England Memorial Hospital in Stoneham, Massachusetts, in order to dedicate his life to expanding the impact and effectiveness of conventional medicine. 

Dr. Chopra lectures around the world, and has made presentations to such organizations as the United Nations, the World Health Organization in Geneva, and London’s Royal Society of Medicine. As the keynote speaker, he appeared at the inauguration of the State of the World Forum, hosted by Mikhail Gorbachev and the Peace and Human Progress Foundation, founded by the former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace prize winner Oscar Arias. Esquire Magazine designated Dr. Chopra as one of the top ten motivational speakers in the country; and in 1995, he was a recipient of the Toastmasters International Top Five Outstanding Speakers award. He participates annually as a lecturer at the Update in Internal Medicine event sponsored by Harvard Medical School, Department of Continuing Education and the Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in 1997. In 1999 Time magazine selected Dr. Chopra as one of the “Top 100 Icons and Heroes of the century”, describing him as “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine.”

Dr. Chopra’s  books explore many spiritual and health-related topics. His book How to Know God: The Soul’s Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries presents a seven stage theory of how people perceive religious experiences. Some of his other bestselling books include The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Unconditional Life, Perfect Health, The Return of Merlin, The Path to Love, and Return of the Rishi. He has also produced more than a hundred audio, video and CD-ROM titles, and his books has been published on every continent, and in dozens of languages. In 1992, he served on the National Institutes of Health Ad Hoc Panel on Alternative Medicine. Dr. Chopra is also the founder of the Chopra Center for Well Being in Carlsbad, California.To find out more visit about Dr. Chopra’s work visit: www.chopra.com

Deepak’s books have been an inspiration to me over the years. He has a real talent for being able to integrate timeless spiritual teachings with the insights of modern science, and to then apply this understanding to finding practical solutions to many of life’s basic problems. I interviewed Deepak on September 4, 2003. I found him to be a very eloquent speaker. He expresses his ideas with clarity, simplicity, and charm. We spoke about the relationship between the mind and body, whether or not one can be certain of spiritual beliefs, psychic phenomena, mystical experiences, and the nature of God and consciousness.

David: What were you like as a child?

Deepak: I grew up in India. I went to a Catholic missionary school, and I was very interested in Shakespeare, the dramatic arts, debating, and cricket. I had a wonderful childhood. My parents were extremely caring and loving. My father was a cardiologist, and he really flooded the house with books of knowledge and literature.

David: How did you become interested in medicine, health and longevity?

Deepak: I wanted to actually be a writer, and I wanted to do fiction, but my father was very keen that I go into medicine. On my fourteenth birthday he gave me several books, which were all fiction, but included physicians as the protagonist. So I switched  to medicine at the last moment, went to pre-med, and went on to become a physician.

David: How important do you think our beliefs about aging are, with regard to how our health is effected by age, and what role do you see the mind playing in physical health?

Deepak: Well, there’s physical age, psychological age, and chronological age. The research data shows that your psychological age influences your biological age more than your chronological age. So your expectations, your beliefs, your anticipation of how you will be at a certain age, certainly influences the biochemistry and biology of aging.

David: How has your understanding of quantum physics and Hinduism influenced your perspective on the nature of consciousness?

Deepak: I’ll give you my perspective on Vedanta. I think Hinduism is a corruption of Vedanta, and I’m not very keen on the Hindu rituals. But Vedantic understanding of consciousness, as the ground of existence, has really influenced my understanding of how the universe works. I am convinced by everything I know scientifically that consciousness is not an epiphenomenon– that it’s the other way around. Matter is the epiphenomenon.  Consciousness conceives, governs, constructs, and ultimately becomes the physical reality.

I believe that consciousness is the ground of being, and it differentiates into both observer and observed. Today from the perspective of quantum physics we also know that matter is energy and information. But energy and information are a potential, unless there’s an observer to collapse the potential into a space-time event. So I think quantum physics, in many ways, validates the original insights of Vedanta.

David: What are your thoughts on telepathy and psychic phenomena, and why do you think so many scientists have such difficulty accepting the possibility that these phenomena actually exist?

Deepak: I think scientists who do not understand non-locality will have difficulty in understanding, or accepting, these phenomena, because the phenomena can’t be explained by conventional science, or even by information technology. The only way these phenomena can be understood is the actualization, simultaneously, in information and nervous systems, that are separated from each other in space-time, from a common non-local domain.

As we understand more about the physics of non-locality–which is really an elaboration of the Einstein-Padolski-Rosen equation and Bell’s Theorem–we will have a better way to explain these phenomena. So-called telepathy, precognition, remembrance of other lifetimes, prophecy, are all examples of simultaneous actualization of information in different nervous systems from a single underlying non-dual, non-local consciousness.

David: One of the themes of your spiritual books is that we create our own realities through the choices that we make in life. However, it seems that much of what happens in life is beyond our personal control. I’m wondering if you think that our personal choices explain everything that happens to us. If we are 100% responsible for the creation of our own realities, how do you explain the atrocities and abuse that small children sometimes face in this world?

Deepak: I think you’re asking a question that has been asked forever– and that is, is there free-will, or is it a deterministic universe? In the enlightened mind, it’s a completely free world and universe. In the conditioned mind, it’s a determined world. We can not squeeze the soul into the volume of a single body, or even the span of a lifetime. So the atrocities and abuse that happens are an interdependent co-rising of a turbulence in the collective ground of consciousness. And it can be very easily understood, if you put it in that context. If you think of a person as an individual, then, of course, there is a great difficulty in explaining these phenomena. From the Vedantic perspective,  the person is an illusion. There is no such thing as a person. A person is in the interwoveness of interbeingness, and  does not have a separate identity. So whatever happens is a result of an interdependent co-arising of space-time events from the virtual or non-local domain.

David: What is your perspective on God, and do you see any teleology in evolution?

Deepak: God is the source of all the information, energy, space-time, and matter that structure the

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Simon Posford

Shpongle & Psychedelics:
An Interview with Simon Posford

By David Jay Brown

Simon Posford (a.k.a. Hallucinogen) is a British musician and producer, specializing in psychedelic electronic music, spanning many genres from psychedelic trance (psytrance), to rock, to electronica. 

Posford’s first studio album, Twisted, was released in 1995 under the artist name “Hallucinogen.” Twisted is considered one of the most influential albums in the genre of psytrance, and Posford’s connection with psychedelics was evident from the title of the very first track–“LSD,” which, to this day, remains the defining sound of a form of electronic music that originated during the late 1980s in Goa, India called “Goa trance.” 

In 1996 Posford and Australian musician Raja Ram created one of the most popular electronica music projects of all time–Shpongle. Arguably, not since The Grateful Dead has a brand of popular music been so lovingly associated with psychedelics as Shpongle has. Psychedelics have played a huge role in the creation, performance, and experience of Shpongle’s music, which is extremely popular among members of the psychedelic community.

Posford is generally responsible for coordinating the synthesizers, studio work, and live instrumentation, while Raja contributes broad musical concepts and flute arrangements. Shpongle’s unique style combines Eastern ethnic instruments, flute riffs and vocals, with contemporary Western synthesizer-based electronic music, hyperdimensional alien space acoustics, and sound clips from television shows and spoken words. Truly genre-defying, Shpongle contains elements of Jazz, Classical, Dub and Glitch, among others.

