The Beltane Celebration
Every minute of every day brings its own insight, its own poetry. There’s no part of life that isn’t wonderful…
with Arlen Riley Wilson
Arlen Riley Wilson is one of the wisest and most magical people that I’ve ever known. In her youth she wrote for several radio dramas, and acted as production assistant on two Broadway plays. She became active in the anti-war movement in the 1960s, as well as the early stages of the Feminist movement. Her poetry has been published in several magazines, and she is working on a novel. Arlen is also the mother of four children, and has been married to philosopher-writer Robert Anton Wilson for over 40 years.
This interview was conducted on January 14, 1999 at Arlen’s home in Capitola, California. At 73, after four major strokes, Arlen remains cheerful and in love with life. When I asked her how she was doing she replied “really well”, and I could tell by the look on her face that she meant what she said. Even lying in bed, with most of her body paralyzed, she radiated a sense of humor, and continued to do everything she could to make the people around her feel at home. During the course of this interview Arlen made me laugh many times. She also inspired me to rethink some of what I had taken for granted, and reminded me about the incredible wonder of being alive.
David: Let’s start with an easy question first. What have you learned from your life?
Arlen: Ha, ha, ha. (laughter, followed by long silence) What I have learned is that life is an unqualified good, and living should be unqualified and unmodified. You’re never more appreciative of life then when it threatens to be taken away at any moment. I had numerous experiences like that, and after each one I wake up. It was as if I’d been asleep. It’s a real kick, and I’m just delighted to still be here.
But the secret of a well-balanced life is to appreciate everything, or at least as much as you can. Many people fall into imbalance and disharmony. There’s no doubt about it, having enough money is a unqualified good. But if you decide that having a lot of money is the only good thing then you’re in big bad trouble. Then you forget to look at nature, and you forget to look at your friend’s faces. You forget to enjoy animals, and you just forget too much. So the thing is to spread the appreciation around.
David: What were you like as a child?
Arlen: Oh, I was like horrible, rebellious, always doing what I wasn’t supposed to do. I was climbing trees, and never cared whether my clothes got dirty. I guess I was a tomboy. But I don’t regret it.
David: You sound like my kind of girl.
Arlen: (laughter) I also had boyfriends, or friends who were boys. I liked boys. I thought they were curious, interesting and entertaining. I didn’t understand all the differences yet. But I thought it interesting, all my life, to study the differences, and find new learning there.
David: Tell me about the novel that you’re writing.
Arlen: It’s called The Beltane Celebration. Beltane is an ancient word for a European fertility holiday. The novel is a spoof on the New Age. It’s about some of the old pagans who live over in Marin County. They think that they’re the ultimate in sophistication. Well, they’re not. To learn more you’re going to have to shell out for the book.
David: What do you think happens to consciousness after biological death?
Arlen: Oh, it goes on in some way or other. I had one after death experience which I thoroughly enjoyed.
David: Could you tell me about it?
Arlen: I went right from one hospital to another, only the second one was heavenly. The doctors, nurses, aids, and everybody there were all spiritual beings– which just really means that you could see through them, almost, not quite. The head nurse was a big honcho angel nurse. I said, “What’s your name?” She said, “My name is Susan, and I don’t want any Sue, or Susie, or Suzanne, or any trash like that.” I said, “okay.” She said, “I think people should be called by their right names. So please call me Susan.” I said, “Okay, you made your point.”
David: Did anything else happen?
Arlen: I said, “Who are the male entities that I see?” And Susan said, “Well, those are manly angels– and there are some you know. They’re to make everybody feel more comfortable here. I personally don’t feel comfortable if there aren’t both men and women present. I know a lot of men and women who don’t either. So we decided to have some distributed around for decoration at least. And here we are.”
David: What’s your perspective on the word God?
Arlen: God is a quintessential of all I have ever known of goodness in this life, and all I ever hope yet to know in this life. Therefore it covers a huge territory– because it’s here, and yet it’s everything that isn’t here yet. I find that conception satisfies me. It has nothing to do with punishment, and nothing to do with anything except what I said. If people don’t know what I mean by goodness, think back over your life, when you experienced some, and you’ll get the feeling. That’s it.
David: Can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve learned from your illness?
Arlen: What I learned from my illness is what I’ve learned from my non-illness, which is that life is incredibly wonderful. Every minute of every day brings its own insight, its own poetry. There’s no part of life that isn’t wonderful. That seems pretty trite, but that’s the way that I feel.
David: Could you talk a little bit about what it’s been like being married to Bob?
Arlen: It’s been a trip. He has opened me up to many things that I wasn’t aware of before, and vice versa. We make a good team. We’re very different, but we’re also very much alike. I think that lays a foundation for good communication. I’m happy that I married him. I haven’t regretted it, except for the briefest seconds, when he just can’t lie. This man just doesn’t lie, and flubs when he tries. He can’t do it.
If I ask him to say I’m not in when the phone rings, he can’t do it convincingly. He hates to be put in a position where he’s supposed to be dishonest. So I guess I’ve become more truthful since knowing him. I’m not saying he’s a saint, or has never lied, but it’s so rare. Usually, when he tries to do it, his eyes bug out, his face gets red, and he can not, absolutely can not, dissimulate with cool and calm.
David: What do you think lies in store for the future evolution of humanity?
Arlen: Well, we’re obviously part of one organism. And, I mean, we better start copping to that, and enjoying it. We’re supposed to remain aware of it on some level in our daily meditations, just a nod of acquiescence. As humanity draws closer together I don’t want to see each component part lose their individuality. I love differences and diversity. If we lose that– to hell with it!
David: What do you think are some of the differences between men and women?
Arlen: Well, men have to show that they’re better than other men, and women have to show that their men are better than other women’s men. This suits me fine. I think that to quarrel with the way things are is a basically a waste of energy. I see certain things in the differences between men and women as primal, and I’m not going to argue with them.
The fact that men are more visual, and women are more auditory, is fine with me. I have no quarrel with that. Men’s voices have always been the thing that reaches out to me. I get uncomfortable when I only hear the voice of one gender. They have to be together. That’s why I love Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. When the male and female voices combine it’s an epiphany.
David: What have you learned from your psychedelic experiences?
Arlen: They lurk in the shadows of my consciousness. I’m glad I had them, and I’m glad I don’t run after them anymore. One of the things I’ve noticed is that they often seem to make communication easier between people who have had those experiences, than between people who have not. We share a similar frame of reference.
David: What type of spirituality do you practice?
Arlen: I try my luck at meditation everyday, but it’s not always blissful or successful. I get as much from a certain kind of music, like Beethoven’s. I can get every shade of mystical experience from that. I also like Deepok Chopra, because he’s so understandable and ordinary in his speech.
David: What’s been the secret to how you’ve managed to keep a sense of humor your whole life?
Arlen: By not trying to block it all the time, in the interest of being taken seriously. I know that sometimes if I joke people just click the switch right off, they don’t want to hear anything else. Well, it’s their loss.
David: Why do you think it is that people tend to take life so seriously?
Arlen: Because they think they are life. They think that they’re most of it, and that the world’s mostly their little soap-opera. This is especially true for adolescents and people in their early twenties. They tend to feel that way. There’s nothing else worth thinking about except the twenty-five feet that surrounds you. And as long as you’ve got such narrow view, you’re not going to have a good sense of humor– because that demands perspective.
David: Is there anything that we haven’t discussed in this interview that you’d like to add to it?
Arlen: I’d like to see a world with more artistic and creatively flowing civilizations, but this is tremendously difficult at present. I knew a lot of painters and other artists in New York years ago. Many of them lived on very little. I knew one first-rate painter who lived on something like $1.36 a day, that he had from a minor stock investment twenty years before. I’m not suggesting that you rush madly to start fasting, but we should be aware that we could live on a fraction of what we consume.
with Valerie Corral
By David Jay Brown
Few people in California have done more to help financially-needy patients obtain medical marijuana than Valerie Corral. It is largely Ms. Corral’s community-oriented vision which allows for many indigent patients in Northern California to obtain free marijuana, and for others to legally grow their own without fear of governmental persecution.
Understanding that a lack of financial resources prevented many needy and deserving patients from receiving high-priced medical marijuana, Ms. Corral was instrumental in drafting the provision in California’s Proposition 215 which allows patients and their care-givers to cultivate their own medicine. With her husband Michael, and their partner Alice Smith, Valerie also began and currently runs the only legally-recognized, non-profit 501(c)3 medical marijuana club in America– the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, or WAMM.
One of the things that makes WAMM different from other medical marijuana organizations is that it is entirely patient and care-giver run. They provide free marijuana to over 120 patients. They also provide patients with hybrid female plants, along with growing certificates– which are recognized by the local sheriffs and police– and instructions for the plants’ care. This creates an interdependent environment for the patients, which in many cases allows them to cultivate their own plants, or to do so for other members, under WAMM’s politically protective umbrella.
In a July 20, 1997 New York Times article Valerie was referred to as “the Florence Nightingale and Johnny Appleseed of medical marijuana rolled into one,” and in Santa Cruz, California Valerie Corral is considered a hero. Although the Corral garden was raided twice by the police in the years before the passage of proposition 215, the city and county District Attorney of Santa Cruz consistently declined to prosecute her. Thanks to Ms. Corral, Santa Cruz is leading the country as a model for community-run, medical marijuana cultivation and distribution.
Ms. Corral, herself a medical marijuana patient, was the first person in California to challenge the marijuana laws in court using the defense of medical necessity, and the Corral garden is now [according to the New York Times] considered to be the closest thing to a truly legitimate marijuana garden in America.
Ms. Corral meets regularly with the local sheriff and police chief to discuss the details of how patients can set up and run their own cannabis gardens, and distribute medical marijuana. The Mayor of Santa Cruz even honored Corral by proclamation in appreciation of her work. This is truly history in the making, as Corral has actually developed a relationship with the local sheriff and police to work with her organization, even protect the gardens. She also works with the District Attorney and Santa Cruz Health Director.
Michael Corral, also present during this interview, is an expert in marijuana botany and genetics. The Corrals have been selectively breeding dozens of marijuana strains over the past twenty years, and dutifully amassing a valuable database of information on which strains are effective in treating specific symptoms for various illnesses.
This interview was conducted at the Corral’s home on July 30, 1997 in Davenport, California. Breath-taking mountains, layered with redwoods and wild greenery descend down to the Pacific from their living room window. Among the varied botanical wonders in their garden, beautiful aromatic marijuana plants grow boldly in all their uninhibited, sexy, sunlit glory.
The Corrals are brave and visionary freedom-fighters who have made enormous strides toward creating a more compassionate future. I sensed that they are responding to a deep calling with their work, and one has to admire their many years of unwavering courage and dedication. They’re also quite fun to hang out with, as the sensuous and giggly healing vibes of the cannabis spirit shine through them.
David: Why do you personally use marijuana?
Valerie: I use it to control epilepsy. I was in a rather bizarre car accident many years ago that resulted in brain trauma, and I suffered from very intense gran mal seizures– sometimes as many as five or six per day. I was prescribed pharmaceutical drugs– which were extremely powerful– and found myself addicted to them, even though they weren’t controlling the seizures. Many epileptics find the same thing. In fact, as many as 25% of epileptics don’t respond to pharmaceutical medicine. I was one of them.
Then, in 1974, my husband Michael read in a medical journal that laboratory-induced seizures were being controlled in rats through the use of marijuana. So I decided to try it, and began using marijuana therapeutically. Any time I would start to feel what epileptics refer to as an “aura”, I would take a few hits, and be able to control the onset of the seizure. Over time it became clear that I could completely control my gran mal seizures.
David: That’s really extraordinary.