Shpongle performs live with different musicians, dancers and other performers, while Posford masterfully controls an electronic sound board, alchemically mixing and remixing the music, engineering, tweaking, and orchestrating the highly textured, multilayered music that emerges. Shpongle’s studio albums include: Are You Shpongled? (1998), Tales of the Inexpressible (2001), Nothing Lasts… But Nothing Is Lost (2005), and Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland (2009). Posford also frequently tours as Hallucinogen.

I interviewed Simon on July 26, 2011. Since Simon’s music has served as the soundtrack for numerous personal psychedelic experiences, this was a special interview for me. It was great fun to–as Simon put it–“intellectualize the abstract” and “muse over the ineffable” together. There’s a delightful eloquence to the way that Simon expresses himself, and a vibrant sense of creativity continually comes through his words. We spoke about how his psychedelic journeys have effected his creativity and his experience with music. 

David: What inspired your interest in music?

Simon: When I was just growing up there was always music around my house. My parents were very young. My mom was 19 and my dad was 21 when they had me, so there was always music on the stereo, and it obviously caught my ear. I have fond memories of the speakers booming late into the night, in spite of the fact they were playing the likes of Donna Summer, Queen, Elton John, and E.L.O. My grandfather was a composer in the Forties. He wrote for musicals featuring stars of that era such as Bing Crosby and Vera Lynn, but I never knew him, so I don’t know if there’s any genetic link, or even if there’s any validity to that idea. I would say that my interest was probably more just the result being constantly surrounded by music as I was growing up.

David: How did you become involved with creating Shpongle?

Simon: That was when I got together with Raja Ram in 1996. We went to the Glastonbury Festival, which is a huge festival in the U.K. In those days, they got up to around 300,000 people going, because they had a hard time keeping people outside the gates from sneaking in for free. Now it’s more regimented. They’ve got two double fences, and it’s really hard to get in without a ticket, so there’s only around 170,000 people going now. The festival takes place on a huge farm in the rolling hills of Avalon, and right at the top of site they have built a large stone circle, which normally hosts a variety of drummers, druids and lost souls trying to escape the general mayhem and seek some sort of refuge.

I remember clearly, Raj and I were sitting there, watching this Celtic harp player, and I think that we’d both taken some psychedelic substance. I’m not sure what it was, probably acid. We were listening to this beautiful music emanating from this faery goddess and her wooden harp – we were just fascinated by her. We became obsessed with her pulchritude and grace, falling in love with her, lured like Odysseus to the Sirens’ song. She was so exquisitely beautiful – we never even saw her face, we were sat behind her. But she sat so upright, and this music was divine. Raja and I had made only trance music together up to this point, but during that performance we thought it would be really nice to try to capture that particular moment. It wouldn’t have to be dancey, but just something that reproduced the energy of the stone circle, and tribal beauty of the bonfires, the smoke mingling with the mist rolling in through the valley and the honeyed tones of our Celtic muse.

David: What do you think makes Shpongle’s music unique?

Simon: That’s a tricky one for me to answer, because I’m obviously so involved in it. But I would say that what makes anyone’s music unique is that it comes from deep within the soul of the writers. The KLF wrote in their inspirational book, “The Manual”, that two artists could each make a track using only a single kick drum, the same sound, at the same tempo, yet undoubtedly one would STILL be better than the other. You could listen to both tracks and you would surely prefer one over the other. Maybe because no matter what you do, or whatever you write, the musician’s character and soul shines through, and some people you resonate with, and some people you don’t.

David: What inspired the name “Shpongle”?

Simon: The name “Shpongle” came from my partner Raj. One day he had taken some acid, and… (Laughter heard in the background.) My girlfriend is just laughing. (Explaining to girlfriend.) This is for a psychedelic site; it’s for MAPS. I guess all of these drug references are okay? My girlfriend is just laughing at me.

Girlfriend: Cause I’m on acid now!

Simon: She’s on acid now, driving the car. (laughter) – not really, don’t worry. Anyway, Raj was tripping one day, and he said, “Oh Si, I’m feeling really shpongled.” This word was a mixture of a lot of other words that we were using at the time–like “spangled,” “stoned,” “monged,” and “mashed”–and all of these came out as one word: “shpongled.” So I said, that’s a great word, maybe we should use that as a band name or track name–as it captured the essence of the message we were trying to get across, without a tired history of associations and expectations that existing words are weighed down by.

David: That’s so appropriate too, since your music blends so many different styles together. In general, with Shpongle, how would you describe your creative process?

Simon: Raj will turn up, sometimes with a load of samples or recordings. One time he went to Brazil and recorded some stuff there. Otherwise, he’ll record stuff off of TV shows, some spoken words, or bamboo forests creaking in the wind…something like that. So that might spawn an idea for a track. 

Raj is a very visual person, and he’s a fabulous painter, so he might come up with a visual image that, in time, I’ll translate into music. Over the years he’s come up with some inspiring imagery, such as a lake shimmering in the sky. Our most recent one was about CERN, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, and about the idea of particles colliding at high velocities, neutrinos protons and neutrons smashing into each other, creating black holes explosions and new universes. Stuff like that.

So we’ll have a visual image. Then, when I can finally get him to shut up, Raj will sit on the sofa and do a thousand drawings into his notebook, while I’ll sit at the computer and get about translating our images into sound. I generally do the programming, playing and production because Raj can’t work the computer or any of the equipment, but he’s the inspiration and the muse, and will play flute or jabber strange vocals into the mic (being the cunning linguist he is). We start with just a blank canvas, an empty computer screen, and just add more and more sounds–until it’s time to go home, I’m either sick of having him in my house, or he’s sick of sitting on my sofa, listening to me torture him with various obnoxious instruments. Then we stop, and later we mix it. Then we give it the acid test. He’ll take some LSD and put the headphones on when I’m ready to mix. Then I’ll play it to him at high volume, and–judging by the state of his eyeballs and his face afterwards–I’ll know whether we’ve got a good one or not. (laughter)

David: I love it! This leads right into my next question, which is– how have

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Edgar Dean Mitchell

David Jay Brown

Interviews
Edgar Dean Mitchell

Edgar Dean Mitchell–the lunar module pilot for NASA’s Apollo 14 space mission in 1971–was the sixth man to walk on the moon. In addition to his historical achievements as an astronaut, naval officer, and test pilot, Dr. Mitchell has also made important contributions as a research scientist, author and lecturer. After retiring from the U.S. Navy and the Astronaut Program in 1972, Dr. Mitchell’s research interests shifted from exploring the far reaches of outer space to the frontiers of inner space. He has spent the last 30 years studying human consciousness in search of a common ground between science and spirit. Dr. Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973 to sponsor systematic research into of the nature of consciousness, especially in regard to how it relates to psychic phenomena and alternative healing techniques. The institute has since grown into one of the world’s largest research groups studying the unexplained powers of the mind. 

Dr. Mitchell attended primary schools in Roswell, New Mexico, and is a graduate of Artesia High School in New Mexico. (As a child, there were strangely synchronistic foreshadowings of Mitchell’s career as a space traveler. As he walked to a country school near Roswell, Mitchell sometimes saw the little farmhouse where Robert Goddard, the godfather of modern rocketry, lived. Then, around the time that Mitchell was a senior in high school, Roswell became a household word as the site of an alleged crash of an alien spacecraft.) In 1952 Mitchell received a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Management from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and he entered the Navy that same year, completing his basic training in San Diego. In 1953 he completed his instruction at the Officers’ Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, and a year later he completed his flight training in Hutchinson, Kansas. From 1954 to 1958 he flew a P2V aircraft in Korean war, then a A-3 aircraft from the aircraft carriers Bon Homme Richard and the Ticonderoga while assigned to “Heavy Attack Squadron Two” at the end of the war. He was a research project pilot with “Air Development Squadron Five” until 1959.

Dr. Mitchell received another Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1961, and he took his Sc. D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964. In addition, he has received honorary doctorates in engineering from New Mexico State University, the University of Akron, Carnegie-Mellon University, and a Sc.D. from Embry-Riddle University. From 1964 to 1965 he was in charge of the Project Management Division of the Navy Field Office for Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Dr. Mitchell was in a group selected for astronaut training in April 1966. He served as a member of the astronaut support crew for Apollo 9 and as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 10. 

Dr. Mitchell was originally scheduled for the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, where an explosion exposed most of the inside of the service module to space, and had to be guided, using the power of the Lunar Module, back to Earth, forcing NASA to abort that mission to the moon. Dr. Mitchell completed his first space flight as lunar module pilot on Apollo 14, which was NASA’s third manned lunar landing. This historic journey began on January 31, 1971 and ended nine days later on February 9.

After landing the lunar module “Antares” on a hilly upland region of the moon, Dr. Mitchell and Commander Alan Shepard subsequently deployed and activated various scientific equipment and performed a number of experiments. In addition to collecting almost 100 pounds of lunar samples for return to Earth, they made a number of first-time achievements on the mission. They were the first to use a unpowered wheeled lunar vehicle called the Mobile Equipment Transporter. They carried the largest payload placed in lunar orbit, and the largest payload returned from the lunar surface at that time (later missions did more). They transversed the longest distance  on foot (ever) on the lunar surface, and stayed on the lunar surface for the longest amount of time–33 hours. 

After successfully completing his mission on the Moon, Dr. Mitchell had an experience on his journey home that was to forever change the course of his life. As he was hurtled through the abyss of space, back toward our tiny blue and white world, Dr. Mitchell became engulfed by a profound and overwhelming sensation that he describes as “a sense of universal connectedness…” where he “…suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.” In other words, Dr. Mitchell had a classic mystical experience. As a result of this transcendental experience in space, when Dr. Mitchell returned to Earth he began devoting his life to the study of consciousness. This was one of the reasons that he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973. (However, Dr. Mitchell had been interested in psychic phenomena prior to his mystical experience in space. Prior to the Apollo 14 mission, he had privately arranged to conduct secret ESP experiments with several colleagues on Earth during the space flight, with intriguing results.)

In completing his first space flight, Mitchell logged a total of 216 hours and 42 minutes in space, and he was subsequently designated to serve as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 16. In his career as an astronaut, Dr. Mitchell has received many distinguished awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1970), the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the MSC Superior Achievement Award (1970), the Navy Astronaut Wings, the navy Distinguished Service medal, the City of New York Gold Medal (1971), the Arnold Air Society’s John F. Kennedy Award (1971), the USN Distinguished Medal and three NASA Group Achievement Awards. He was inducted to the Space Hall of Fame in Las Cruces NM in 1979, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, FL in 1997. In 1984, he was a cofounder of the Association of Space Explorers, an international organization of those who have experienced space travel.

Dr. Mitchell is the co-author of Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science (1974) and The Way of the Explorer (1996, revised 2001) as well as dozens of articles in both professional and popular publications. He delivers between 25 and 50 lectures a year on cosmology, human potential, and the future evolution of life on Earth. He is a frequent guest on radio and television talk shows, and has been featured in several documentary films. To find out more about his work with the Institute of Noetic Sciences visit: www.noetic.org, or his own website at:www.edmitchellapollo14.com

I interviewed Edgar on March 23, 2004. He was 73 at the time of this interview. I watched Edgar walk on the moon when I was a child with excitement and awe, so it was an incredible thrill for me to be able to spend this time talking with him. I found him to be thoughtful, generous, and regal in spirit. I greatly appreciated Edgar’s patience in answering questions that I’m sure he’s answered a thousand times before. His stories held me spellbound, and I sat in rapt astonishment, hanging on every word, as he poetically described his mystical experience in space to me. We spoke about the possible relationship between gravity and consciousness, how different altered states of consciousness compare with his mystical experience in space, and the frontiers of quantum physics, Chaos Theory, and research into psychic phenomena.

 

David: What were you like as a child, and what inspired you to become an astronaut?

Edgar: As I child I was rather precocious. I was raised on my family farms and ranches, working like any other kid with his dad. Growing up on a farm I did all the things that farm kids do. I don’t really think that I realized it at the time–although perhaps my parents did–but I would be able to be at the top of my class. And I continually was, once I started going to school, but it didn’t seem like anything different to me. I was just being a kid.

Now, as far as getting interested in the space program, that really didn’t happen until I was in the Navy during the Korean war. I went into military service for the Korean war. I also would have been drafted, and was serving my tour. I was a pilot aboard a carrier headed back for shore duty, as a test pilot, when Sputnik went up in October, 1957. And although I hadn’t planned a military career, that sounded like a pretty interesting thing to do. So, even though there weren’t astronauts at that time, I set my cap at that

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Rosemary Woodruff Leary

The Magician’s Daughter

“I’d like to do this whole thing all over again on a sunny day with some wine..”

with Rosemary Woodruff Leary

Rosemary Sarah Woodruff Leary was one of the world’s great psychedelic pioneers. She worked throughout her life to educate people about the psychedelic experience, and was instrumental in helping to orchestrate the cultural revolution of the Sixties. This she did at the expense of her personal freedom, which was compromised for a significant portion of her life.

Rosemary was born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 26, 1935. She left a conservative Baptist environment for New York City as a teenager in the Fifties, where she began hanging out with jazz musicians and Beat writers. Here she did some modeling work, some television commercials, and she mingled with the Beats and emerging counter-culture. She also experimented for the first time with peyote and other hallucinogenic plants.

In 1965 Timothy Leary invited her to visit him at the Millbrook Estate in Dutchess County, New York, which members of the Mellon family had made available to Leary as a center for his psychedelic research. That visit began an association between Timothy and Rosemary that continued in various forms until Timothy’s death in 1996, although they had virtually no contact between 1972 and around 1992.

The couple married in 1967, and Rosemary participated in Timothy’s work to change LSD from an instrument of the intellectual elite to a catalyst for wide change in the American psyche. Because of the pervasive sexism, which often obscured women’s intellectual contributions during this time, women rebels were usually viewed as being simply muses to their male counterparts. Rosemary transcended this archaic role by becoming Timothy Leary’s partner in creating the setting which shaped LSD experimentation in its formative years. She participated in Timothy’s staged psychedelic celebartions, helped on his books, and starred in the feature film, “Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out”. She also became known for her remarkable and distinctive sense of style. She designed and made much of the clothing she and Timothy wore in the late 1960s, and her creations inspired the fashion of the era.

Because of their work with LSD, the Learys and their circle became targets for criminal prosecutions, and a series of arrests profoundly changed Timothy and Rosemary’s life. They were first arrested in Laredo, Texas, in 1965 for possession of a half-ounce marijuana. In 1966 local District Attorney G. Gordon Liddy raided the Millbrook Estate, arresting the Learys for alleged improprieties. They were arrested again for possession of two half-smoked marijuana cigarettes in Laguna Beach, California in 1968. Rosemary was sentenced to six months for the Laguna Beach arrest, but Timothy was sentenced to a total of twenty-eight years.