Valerie: Oh yes, marijuana is an answer. It’s an answer to something that would otherwise leave me quite limited. Our illnesses can make us prisoners. Anybody’s life circumstances can make them a prisoner to it– but we can try to find a way out. This doesn’t mean that everyone who doesn’t respond to pharmaceuticals will be able to use marijuana as an effective medicine.
But many medications which are considered effective don’t work completely. The anti-convulsants, for example, don’t completely control seizures in all patients who respond to them. Perhaps marijuana in those cases might work symbiotically. One never knows unless research is done.
David: Tell me how you came to start WAMM, and get involved with the medical marijuana community.
Valerie: Mike and I were arrested on August 12, 1992, just before our local medical marijuana initiative Measure A passed. We had been giving away marijuana to people– many of whom had cancer, and used the medicine to relieve their suffering– for eighteen years before we were arrested. After the arrest we went public. I challenged the law under the defense of medical necessity, and was the first person in the state of California to use that defense.
Primarily, the (medical) necessity defense states is that if one commits a crime, but does so to prevent a greater harm, and that there is no alternative, then in fact, no crime has been committed. Much like if there was a person drowning, and you steal a boat to save that person– you’ve committed grand theft, yes, but you also saved a life. So the intent wasn’t to steal, it was to save a life.
The medical necessity defense requires six criteria, and we met the first five. Then the final one was really involving the doctor’s knowledge of my use of marijuana. You see, that’s what’s so absurd about the whole federal government’s attack on physicians regarding 215– that doctors can’t recommend marijuana or talk with patients concerning their use of it. They’re not supposed to refer to it as a specific medicine, certainly not recommend it, and absolutely not prescribe it. And that’s absurd. It’s ridiculous because the whole reason that the necessity defense applied in my case was because of that sixth point– the point where it was common knowledge between my doctor and me.
It was made common knowledge by my using marijuana and telling my doctor, anecdotal as it was. It was the fact that I used it medicinally, and my doctor copped to that. He had to, because I told him more than eighteen years before that I had used it in that way, although he may not have taken me seriously. The point is that he was happier that I was better, and he also didn’t really want to give me pharmaceuticals, because he had witnessed the result.
There was a mixed message. He was also very uncomfortable about marijuana, as you can imagine at the time (or any time). Doctors are scared to death right now. That’s where they keep giving in to federal pressure, and buckling and becoming still more afraid– even when they have the right under state law, with recent federal district court findings.
Presently doctors have the right to recommend– not prescribe, but recommend– marijuana for five different illness, being HIV-AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, and the spasticity-related illness– anything for which marijuana can relieve spasticity in, such as with paraplegic, quadriplegic, MS patients, or post-polio myelitis.
David: That rule doesn’t apply to other drugs– even much more addictive and toxic drugs– where physicians can prescribe whatever they feel will benefit the patient. The court excluded important psychiatric illnesses, as well as all the people who find that marijuana helps them with less serious physical illnesses than the ones that you mentioned, such as headaches, anxiety, PMS, or insomnia.
Valerie: So far, but all of that just needs anecdotal evidence. What has been so far proven to the court was based on anecdotal evidence.
David: How does WAMM differ from other medical marijuana organizations?
Valerie: It’s entirely patient and care-giver run. Our main focus is to really serve ourselves and meet our own needs. So it’s more about the marijuana and the medicine than it is about engaging in having to run a business.
David: You were instrumental in getting the provision drafted into proposition 215 which allows patients and their care-givers to grow their own marijuana. Explain why this was so important.
Valerie: Well, obviously, being a patient myself, I’m in a different position than someone who is growing it to sell. All patients are. We’re also in a different position as liaison, which is another important point, because not everybody can grow their own marijuana. Some people may want to go the store or supermarket, and I think that that’s reasonable, if they can afford to do so.
So not everybody can be part of an organization that’s interdependent between patients, but I really encourage people to grow their own marijuana. Nobody needs an organization like WAMM to do it. But the organization provides safety and gains some political power because there are many of us. When we go to our city council, the board of supervisors, the sheriff, or the chief of police we have some clout.
There’s more strength in what we’re doing because we’re organized. We have identification cards and growing certificates that identify the care-giver or the patient so that the police know whose crop it is. It specifies that particular garden. It’s specific to the patient and address, and really can’t be forged or easily altered.
I think that this is what a small organization can do. It’s still small enough that we can do it. A buyer’s club is necessary in a different way, but WAMM works as a non-profit where we encourage the solicitation of donations. We hope to get more funding.
David: How is WAMM financially supported?
Valerie: Through donations. That means that what revenue we get comes primarily from the patients’ weekly donations, which is not much as most people who are ill are also poor. Probably the most money that we get would be half as much as the amount that would be paid in a buyer’s club. That’s really an unclear assessment, because we don’t get very much money. Most of the time people don’t donate any money at all, because they can’t really afford to– that’s why they’re in WAMM. They’re there because the pot’s free, and because we help each other grow, collect, and distribute it.
David: What does WAMM’s 501(c)3 non-profit status allow it to do that other cannabis buyers clubs can’t?
Valerie: I don’t know. Everybody’s functioning right now. It really depends on what happens with the federal government– what they do, and how they plan to impose restrictions to govern. What’s happening right now is basically this kind of free-market anarchy. WAMM is likely the most legal growing organization in America because we give away marijuana and don’t sell it. Most of it’s free to most of the patients. Those who can kick in money do so when they can. And people that need less, take less, so that there’s more for others. That’s really how it works. It exists on a kind of balance, which is precarious at times. We are not paid for our work.
David: Tell me about your arrests over the years, and how these legal attacks helped to shape WAMM’s development.
Valerie: We were first arrested in 1992, and challenged our felony offense with the necessity defense. Three days before our trail– when the jury was to be picked– the District Attorney said that the charges were dropped, as we met the six criteria. Having met these six criteria the attorney said that he couldn’t get a jury to convict us.