One of Rosemary’s great contributions to the psychedelic movement was her consistent refusal to cooperate with Federal Authorities. She received thirty days of solitary confinement for not testifying against her husband after Liddy busted Millbrook in 1966. During the 1970’s she also refused an offer of amnesty from the FBI in exchange for providing names of others who had committed illegal acts in the name of freedom of consciousness. This selfless show of bravery was to define the course of her life.

In 1970 Rosemary worked with the Weather Underground to help orchestrate Timothy’s escape from prison, and with forged passports, they fled the country. They sought refuge with Eldridge Cleaver at his Black Panther Embassy in Algeria, but Cleaver placed them under house arrest, so they fled to Switzerland.

The pressures on the exiles placed a strain on their marriage. They separated in 1971 and later divorced. Rosemary, a fugitive for her role in assisting Timothy’s escape, lived underground for 23 years in
Afghanistan, in Sicily, and in South and Central America, often traveling under a Gary Davis One World passport, which local immigration officials solemnly stamped with visas. After her secret return to the United States she lived in relative seclusion on Cape Cod, in San Francisco, and in Half Moon Bay, California, using the name Sarah Woodruff. She remained a fugitive many years longer than Timothy, and the charges against her were not cleared until 1994.

In the last years of her life, Rosemary concentrated on managing the trust that administered Timothy’s copyrights and archives. She also lectured to college students, for whom the psychedelic revolution was a historical event that had taken place before they were born. Her natural gifts as a raconteur made her lectures extremely popular. Rosemary was in the process of completing the final draft of her memoir The Magician’s Daughter at the time of her death.

I became close friends with Rosemary during the final years of her life, as she lived close to my home in the Santa Cruz mountains. The experience that I had with her while she was dying was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I got a phone call on the morning of February 7 from a friend who said that Rosemary–who had recently had a heart attack, and been in and out of the hospital for weeks–had fallen unconscious the night before, and it didn’t look like she was coming out of it this time.

If I wanted to say goodbye to Rosemary, my friend said, you’d better hurry over here fast. So I got in my car and headed over to her home in Aptos. When I got there Rosemary was lying on a hospital cot in the center of her living room. Her niece Katy was reading to her from a book. I took Katy’s place beside Rosemary. Her spirit barely seemed present.

Oxygen tubes ran out of her nose, her eyes were rolled back into her head, and she was having difficulty breathing. So I took her hand, rubbed her forehead, looked into her eyes, and began speaking to her. I told her how before I ever met her, as a teenager, I used to look at photos of her books, and how I had had this outrageous crush on her. I told her how much I loved her, and appreciated her friendship. Rosemary was an extremely good-hearted person.

I seemed to have a strength, and an intuitive understanding of what to say and do at the time that is hard to explain. I began telling her that it was okay to surrender, it was okay to let go. Let she was deeply loved, and moving into more love.

Well, after doing this for a few minutes, looking into Rosemary’s eyes, I began to feel like I was tripping on LSD. With the exception of her eyes, everything else in the room dissolved into sparkling lights.

I found myself in a light-filled space, and there I was with Rosemary. Beautiful Rosemary. I found myself continuing to encourage her to let go, to surrender, that it was okay to die. I told her over and over how much I loved her.

I felt her presence around me, and we were together in this light-filled space for around fifteen or twenty minutes it seemed. Then, very suddenly, I snapped back into my body, into Rosemary’s living room. I was holding Rosemary’s hand, and around a dozen people surrounded us.

I kissed Rosemary on the forehead, got up and went over to sit on the couch. Rosemary died around ten minutes later.

Along with around a dozen other people, I stood around Rosemary’s body as her spirit ascended to the heavens, or into the bardos, or wherever one goes… Everyone was staring solemnly down at her empty body; everyone except for my friend Suzie Wouk and I who looked across at each other and smiled. Then we both looked up at the ceiling together.

Rosemary died on February 7, 2002. The cause of death was congestive heart failure. She was 66 years old.

This interview with Rosemary occurred on November 11, 2001 at her home in Aptos. Present at the interview was Sylvia Thyssen, editor of the MAPS Bulletin. Rosemary was remarkably well-read and extremely articulate. She was a very polite and considerate person, with a gentle soul and a sweet spirit. She was extremely pretty, and had an elegant sense of aesthetics. She also had a beautiful laugh, which I can still hear everytime I think of her.

(Thank you to David Phillips and Michael Horowitz for their help in crafting this introduction.)

David: What were you like as a child?

Rosemary: Imaginative. Solitary. I was an only child until I was twelve.

With the neighborhood children, I used to put on little events, and we would entertain. I was always directing them, orchestrating what they should do to utilize their talents.

When I was eight I was given a toy typewriter, and I immediately set out to do a neighborhood newsletter. It was very ambitious. Although it never came to fruition, I was very excited by the idea that I had this instrument that I allowed me to put words on paper, and pass them around in the neighborhood.

David: Where did you grow up?

Rosemary: St. Louis. The city had turned its back on the river a long while before I was born, and I thought that was a huge mistake, because it was the Western frontier at one time. St. Louis aspired to be more like Chicago than a river town, which it had been for most of its history. The Mississippi itself was so mysterious, and so huge. I loved the idea that there were perhaps French fur trappers in my family’s history. There were names like Maupin, which I was convinced was an anglosized version of something French.

As a child I mythologized everything. I wanted things to be grander than they were in my little neighborhood, in my little home.

When I was seven I had an experience that was replicated with my first LSD experience. It was a shining moment, and I think it was because I’d entered the age of consciousness. I suddenly realized that I was a part of everything, and everything became very golden and glowing. I was walking on a leafy street near my house, and everything was illuminated with gold. There was a sense of time stopping for a moment.

I always remembered that, and referred to it as a spiritual awakening. Although I had been dumped in a Babtismal pool in the Babtist church at the age of seven, I didn’t have a spiritual experience. I just caught a cold. (laughter) I wanted to have a real religious experience shortly after that.

David: Did something precipitate the experience, or did it just happen spontaneously?

Rosemary: It just happened spontaneously.

David: Do you just remember it happening that one time?

Rosemary: Yes, but it altered everything. It altered my perception of things.

David: Afterwards you mean?

Rosemary: Yes.

David: You were still able to still see the connection between everything?

Rosemary: No, but I felt alive in a different way than I had up until that time. Or so my memory has it. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not. But it was such a brilliant moment that I never forgot it, and always longed for it again.

David: You married and left home at an early age. How did that come about?

Rosemary: When I was 17 marriage was the one avenue of escape. I’d been in love with the same boy since I was 13. He became an airforce pilot, and we married. I went off with him to the state of Washington, where he was on an airforce base. This was just as the Korean War was ending.

David: How did you wind up in New York City?

Rosemary: Oh, I fled my husband after six months. I ran back to St. Louis. I realized that without my parent’s approval, and their help, I wouldn’t be able to return to school, or do anything useful. A friend of friend suggested that I go to New York City. Also, I’d heard jazz on the radio from Birdland–which was a famous jazz club in New York City–late at night. At that age I was going off to East St. Louis to listen to jazz with my girlfriend in her daddy’s Cadillac. We’d sneak to East St. Louis, which was Sin Town. It was were all the bad things happened, except this great music. Then coming home I could hear Birdland on the radio. I used to think, God, New York must be wonderful. But all I knew of New York was what I’d seen of it in the movies.

I went to New York with the address of a friend. My parents moved to California at that time. I certainly didn’t want to go there (here). I felt the call of the city.

David: Then you got into modeling and television commercials once you were in New York?

Rosemary: I did, through someone that I met. People decided I should be a model, and they sent me to Ilene Ford, who wanted me to lose another fifteen pounds. She sent me to John Robert Powers, who was a famous modeling agency, but it was on the way out. I didn’t have the wit to understand that. (laughter)

So I signed up. I started trying to get my portfolio together, and was sent out to different photographers. In one instance I was sent out to become the first bikini girl in a copy of Esquire magazine. The shoot was scheduled for the Fall, and the photographer had told me that over the summer I shouldn’t gain any weight, and I shouldn’t have any strap-marks from sunbathing.

But when I went into his dressing room and put on the bikini, I realized that I had done both. (laughter) So I ended up not in Esquire. I think Tina Louise appeared instead, wearing the first bikini to come to these shores, and a very modest affair it was too. And I kind of ate my way out of print modeling.

David: How did you become interested in the jazz and beatnik culture?

Rosemary: Well, it wasn’t a question of interest. It was just inevitable. I mean, there it was.

David: You had a relationship with a jazz musician.

Rosemary: I married a second time. I married a jazz musician and left. Then I moved in with a composer of classical music, who was on the fringes of the beat scene. He knew Keroac and the Beat poets, like Philip Lamentia(?) and others. He was great friends with David Amram(?).

David: How did you get introduced to the culture?

Rosemary: Through reading. Keroac’s books were new to me. The Beat poets were new to me. It was all a revelation. It was all of interest, and we all lived on the Lower East Side at that time too. (laughter) So there were trips to different taverns and bars in the Village, where one would meet. It was a crowd. It was all Bohemia before it was Beat. It was the last Bohemians, who were still in the Village, and who still remembered Edna St. Vincent Malay. There were stories of famous drunkards and poets, and I soaked it all up. New York was like a movie set–a number of movie sets for me—and you could move between them. If you just moved a few blocks away, you’d move into to whole new melieu, and a whole new set of characters, people and friends. It was endlessly fascinating.

David: Was this when you had your first psychedelic experience?

Rosemary: Yes, it was with peyote. We sent away to Brown’s Nursery for the peyote. We ground the cacti up and mixed them with orange juice. It was the most disgusting concoction I’ve ever ever taken, but it was enough to make me realize that I wanted to try it again, but not in a Lower East Side apartment.

David: How old were you?

Rosemary: Oh, by this time I’m in my early twenties.

David: So, the first experience that you had with a psychedelic was basically just enough to make you realize that you wanted to do it again in a different setting?

Rosemary: Yes, a much different setting.

David: How did it effect your perspective of the world?

Rosemary: Well, I realized that it was a sacrament, and that it had to be used as a sacrament. I think I was greatly influenced by reading a lot about American Indian culture. My composer was writing a symphony that he’d been commissioned to do on either Thanksgiving or 4th of July, and he chose instead to write about Chief Crazy Horse.

So we were reading everything we could about American Indians, Chief Crazy Horse, and I read a lot about Sundance rituals, and the early use of peyote. Just taking the peyote, the way that I did, seemed lacking in seriousness, and I knew that I wanted to try it again. I knew that there was a germ of something there that I recognized. I didn’t quite know what it was, but I knew that I wanted to do it again.

David: When was the next time that you did it?

Rosemary: The second time I took a psychedelic was after my friends had been going to Millbrook, and I’d been hearing about Dr. Leary and Dr. Alpert. My best friend was in residence there every weekend, and she kept insisting that I had to try it.

David: These were friends that you had met through the beatnik scene, who were going to Millbrook?

Rosemary: Well, no. They were friends from just another time, another social setting.

Sylvia: What about cannabis? How did that effect you?

Rosemary: Oh well, cannabis, yes. I’d been smoking grass since I was 18 with my musician husband, but that was part of daily ritual. It wasn’t set aside as sacramental.

David: How did you meet Timothy?

Rosemary: I met Timothy, I believe, initially at Millbrook. I’m sort of uncertain about this. The same friends who introduced me to LSD introduced me to Tim. I went up to Millbrook for a weekend, and he had just returned from India. He was married, but separated from his wife. And he took me on a walk at Millbrook. Then we met later that year in the city, and he invited me to go back to Millbrook with him. But I was involved with someone, and didn’t go back until August of 1965. He was in the city, and I drove back with him.

David: How old were you?

Rosemary: 29.

David: What was Millbrook like?

Rosemary: It was a fantasy. It was a fantasy playland. It was almost anything anyone wanted it to be. It could be. There were 2400 acres, with woods, streams and lakes. The lakes froze so we could ice skate in the winter. There was a waterfall to bathe in, 64 rooms of a huge house to roam around in, and a great deal of freedom, for a brief while.

David: A great deal of freedom.

Rosemary: To roam the woods, play nature girl.

David: How often were going up to Millbrook at that point?

Rosemary: Oh, I was going up every weekend–from during the winter, until I moved there in August.

David: How did you and Timothy fall in love?

Rosemary: Well, he was lonely. He was brilliant, and I always aspired to genius in the men that I choose. He certainly presented himself as near-genius, as certainly charming and witty, and it simply happened. I fell in love with him, and he with me.

David: What year were you married?

Rosemary: We married three times in 67. The first at Joshua Tree. The second at our home in Berkeley by a Hindu. And the third time at Millbrook.

David: Before Timothy went to prison, what was the marriage with him like?

Rosemary: Well, everything led up to his going to prison. We got together in August of 65. By December of 65 we were arrested at the border in Luago, Texas. He was on trial, Millbrook was raided, I went to jail (laughter). Millbrook was raided again, several times. We went to Laguna Beach in 67, and were arrested. Tim was arrested several times in Montreal. We went to visit someone in the Bahamas, came back into Florida, and we were arrested. (laughter) So between arrests, trials and courtroom dramas–as well as the need to go on lecture tours to raise money to pay the lawyers–it was pretty frantic.

David: When was the first time you got arrested?

Rosemary: Well, Tim was arrested for leaving the country without declaring himself. He went to visit Marshall McCluan, and he was arrested for not declaring himself as a drug offender, I believe. We were doing these psychedelic celebrations in New York at the time, and there was a bit of concern as to whether he would get back in time to go on. We we not arrested; we were detained coming back from the Bahamas. They searched our luggage for hours in an FBI office to see if they could find anything. I had a mum, a flower, that Yoko Ono had given me Montreal. It had gone all squishy in the Bahama heat, and (laughter) they were convinced it was some exotic psychedelic. (laughter) So they too that off to the…

David: The lab and analyzed it.

Rosemary: Yes ,(laughter) yes, (laughter)

But, in between there were wonderful moments with Tim. Moments at Millbrook, back in the woods, or simply having dinner in front of the fireplace. Going to Morocco. Going to Montreal and doing the “bed-in” with John and Yoko.

David: Can you talk a little bit about the experiences that you had with some of the cultural innovators of the Sixties?