At the time, I thought that meant that we could safely grow marijuana, and that I was the first person who was free to do so. Indeed, it ended up meaning that– at least eventually. We planted another crop, and we got arrested again on September 21, 1993. They waited a little longer the following year– until the sweetness of the plant was more ripe– but that time they searched our house, and tore it apart. So Mike and I said, “this is bullshit.”
I had already met the six criteria, but what we were told was that every time you commit the crime– every time you steal the boat, in other words– your trial has to be heard. Every time you grow marijuana there’s another offense. But the thing is that my illness doesn’t change, nor does that of some others, unless you spontaneously become well. So your relationship to the use of marijuana remains the same, and it would seem that defense would still apply.
Anyway, they have yet to file charges, but they took our crop. At that point Mike and I went public and WAMM was born. The first thing that we did was begin talking to doctors. Another patient came to us, then others called, and we just started meeting more people through hospice work.
David: How has California’s passage of Proposition 215 effected WAMM?
Valerie: Two days after the passage of 215 we were granted our 501(c)3 status. The interesting thing is that it’s a “research and education” 501(c)3, which allows us to cultivate and distribute marijuana. That’s what it states in our by-laws, and that’s what was accepted by the Secretary of State and the Attorney General.
David: Why do you think the federal government is so opposed to the legal use of medical marijuana?
Valerie: I think it’s for a myriad of reasons.
Michael: One of the reasons is that the War on Drugs has become a self-perpetuating machine. Marijuana prohibition keeps a lot of people working in law enforcement and the judicial system, as well as the urine testing industry. The other reason is that marijuana may be more effective than up to 30 or 40 percent of the drugs in the PDR. So pharmaceutical companies know that this easily-grown herb could replace a lot of their expensive drugs. It’s unfortunate that they don’t spend any money to produce new drugs from the marijuana plant.
Valerie: Can you imagine? At least hundreds of single compounds could be made from the marijuana plant. They could create a whole pharmacy, and I think it’s just a matter of time before they start. They have actually already begun with Marinal (a single compound synthetic THC). But why the government works the way it does is just such a huge question, although I do think that it can come down to some pretty simple things. In my experience and observation of others through the collection of data, it appears that the whole plant works better than the single compound. I believe it works synergistically.
David: Tell me about the lawsuit that you and others have been pursuing with the Federal government– with regard to Washington’s threat to prosecute physicians who recommend marijuana to their patients– and why the Feds backed down.
Valerie: It’s a class-action lawsuit against the federal government– primarily in order to establish the right to an open dialogue between physicians and patients, regarding the recommendation of marijuana and the use of terminology as it is actually stated in 215. Essentially it’s to keep the free passage of information flowing between patient and physician.
What happened for a short period of time– between April 11 and April 30– was that it was legal for a physician to prescribe marijuana for any illness. There was a finding in federal court, a temporary restraining order against the federal government from taking any action of reprisal on anybody presently or in the future.
Then the 9th district federal court judge reviewed the evidence that was given to her regarding epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV-AIDS, spasticity, and cancer, and ruled in favor of physicians having the right to recommend marijuana to help treat these five illnesses.
After having that documentation presented to the they court found that there’s really no way that patients can avoid having conversations with their physicians about marijuana, and that physicians have the right to have the conversations and to recommend marijuana to their patient. The federal government, on the other hand, was stating that under no circumstances was a patient and a physician to ever to have this dialogue concerning about marijuana.
The court also found that a physician could not indicate where a patient can get marijuana, because that would be engaging in an illegal activity. So it isn’t the dialogue that’s illegal any longer. You can talk about anything you want. What’s against the law is to tell a patient where to get marijuana. This is silly because a patient must discuss her marijuana use with her doctor.
David: What are the remaining steps that you think need to be taken before we have fully legal medical marijuana on a national level?
Valerie: I think that each community and state will have the same opportunity that California has had.
David: But California still doesn’t completely have it. Legitimate patients are still getting hassled.
Valerie: Yes, but it depends. It’s a community-by-community response. What a lot of District Attorneys and sheriffs are saying is let’s work out in court. The DA’s are saying they want to have the day in court. All that 215 really allows is an affirmative defense. Now you no longer have to argue in court as to whether or not marijuana is medicine, and that with the knowledge of a physician in specific ways you are allowed to grow and use it. We use a recommendation form from the physician, but the most important thing is to tell your physician– just so it’s documented in your medical records somewhere that you use medical marijuana to treat the symptoms of your illness.
David: What do you think it’s going to take before they finally stop arresting people on a national level?
Valerie: On a national level I don’t know about time, or what it takes to change people’s minds and remove fear. But something important has happened. You can look out the window and see the change before your very eyes. I mean, in some ways it’s up to the individual. Mike and I have just done what we’ve done all these years, and there’s never any telling how it’s going to be exactly.
We don’t know how long it might take to move the federal government. What does it take? It takes what it always takes– political movement. It takes risk. It takes a unity of people– people speaking and making it happen. It really happens in small ways in your own community. It happens by using the affirmative defense, and by challenging the government. That’s how the prohibition of alcohol was repealed.
David: What can the average person do to help?
Valerie: In other states I think the first step is clearly to speak up. Sign a petition when you see it come around. Make it known that not only is your sheriff elected, but so is your district attorney, and these are important positions– especially to them. What they do effects how their community votes.
The sheriff’s department is often partially funded by CAMP– Campaign Against Marijuana Planting– through other agencies in the federal government, such as the office of Criminal Justice Planning, which employ the police force in their War on Drugs. It involves huge amounts of money that fund the sheriffs, and your district attorney. You want to make sure that these people know the facts about medical marijuana. A step toward understanding is just getting your district attorney, your board of supervisors, and city council to look further into the matter.
Public support is necessary, but you have to begin by not being afraid. Begin by not being afraid to speak about medicine. Remember that in California we voted for it, cloistered behind curtains. Behind the doors, and the walls of our ballet boxes, we were willing to state that we support marijuana as medicine. Now I think more and more communities will begin discussing it more openly, because obviously many people and many communities believe that it’s medicine. How much more obvious could it be?