Rosemary: Well, it was a sense of being among one’s peers, as a change from running a refuge for lost souls (laughter) at Millbrook. Because we were saddled with enormous numbers of people all coming through seeking something, wanting something, needing, using, trashing.

David: It sounds like Santa Cruz.

Rosemary: Yes (laughter), well it was. At the Millbrook estate we’d been very academic. We were contained initially. We had weekend seminars, guests came, visitors came on weekends, and we did different disciplines. We did Gurdjieff one weekend, someone else another weekend. We were involved in teaching and guiding. A colony of artists lived with us. Then, at one point, we were preparing for the celebrations in New York.

But then we opened the place up to summer school, and we gave over part of the house to an ashram– Dr. Misher’s ashram–that had been exiled from their homeland. So they took over. Then Art Kleps moved in, with his boozy consciousness. So, suddenly, there were lists of injunctions and rules up on the wall. What had been cozy, and sometimes domestic, and sometimes stimulating, with interesting visitors coming to see us and talk to us, became just overwhelming. And we had to go on the road to raise money to support all of this.

David: What was it like when you re-visited Millbrook, after not seeing the estate for so many years?

Rosemary: Oh, I can’t do better than to show you. I have photographs from the time. I had gone back, a great number of years ago when I’d been in the area. I went to a side gate, which we never used, but it was the closest one where I could see the torrents of the house. It was Springtime, and the house was below me. The gate was on a rise, and it seemed to me that this sweet North-Eastern Spring just waffed up out of the woods, and I felt as though I were being greeted by all the sprites and fairies (laughter) that I know lived in those woods. It was so wonderful. It was almost like I felt welcomed back again at Millbrook.

This last time I went during the winter. All the trails had been manicured, and most of the trees were down. We went back into the woods where I had lived and camped out. And there was no more mystery left to the woods, because it’d been cleared for riders to go through. When I had gone through, and you went for a ride on a horse, you’d have to duck because of all the pine bows snapping in your face. And there was always the possibility of finding a lost cabin in the woods, a lost place. It was so full of magic. Perhaps it was just because it was winter, and the weather was a little bit dreary, that it seemed so different.

David: What do you think were some of the important messages to come out of the Sixties that are still relevant today?

Rosemary: I think that we gained a kind of moral compass that is in the national consciousness somehow. We tried to learn about the environment and about food. For many of us we were like babes lost in the woods. We had to teach ourselves everything. And, I think, those lessons we managed to pass on in some way. I think the consciousness…ness…ness…ness. That consciousness became apparent for the first time in this particular span of time, and alternative ways of doing things, and not doing things by route.

Actually, I’m still trying to assimilate what I might have learned in the Sixties. So much of what we learned we were in error about. The immediate trust of someone with long hair and beaded French vest
(laughter) didn’t last too long. I remember when it all changed though. There was so much expectancy, and so many high hopes, truly high hopes. And the sense of having the freedom to explore one’s own consciousness in the world around one.

But then 1969, at least for me, despite the previous arrests, it changed, with Altemont, with the move in Berkeley from peace symbols and to a raised fist. I think it changed, at least in California, with People’s Park, Altemont, all these symbols. The fact that the war ended, I think is a great triumph, and a great victory for consciousness. But whether there have been truly lasting results is still to be played out with this current war. And everything I learned, I learned from Bob Dylan anyway. (laughter)

David: Can you tell us about the experience that you had in Morocco with the pipers in Jajouka?

Rosemary: It was my first trip out of the country. Tim and I had been invited to join a very wealthy couple who were renting a castle in Tangier, and we had the good fortune to connect with Paul Bowles and Byron Gysin. Paul Bowles’ book Under the Sheltering Sky was responsible for a great amount of fear I had in Morroco (laughter), because they’re all about American tourists being bludgeoned, or left in the desert to die, really. But a lot about magic too, and these stories of magic he had learned from Homree. I have a photograph of him somewhere.

Anyway, Homree’s mother was from a village in the Reef mountains called Jajouka, which was, and still is, I hope, the home of the Master Musicians. These are a group of tribal musicians who would go and play at weddings all around the area, that is until transistor radios came in. But that was there historically. And they also celebrated a Rite of Spring, in which Pan played a great part, as did a goddess named I-eesha, and we fortunate enough to witness their celebration.

Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones went there and recorded it. But I swear Stravinski must have heard them too, because they play these rytas, these thin horns, and they will go from one horn to another, and it’s absolutely seamless in the sound. I’ve heard that in Stravinski’s “Rite of Spring”. It was an amazing experience. I danced with them, which I felt compelled to do.

David: On LSD.

Rosemary: Yes, (laughter) yes. Then I road a mule down the mountain the next morning, vowing that was the most amazing experience I’d ever had, and to this day it is. It remains so.

David: Could you talk a little about your escape to Algeria with Timothy, The Weather Underground, and your experiences in Algeria with Eldrige Cleaver?

Rosemary: Our escape is not unlike what’s happening today, in that it was a time of hijacking. So there were sky marshals at every airport, and on every plane. We’d been taken to the plane by members of Weather Underground, who watched to see if we got off safely. I had a wig on my head, and Tim had shaven his head, so we were in disguise. We weren’t supposed to be together. We were passing the metal detectors to the airplane, and if any at time we would have been captured, it would have been then, because they were certainly watching the airports.

But once we got on the plane, we just gave up on not being together at that point. We got some champagne from the stewardess and toasted one another. (laughter) Once again, we were leaping into the abyss, not knowing exactly what was at the bottom, or if we’d ever hit bottom. But he was out of prison, and we were together, and we were going off on another adventure.

David: To Algeria.

Rosemary: Yes, where we had assumed that notice was notice was going to be given that we were coming (laughter), but that wasn’t exactly the case. Eldridge Cleavor wasn’t particularly happy to see us. Actually, Tim went on to Algeria alone. I stayed in Paris, because by this time my nerves were totally frazzled. I had been working on these secret plans for his escape, raising the money, dealing with Susan and Jack Leary, a house full of people, the FBI agents outside the door. And I was on probation, so I had to visit my probation officer every week, and this was a huge leap for me. I was becoming a fugitive.

David: You were on probation for drug charges?

Rosemary: Yes.

David: Then you had left the country while on probation for the drug charges?

Rosemary: Yes.

David: How did you wind up in Algeria?

Rosemary: It was because of Weather Underground. Eldrige Cleavor haven been an embassy by the Algerian government. The Algerian government gave money to almost every group that was at odds with their government. There was the Brazilian people who were there, the one lone guy from Gona, one small contigent from the Canary Islands. It was a hotbed of intrigue (laughter) and CIA spooks. An amazing, amazing time there.

David: What was Eldrige like?

Rosemary: Well, he was in a difficult position. He was an escapee from the country, and he had this outpost. His fellow Panthers had hijacked planes and gone to Cuba, and ended up in Algeria. It’s a very difficult thing to set yourself against the government. We were fellow exiles, and the sadness of it, for me, was in the recognition of this racial divide, which I’d willed myself, I think, to be oblivious to, all those years. To suddenly be confronted with the suspicion, and the hostility that we were confronted with, was frightening, and guilt-provoking too in a way. But he was a fellow sufferer–he and Kathleen–in terms of our being exiled from the place where we were most comfortable. Here we were, in this totally foreign country, in a totally hostile environment, with nothing at all familiar to us. And being black in Africa didn’t guarantee him safe passage. He was an American.

David: How did you and Tim split up?

Rosemary: I took very seriously his desire and mine to have a child. And he was arrested in Switzerland on the day that the doctor had told me I would be able to conceive, just plucked him from our little house. Then came another several months of having to raise money to free him from a Swiss prison, and to be on my own, to worry whether they were going to try and extradite me, whether they would try and separate us. And the realization that the two operations I’d undergone, and that the possibility of conceiving, were just lost in the illness that followed.

So, when he was released, I was left with the realization that I wasn’t going to be a mother, that his delight in signing autographs and greeting television crews, and doing interviews, took precedent over the real pain that I was suffering. This lead me to think that I had to get away for awhile, and sort through my feelings, and figure out what I was going to do with my life.

So, with great difficulty, and lot of tears and angst, I negotiated a separation from him, which I though was going to be for just a brief while. I just really needed to catch my breath. It had been a really difficult, difficult time. The closest we’d ever been was in Algeria. We had nine months of a real strong rapport and happiness together, and suddenly now we’re back in the limelight again, and television crews knocking at the door, and no peace and no quiet. And, at least for me, a real dilemma about over this childlessness.

So I went away with a friend that had come to visit, and came back to find that Tim had given away my clothes, met a young woman in the village, and brought her home. She was patting her belly, intimating that she was going to have his child. So I had to look at my marriage, and look at Tim in a new light.

David: And that was the point where you really decided to split up?

Rosemary: Well, oddly enough (laughter), the marriage never really ended. (laughter)

David: Really?

Rosemary: (laughter) Well, I don’t think so, no. (laughter)

David: There was never a divorce?

Rosemary: No, there was a divorce. He divorced me in 1977, but my involvement just never ceased. It never stopped. So much of my time after I left was spent in trying to figure out who he was, who I was, how did this all happen? Where were we going? Where had we been? And that’s when I started to write. It was a way of both exorcising the past, and trying to understand it. I got very caught up in origins of myth and consciousness, and saw him as this tragic hero. Because when I left, after we met again, he said that I would have the ability to change, but he couldn’t change. He was stuck in his persona. He was caught, trapped being Timothy Leary, and he’d never be able to escape from it.

David: How long where you a fugitive for?

Rosemary: Almost a quarter of a century. (laughter)

David: What years where those?

Rosemary: 1970 to 1994.

David: Where were you during this time?

Rosemary: Sicily, Afghanistan, Switzerland, Canada, and Columbia. Then I was at sea for four months, going to different islands.

David: Could you talk a little bit about what it was like to be a fugitive for so long, and how it felt when you finally regained your freedom?

Rosemary: Until I settled down in Cape Cod, it was being the star of my own movie. It was like being totally and justifiably paranoid about everything and everyone. If a man looked at me in a restaurant, perhaps it was because he was an agent from some government. If a person accidentally tried to take my photograph, or if they filming a sunset, I would duck out of the way. It was always always being totally self-conscious. And I was always totally prepared to leave, with a passport in my bag, bag on the bed, shoes lined up, clothes ready to jump into, and escape routes planned. I mean, all kind of futile stuff.

Sylvia: You spent all this time not being able to trust people. Did you at any point have anybody, any close friends, or any correspondence with people whom you could confide in? You said you started writing during that time. Where there other people that you could count on, or just did you feel really alone that way?

Rosemary: I was traveling with someone, my companion of almost ten years. But this isn’t for publication necessarily, it’s just to answer your question. He was an old Mill Brookian, and an adherent of Tim’s. He’d gotten out of going to war by being an LSD priest in the League for Spiritual Discovery, and his disappointment in Tim was so profound, that it was like the young apprentice magician taking on the old sorcerer. There was no one to whom I could speak about the grief I felt over our separation, and the dissolution of a marriage that I thought was eternal.

So, I was very alone in that respect. I could not talk to my companion about this. I could not talk to anyone about my past. So it was really like being a stateless person. I was a stateless, paperless refugee. Until I learned to live as a human being on Cape Cod, I was truly alone. Because, when I’d left in 1970, America was at war with itself. When I came back in 77 everything had changed, everything was quite different than it had been.

And for all those years that I’d been with Tim, we’d been apart from everyone else, or we’d been sort of looking down from this height, and suddenly I was at level playing field. I had to adjust to learning how to talk to people again without trailing all this notoriety behind me, and create a persona, which I successfully did.

David: What was it like to finally gain your freedom again?

Rosemary: So, in 1994, due to the help of a friend, and Tim’s connection to a lawyer, all of that was dismissed by an appeal to the District Attorney. I had made an appeal to the judge, saying that I had been misled by Mr. Leary, and my mother was frail and elderly, and it was all made to go away. I felt like a responsible adult again. I’d gone to great lengths to follow the law. I didn’t get a driver’s license until it was no longer true that I’d committed a felony in the past ten years.

I mean, I was an impeccable. I filed my income taxes. I even used my same Social Security number (laughter), so that I wouldn’t be committing a felony. But suddenly I could stand up and say who I had been, and who I was. It was confusing because I’d been using the name Sara for so many years, and there were all these people on the Cape who knew me as Sara. My employers knew me as Sara, and suddenly I’m going to be Rosemary again. It was very odd, but there was this secret little thrill about it too, that I could be myself.

David: What was it like being reunited with Tim, after so many years, before he died?

Rosemary: Initially it was very romantic that, after twenty odd years, we’re at a place of my choosing, which was going to be the Asian Art Museum. And I’m seeing him after all this time, and we have a romantic dinner, with lots of wine, and we’re very happy to be together. Then I realize how frail he is. He hadn’t been diagnosed as yet with cancer, but he’s emaciated and little bit fumbling. He spoke of his loss of short-term memory, and there was some recognition that there was still a connection between us–a mental connection, in terms of humor, and of knowing one another very very well.

That still existed, but on an another plane there was still, for me, the discomfort. There was a certain discomfort to being with him too, because, once again, I was under his judgement, and I’d been free of that for so many years. I’d been liberated from that, and suddenly I’m with someone who can tell me things that perhaps I don’t want to hear, or behave in ways that I find objectionable. And then, the thing that had caught initially, early in our relationship, was a certain pity for him, a certain feeling of his loneliness and his apartness. And, of course, then came the recognition of his illness.

Once again he was asking me to sacrifice myself, to give up my job, and move to Los Angeles, and (laughter), and there was some resistance
(laughter) on my part to all that. Once I’d visited him in Los Angeles, and saw the chaos of the house, and saw how Mill Brookian it was–in terms of people popping in, no privacy, and the endless interviews that he was giving–I certainly didn’t want to be a part of that. But I wanted to have this connection with him once again. It was very healing to be with him.

David: What do you think happens to consciousness after the death of the body?

Rosemary: Transformation. More than that I can’t say, because I haven’t died yet. I want to believe in the continuation. I want to believe in that. I’d love to believe in reincarnation, but I keep coming up against the Holocaust, and it makes it very difficult for me.

David: How so?

Rosemary: Karmically. In terms of karmic retribution. Millions of people. It’s just very difficult for me to accept that, although I want to. I want to believe that we go on, I want to believe that I had conversations with Tim, and that Nina Graboi did come through a medium and visit us the other night. (laughter)

David: Have you had felt like you’ve really had contact with someone after they’ve died?