So there’s safety in that. In California it’s not against the law anymore. We have to remember that. And that’s a hard thing to do, because the fear is so instilled. People that have had jobs where they have been getting paid for thirty years to believe that marijuana is evil, and to arrest people who use it, are going to find that a difficult concept, as are people who have hidden behind the fear of criminality.
I think that those of us cultivating and distributing medical marijuana in California right now need to be honorable and accountable for our actions because we represent this issue. Presently, patients and care-givers will be viewed with scrutiny, and may be responsible for setting standards for the rest of the country. I think that it’s up to the patients and the care-givers not abuse this issue, and that regardless of our personal belief about the Drug War, 215 is specific to people who are seriously ill and their physicians.
David: How do you see WAMM evolving in the future?
Valerie: My hope is that WAMM remains fluid, and changes just as life changes, beyond all of our dreams and imaginings, beyond what is limited by the mundane, opening our perception to include what we have yet to discover.
It is my belief that WAMM has already been tremendously successful. Successful because what we have given birth to is truly revolutionary. We have been instrumental in the creation of a remarkable model, a gift that could benefit and serve to offer a new and personal approach to medicine.
David: What are you currently working on?
Valerie: The WAMM World Wide Web site. We’re always working on cultivation. That’s the main thing– cultivating plants and dealing with human suffering. We’re just working with each other and with the laws on a daily basis. We’re involved in one another’s lives and dying process. We’re friends. WAMM isn’t just about marijuana, but what it takes to survive, to live well through this life into our deaths.
David: Why do you think it’s best to grow your own?
Valerie: For one thing growing and harvesting gets people out of bed, and maybe it helps them out of the confines of their illness. But more importantly, from talking to many people about growing marijuana, I think that there’s something that happens when you grow your own, something symbiotic between the plant and the grower– especially for people who are sick. Our friends often tell us that the very best pot they’ve ever smoked came out of their own soil. Folks talk about how great the marijuana that they’ve grown is.
I think that there is something to that. I think that when we grow our own medicine and use it in to heal ourselves, and feel better, there’s this really remarkable connection that symbiotically happens with the plant, and it makes it the best.
I think that it’s true that when we nurture this plant we nurture ourselves. When it’s so much a part of our lives the plant responds in some way as it grows. Plants cared for from seedlings. You sexed them, and carefully tended and handled these plants (laughter), and they grow into these beautiful, luscious, exquisite medicinal females which alter so much for us. They change the way that we live, and the way that we perceive our lives.
For more info on the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical marijuana got to www.wamm.org
Why not indeed?!
“Beautiful… Beautiful… Why? Why? Why? Why not?!”
with Timothy Leary
(Photo by Dean Chamberlain – Click on photo for 1024/768 version)
It is extremely rare to find a photograph of Timothy Leary in which he isn’t smiling broadly. From the moment that Timothy first turned on to psychedelics– and there was a camera, a microphone, or an audience pointed his way– he consistently and charismatically radiated cheerful messages of hope, optimism, and courage. His beaming intelligence, hyper-insightful mind, and quick wit held the power to make people think, laugh, and feel good. But his most recent performance, I think, beats them all. His brave and upbeat approach to dying was every bit as instructive, inspiring, and entertaining as his approach to life had always been. He will certainly be remembered as one of the most original and enigmatic philosophers of the Twentieth century.
On a recent visit to Los Angeles, Robert Anton Wilson remarked to Timothy, “I’ve met Buckminster Fuller, and I still think you’re the most intelligent man that I’ve ever met. And I’ve met George Carlin, and I still think you’re the funniest man that I’ve ever met.”
To which Timothy replied, “You’re a good judge of character Bob. I’ve always thought I’m pretty wonderful too.” Self-effacing humor was never quite his style.
When Timothy announced to the world that he was dying of cancer a flurry of media attention flocked his way. Ever the Zen prankster, he told reporters that he was “ecstatic” and “thrilled” to be dying. Hearing these words in the context of death simply delighted me. I wanted to see Timothy again before he crossed over the threshold into the promised land, and ask him a few final questions. So I put everything that I was doing aside, and headed south for Los Angeles.
There was a beautiful rainbow arching across the sky when Rebecca Novick and I arrived at Timothy’s home off Benedict Canyon in Beverly Hills on February 26, 1996. We took the rainbow to be a good omen, and the three of us stood in the backyard admiring it for several minutes. Timothy remarked that this was “the clearest day” that he had ever seen since he had lived in the house. The rain had washed some of the smog from the air, and indeed it was a very clear day for Los Angeles, but I suspect that Timothy’s sense of clarity was due to other factors. He said that he could make out even the tiniest details of every tree on the neighboring hills, which was more than I could do. “How beautiful… Look how wonderful it is,” he said with his youthful eyes widening, leaning forward on his cane, as though every millimeter counted.
Timothy was using a cane due to that fact that the prostate cancer had spread throughout his pelvic region. As he struggled towards the bedroom, where he was about to get a massage, he leaned onto Rebecca’s shoulder for support. Unsure of which direction the bedroom was, Rebecca asked him which way to go.
“Haven’t you ever been here before?” he asked.
“I’ve been here,” she replied, “just not in the bedroom.”
“Can you prove it?” Timothy laughed with flirtatious twinkling eyes. He continued to joke around and laugh the whole time that we were there.
There was a Lilly isolation tank in Timothy’s bedroom, colorful abstract paintings hung on the walls, and a large tank of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) stood by the closet. Throughout the interview, and for hours afterwards, we passed around large balloons filled with the giggly gas, which added a relaxed sense of expansiveness to the atmosphere.
Although Timothy looked very skinny, and his body seemed to be wasting away, his mind was as quick, sharp, and clear as ever. His eyes were bright, he was unceasingly animated, and his spirit was as alive as could be. His sense of humor hadn’t diminished one bit, and he was as sweet and playful as a child. The exterior shell of his personality seemed to have softened, and he was the most open that I’d ever seen him. He seemed to be deeply appreciating every moment of his existence, especially the massage that our friend Robin Rae was giving him, while I conducted the interview at his bedside.
Being the philosopher that he was, I had imagined that Timothy spent a good deal of his time pondering what his afterlife might be like. When Rebecca and I interviewed Timothy for our first book Mavericks of the Mind several years ago, one of the questions that I asked him was what he thought happened to consciousness after the death of the body. He never really answered the question, and went off on this whole rap about cryonic suspension. Now that Timothy was actually dying, I thought that he would be more apt to speak about his views on the post-death experience. But, you’ll see as you read this interview, that Timothy continues to evade the question. However this time I was much more persistent with my questioning, and I did finally manage to get something out of him which revealed his views on the subject.
Timothy’s initial plans to have his head cryonically suspended fell through, so it now appears that he won’t be around for an encore re-animation performance next century. Apparently the folks over at Alcor– the cryonics facility he was signed up with– weren’t too keen on Timothy’s well-publicized plans to commit suicide (on LSD) when the pain from the cancer became too much, and broadcast the death-trip live over the Internet on the World Wide Web. They feared legal repercussions, but according to Timothy, the cryonics facility just “didn’t have a sense of humor.”
However, in the end, Timothy died naturally on the morning of May 31st, not long after midnight. His reputed last words were “Beautiful… Beautiful… Why? Why? Why? Why not?!” A showman to the very end, Timothy’s body will be cremated, and his remains are to be packed aboard a rocket ship (along with Gene Rodenbery’s, creator of the Star Trek series), blasted into the heavens, and sprinkled into space amongst the stars. A fitting ending for a man who was truly out-of-this-world. Why not, indeed?!
David: What have you gained from your illness, and how has the dying process affected you?
Timothy: When I discovered that I was terminally ill I was thrilled, because I thought, “Now the real game of life begins. Oh boy! It’s the Super Bowl!” I entered into the real challenge of how to live an empowered life, a life of dignity. How you die is the most important thing you ever do. It’s the exit, the final scene of the glorious epic of your life. Death is loaded with paradox and taboo, so it’s hard for me to be thinking this through, even though I’m involved in the process of dying full-time. Do you follow my confusion? I can not exaggerate the power of this taboo about dying. It’s spooky, it’s something we’re supposed to be frightened of. Death is something symbolized by Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
David: Have you learned anything in particular from this illness?
Timothy: You don’t learn, you re-discover. We’re all going to die. I’m seventy-five years old, but you’re dying too. It’s just a matter of scheduling. Of course it’s all paradoxical. I think that you shouldn’t be a victim, but you have to be one now and then. Maybe once an hour you can complain, and be a victim all you want, but for no more than five minutes! (Laughter) So then once you have that attitude, and you set the domino chips going, then it becomes a force. Death should be good, but it’s like setting off a domino tree– all your prejudices, and all your fears and taboos come up.
David: When you first heard that you had cancer, did you accept that you were going to die, or did you say I’m going to fight this?
Timothy: One thing that we’re so fanatic about is this metaphor of fighting. It’s unbelievable how in this society we stress fighting and combating a disease. We’re fighting everything! The presidential candidates are supposedly trying to figure out what’s good for America, but all they do is lie and fight, fight, fight! It’s an amazing way to select a president, isn’t it?
David: So you think using that metaphor in a medical sense is dangerous?
Timothy: It’s even worse. It’s so inbred into us, implanted during our childhood.
David: Cryonic suspension aside, what do you personally think happens to consciousness after the death of the body?
Timothy: Well, this is the most important question, right?
David: It’s the greatest mystery of all time.
Timothy: What do you think?
David: I have several dozen competing theories and ideas that I entertain regularly. Maybe death, like life, is influenced by what we believe it to be. Maybe only some of us continue, and others don’t. Maybe at death one splits apart into many beings, or maybe we unify into some kind of greater Self. Maybe you just transcend this world completely, and journey to another unimaginable level. Maybe you cease to exist altogether. C’mon Timothy, you must have given it some thought. What do you think happens when you die?
Timothy: Well, I always try to be scientific.
David: It’s pretty difficult to be scientific about something that’s pure mystery, that we can’t even measure yet.
Timothy: Why? That’s what science is all about. Science deals with the mystery. Science loves being proved wrong. We know that when the heart stops– flatline– the brain continues to go on…
David: For another fifteen minutes or so.
Timothy: Yeah, which makes this a very interesting and fascinating notion, doesn’t it? Particularly when most of the Eastern religions have stressed something very different from that, right?
David: The Eastern religions– like Buddhism or Hinduism– stress a continuity of self, that every self is eternal, and connected to a larger Self. It’s pretty difficult being really scientific about what happens to consciousness after death.
Timothy: How dare you? Throw out all of science… because of what?
David: I’m not throwing out science, it’s just that there’s presently no way to measure consciousness. There’s no evidence to go on.
Timothy: Of course there’s evidence. I’m going to have my dying room set up weeks, months in advance, so that there will be at least twenty or thirty ways that I’m going to be communicating. Even in the worst case where I can’t speak, or make use of any motor ability, there will be some way I can communicate my experience.
David: That’s for while you’re dying, not after you’re dead. After that we’ll have to have a seance in order to talk to you. Don’t you have some kind of theory, some kind of intuition or idea that you play with about what happens to consciousness after you cross over the threshold?
Timothy: Theory and intuition– is that the same thing?
David: No, but intuitions can help us to form theories.
Timothy: Based on intuitions. Is intuition like a scale or a truck?
David: It’s more elusive, it’s a hunch or a feeling.
Timothy: Feeling inside you of what?
David: That something is right, or wrong, or that a pattern will continue a certain way, and it’s not based upon just a logical analysis of the situation, but upon an emotional response that’s difficult to articulate.
Timothy: But then where did it come from? It must be based on something.