Rosemary: The only example I have is perhaps a story that I’ve already told you. I was thinking about my book, and what I wanted to do with it. Then, in the middle of the night, I had, what I thought was a brilliant idea, in how to describe myself in the book. Because people had complained that I write like a psychedelic travelouge, but I don’t really. I’m not very descriptive about myself. I said (deep inhale), well, I’ll use Tim’s writings about me in my book, as a sidebar or something. And the next morning I thought, that was Tim. (laughter) That’s absolutely Tim coming in. (laughter)

David: Right, of course, he would say that.

Rosemary: Yes (laughter), yes (laughter). Use his writings in my book (laughter), of course.

David: Do you actually think that was really Tim?

Rosemary: Oh, I don’t know. I do know that while he was dying I felt him. I felt this inexplicable joyessness that thrilled me, that thrills me even to remember it. I spoke to Ram Dass about it, and he’d suggested that he had felt similar things with dying people. But this was so thrilling, I couldn’t imagine that everyone in the room wasn’t experiencing it.

David: You mean when he was actually dying?

Rosemary: Yes, when he was dying. And it just made me so joyous, and it was (starts to cry)… I can’t say anything about it except that it was thrilling. It thrilled my entire body. It flooded my mind. It lifted my soul. It just was unbelievable.

David: What is your perspective on God?

Rosemary: God knows. (laughter)

David: What’s your spiritual perspective on life? Do feel any type of connection with any religious systems?

Rosemary: Oh, I long to. I long to. I wish I had Jesus as my own special friend. I wish that I had one of the Indian gurus as my own special guide. I really wish I could make a connection like that, but it’s just not meant to be. I was brought up as a Baptist when I was very young, and I think that made it difficult for me to be religious. I tried to be a Catholic when I was 12 and hormonal. (laughter) I sought myself in Guirdjief and Araj (?Arage?) and the other mystics when I was in early twenties.

David: What sort of system do you use for understanding the spiritual aspects of your psychedelic experiences?

Rosemary: I shake them bones. (laughter) No, I’m kidding. When we would trip at Millbrook I would always get into a list of injunctions. I felt that I could be Moses and recreate things, or Mohamad and rewrite, when I was tripping on very high doses of acid. I was trying to recreate a world in which divine things make sense. I would always be drawn to this.

But I remember a trip at Millbrook where we were looking at the stars. We were lying in woods looking up at the stars, and it was so frightening. It was so immense. The sky was so immense. The stars were so distant. And I remember Tim’s line from the Psychedelic Prayers, what was it? Divine indifference? I was reminded of story that I had read, a very early story by Cocteau I think it was, in which this world is simply the mote in the eye of a larger being.

David: Can you tell us about your book The Magician’s Daughter?

Rosemary: Thirty years in the making, and soon to be a major motion picture. (laughter) As I said earlier, I started it as doing therapy. I have a great deal of difficulty going back to it, to completing the missing chapters. I get bogged down in memory, in emotions that I really didn’t expect to feel again, and I don’t get any closer to completion. I keep cannibalizing it for little bits and pieces. But a friend (Sherri
Paris) just suggested a new way of doing it. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to fill in the missing pieces, and rather just make a collage of it all, just put it together with clippings and memorabilia, and little vignettes of the stories that I’ve already written. She said to me, you’re not linear. (laughter)

So, what started out as therapy, then became a chore, written in some wonderful places I must say. And I had a stern task master. My companion used to make me write, lacking that I really did not want to. I haven’t any real new ideas or insights. I like to fill in the missing pieces. I’d still like to complete the parts about Millbrook that I haven’t written, but then I look at the chapter I wrote on Algeria, and there’s so much that I didn’t write about, that could have been written about. The oil men in the desert, Western guys with cloaks and cowboy boots out there scouting oil, and just on and on and on. The images were so rich.

The same with Afghanistan, or Columbia for that matter. I asked my companion, because I was going to attempt to write about the journey from Columbia to Ft. Lauderdale, that took almost six months, and I hadn’t remembered all the places that we’d been to. But he had a memory for them, and he wrote them all down, all these hop-scotching across the Caribbean. And I found it was interesting, even to me. (laughter)

I’m sorry David, I’m going to have to be more succinct about the book. The book will be ready for publication within the next year. (laughter) I didn’t mean to digress that way and go off on a tangent.

Sylvia: One thing that I’ve kind of heard allusions to throughout this conversation has been books or readings–like reading about the peyote cults, then Gurdjieff, then Paul Bowles, and then you’ve been writing for all this time. Are there books that just float to the top, and persist as important texts, that you would point to as enduring inspiration for you, or that you would maybe suggest as reading? I’m an avid reader so I love to ask people about the books that they read.

Rosemary: You know, I wouldn’t dare make any suggestions, because reading is such an ongoing thing for me. It’s still discovery. It’s all discovery. But there have been books that have really informed me, I think, that have made me shake my life.

I realized speaking to Laura Huxley, that one of the most important books early on for me was a Huxley book called The Genius and the Goddess, and the story it contained. So she was kind enough to send it to me, I was very glad to have that back again.

I read so much, and still continue to read so much, but a lot of it nonsensical. But I set myself to read straight through the Tenth Street Library in New York City. I started with fiction, and read from A-Z, and then I started on biographies. (laughter)

David: How many books is that? Are you serious?

Rosemary: Oh, I didn’t read every single book, but, but I got down to Thomas Wolfe. (laughter)

David: I would believe that you went through every book.

Rosemary: No, but quite a number of them. So, but that was a question of educating myself. A lot of my friends were teachers at NYU, so I read what they were interested in reading. If they were teaching Blake, I was reading Blake. If they were teaching Wittgienstien, I was reading Wittgienstien. So all of that was important to me.

Sylvia: This is something that I ask people every time I do an interview. You might find this painful too, but I find it painful to witness young people, at younger and younger ages, trying psychedelics. It seems like the attitudes toward psychedelics have just shifted so much through the years, and I was just wondering if you had any thoughts as to what to think about. Not what to think about that, but if you were talking to a 12 or 13 year old right now, and being just conversational with them about drugs, what kinds of things would you maybe bring up to them? Is that something that you could speak to?

Rosemary: I don’t think I could address that age successfully, but I have been speaking to university students, for example. And the advice I give them is stay out of the hands of the California laws. (laughter) I feel obliged to respond in that way when I’m speaking, and I’d feel remised if I didn’t. But then it’s awkward to be talking about the glory of the Sixties, and the casual use of drugs. I do feel that what, or whom, one puts into one’s own body is one’s own business, and not the government’s. But I’m almost alone in that, except for other like-minded people, and it’s not something that one can say to a young person. I’d rather give your question more thought. 12 and 13 year olds. It’s a very difficult question.

But I did say to the students that, for me, it was a spiritual experience. It was a religious experience, and they don’t get that. There’s no way that they can get that at this time, because the drug experience has been so polluted by the paranoia and fear surrounding it. There’s no way to make a reasoned attempt at it, and certainly I wouldn’t want people that young experimenting, but they’re going to. I mean, I wouldn’t want then having sex either, given my druthers, but that’s simply this society’s mores. I think that age is a time of exploration, and rites of passage, and in any sane society we would try to follow Huxley’s ideas about using the Moksha medicine in his novel Island. But we can’t. So, at this point, I don’t know what to say to them.

David: Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to add?

Rosemary: No. I’d like to do this whole thing all over again, (laughter) on a sunny day with some wine.