David: I don’t know where intuitions come from. But I really want to know what you think happens after you die? (laughter)
Timothy: Well, I’m a very special case. The average person doesn’t spend a lot of time…
Timothy: …all of these years in arranging for their death. By hitting, dialing, arranging for injections, changing the screen, and through all these other options I’ll be able to communicate in a language which we’re making up for the experience. And see there again, it points out the need for practice and for rehearsal.
David: Kind of like the “metaphase typewriter” that you designed in the sixties, to encode a large amount of meaning into simple commands during a psychedelic experience?
David: Do you see the psychedelic experience as being preparation for dying?
Timothy: Well, obviously, that’s the oldest metaphor.
Rebecca: I was going to ask what would you like your funeral to be like?
Timothy: Well, you’re assuming there’s going to be a funeral. Yeah, you’re talking about the ceremonies or the activities.
Rebecca: Yeah, what would you like that to be like after you die?
Timothy: Well, just what we’re doing right now. Everything that I do, everything that goes on in this house is centrally connected with our work, our philosophy, our religion. It’s all woven together.
David: You used the word religion.
Timothy: I consider that to be one of the most dangerous words in the English language– Croatians, Catholics, Moslems…
David: What did you mean by it then when you said it?
Timothy: Well, I didn’t say it, I repeated it.
David: Where do you think that you go after you die Timothy?
Timothy: Well, obviously your body is going to go where you instruct people to bring it. It can be cremation, it can be worms…
David: Timothy, do you think that your consciousness can exist independently of your body?
Timothy: Sure. Oh absolutely. Of course.
David: Oh you do?! You’ve had experiences of being out of your body?
Timothy: Well, I’ve taken a lot of LSD.
David: Well, so have I, but I’m not sure that I’ve had any out-of-body experiences on LSD though. But you have?
Timothy: Oh yeah. Many times I’d feel my leather hands (laughter), and there’s no warm blood inside them. Flesh has become simulated skin. Yeah, I’ve been there.
David: Have you ever had feelings like you’ve lived before? When you’re tripping you must have had that?
Timothy: Oh absolutely, yes. Jesus, yeah. In that state the reality scenarios are amazing.
David: Looking back over your life, what would you say were the most important things that you learned?
Timothy: Over and over again, you say “learned”, as though this were some kind of manual we were doing.
David: You say re-discover?
Timothy: Oh, it depends upon the context.
David: What are the most important things that you’ve re-discovered or learned throughout your life?
Timothy: One of the most important things that I’ve learned is that when you meet an irresistible force, move on! Keep moving. Don’t hang around Bosnia or wherever. Can you believe they’re killing each other over there over a tiny piece of land? Always put yourself in the best place you can, the best place to be. The selection of your location-shot– where you make this movie of your life– is tremendously important. Go to a place where the people share your interests, your aspirations, and your optimistic point of view. A place, of course, that is secure and safe. You don’t want to go into the middle of Bosnia or someplace like that. You have a lot to do with the selection of the place you live, your own goals, and the uniform you wear.
David: Do you have any regrets, or would you change anything in your life?
Timothy: Boy, I have tremendous regrets of letting people down, mainly friends and relatives. It’s interesting though, that the things that I regret not doing, I had already begun doing more than full-time, like seeing more of my grandchildren. I just regret that I couldn’t do more. It’s the same helplessness of any friend or parent when you see someone who you love that you can’t help.
David: You wish that you could have done more, or that you could have been more there for them?
Timothy: I’m just sad about it. You’re trying to rationalize it. I just fucking feel sad. I don’t have to have a reason. (laughter) Right? Funny isn’t it.
David: What kind of world do you envision when you’re re-animated from cryonic suspension?
Timothy: Why throw that in? Why not just say, what do you think will happen in the future? It might be a place with a bunch of middle-class white men standing around with clipboards. (laughter) If that’s the case, then send me back. (laughter)
David: So do you have a particular fantasy?
Timothy: You know, I don’t. I’m so involved in living all this. Does that make any sense?
David: Yeah, you’re very much in the moment.
Timothy: No, I’m doing it. What does that mean– I’m doing it? I’m planning it, and trying things out. All this is a rehearsal. I’m rehearsing.
Timothy: My death. You know how when people get married they have a wedding rehearsal, with bridesmaids and all that? This is similar. There’s going to be a big party.
(To Rebecca) Thank you for your radiance and warmth. I think you like me.
Rebecca: I do like you very much. You’ve had a very big influence on my life.
David: Yeah, you’ve had a really big influence on my life too. One of the things I really wanted to do was to thank you for coming to this planet and doing what you’ve done. You’ve been an amazing inspiration– for me, and for a lot of people.
Timothy: Not that I’m making a big victim-problem out of it, but it’s possible that I’ve influenced an enormous number of people. It’s possible that I’m one of the most important people of the Twentieth Century. Not that I am, but that this wave going on which I’ve been a part of is. It was happening and I was there. I saw it happening, and I predicted it, but I didn’t cause it.
David: Well, you did more than simply predict it, you surfed it. Your courage and vision inspired a lot of people. You helped to create a lot of what went on.
Timothy: The metaphors, the rituals, the style, and the attitude. There is a definite attitude– the way I see life– that I think got incorporated into the culture. It is a very thrilling and wonderful opportunity that we are now lucky enough to be in this position in America. It’s staggering how lucky we are. You could be in prison or stuck in Bosnia– Wow!
David: How are you feeling Timothy?
Timothy: I am absolutely in heaven. This is the best I’ve felt in many many days. I must tell you I feel emotionally just very very happy, blissed out as a matter of fact, and I’m having a lot of fun. The pain can be terrible, but if I don’t move, God, I just feel great. And, also you see, the longer we keep talking, the longer I can get her (Robin– our friend, the massage therapist) to hang around. (laughter)
When she (Robin) starts getting up under the knees, it’s almost like a genital thrill– ooohhh woooww! (Laughter) Once she gets over the kneecap… oh boy! Just that little squeeze there… I’m having a good time. I hope I’m not playing around too much. I’m feeling mellow, and I’m enjoying it, and I like you guys. So I’m just babbling away here. (To David) You have a very healing face. You radiate a kind of quiet joy. It’s amazing. It’s very nice. I like you. (To Robin and Rebecca) He’s a very nice guy isn’t he? Friendly, sincere, good teeth too, boy.
Rebecca: What is important to you right now?
Timothy: Well, right now, this massage. (laughter) Anytime you’re being massaged, it’s a wonderful world.
David: Is there anything that you haven’t done, that you’d still like to do?
Timothy: Well, that’s something I’ve thought about, and the answer is basically, no. I have no desire to expand into adventures or quaint explorations. When you’re younger you want to see Athens and the Vatican, to travel around the world. That just doesn’t attract me at this stage.
David: How would you like to be remembered?
Timothy: Everybody gets the Timothy Leary that they deserve.
David: What has been the secret, all these years, to your undying sense of courage and optimism?
Timothy: It’s common sense. It’s all common sense and fair play. See, because fair play is common sense. It’s a very obvious approach to life.
Plugging into ElfNet
“…we are separate entities with boundaries that collide…we are entities with boundaries that overlap.”
with Francis Jeffrey
Francis Jeffrey is a pioneer and forecaster on the frontier interface between communication technologies and neuroscience. He is a consultant on ethical applications of science and technology co-founder of civic and environmental organizations, and CEO of Alive Systems Inc., which is devoted to the application of biological principles in computer software design.
Francis devised the “Linguini code, ” an intercultural and human-computer communications “language. ” He originated the concept of “communications co-pilot, ” an electronic co-personality that works along with you while it learns to emulate and support your communication and computing activities. His magnum opus is a project-in-progress called ElfNet, an interactive network that will use telephones or interactive television to access global information resources in a personalized way, while building meaningful relationships and perfecting programs of action. A psychological theorist, his theory on the nature of consciousness in isolation was published in Woman & Ullman ‘s Handbook of States of Consciousness.
In 1973, after studying computational neurophysiology at the Berkeley and San Diego campuses of the University of California, Francis began studies with John C. Lilly, M.D. (interviewed in our first volume) on sensory isolation and on human-dolphin communication research, studies which continued over the years. Recently Francis helped dolphins gain civil rights, at feast in Malibu. His concept was first enacted as public policy by the Malibu city council on January 7, 1992–apparently the first legal recognition in the human world of dolphins as individuals. In 1986 Francis co-founded, with Richard B. Robertson, the Great Whales Foundation, an organization that has called upon the international community to recognize whales as “living cultural resources ” rather than consumables.
Francis is the author of the well-known biography John Lilly, So Far. His thinking has been provoked over the years by interactions with the twentieth century ‘s best and brightest innovators and nonconformist thinkers, including Timothy Leary, Carolyn Mary Kleefeld (both of whom are in our first volume), Herbert Marcuse, Gregory Bateson, Lawrence Stark, M.D., Heniz von Foerster, Roland Fischer, and Ted Turner.
In interview mode, Francis demonstrates an extremely quick mind that is knowledgeable about an extraordinary scope of interests, free-associating surprising connections among conventional topics. Keenly perceptive of the hidden structure of ideas and systems, he possesses a special gift for making complex scientific concepts easy to understand in essential terms. He is also very unny, in an off-beat sort of way. Dark, piercing eyes dart amid birdlike features in a combination that seems to personify the archetype of the alchemist-wizard. I conducted this interview with Francis at his Malibu Beach home on June 29, 1994, at sunset. As we began, just off the deck, dolphins slid through the waves of the Pacific.
David What inspired your interest in computational neuroscience? How did you become interested in the interface between the computer and brain science?
Francis: I started reading Carl Jung as a teenager and found him fascinating. By the time I was about fifteen, I had read just about everything he wrote. But it seemed to really lack any explanatory power, so I started looking for something that would help to better explain the mind. After reading Jung, I thought, “Well sure, maybe the mind does this, but how and why does the mind do this?” It became apparent that this had something to do with the brain, and I began looking into that in college.
When I was in college studying psychology, computers were just coming online in a big way. So you had the first transition from these very elite mainframe institutions that everyone had to schedule their time on and share. They were originally installed with money from the Defense Department and the Atomic Energy Commission to encourage research in physics, and virtually every university had one. Then minicomputers be-
came available, and we had laboratories that had some of the first minicomputers in them. So your lab actually had a computer, and it was obvious that the way to do experiments in psychology was to program them, because this was much more flexible than the old fashioned way of doing experiments.
I was fascinated with what cognitive science now calls the binding problem. What is it that holds a perception together as a unit? Behaviorism, which is the psychology that was widely being taught at that time, contributed absolutely nothing to this question. The stimulus-response perspective didn’t give you a clue as to what made a perception. A more universal spin on the question would be “What is consciousness?” There is somebody who is having an experience, and that experience seems to hold together. You’re not just little bits of a picture, like an insect eye, but there’s a whole thing going on that you’re involved in.
David That’s the Big Mystery.
Francis: You can analyze it in different ways, and it’s kind of like a quantum phenomenon. Depending on how you analyze it, what experiments you do, you conclude that perception is broken down into different units in different ways. Recently reputable academic scientists started saying that the binding problem–what holds a perception together–is something that they’re going to start looking at. But that’s just a way of getting the large question–“What creates a mind?”–in the door.
Well, there are a lot of ancient answers to that question from people who, without the benefit of any external technologies, just experimented on themselves. I think one of the best traditions of that would be The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. A contemporary roughly of Plate and Buddha, back more than 2,000 years ago, Patanjali is the legendary and perhaps actual author of The Yoga Sutras, which is a very concise presentation of the basic ideas of yoga. Of course, that is tied to all the Hindu philosophy, and on and on. But there’s something very crisp and concise about The Yoga Sutras, and a lot of scientifically minded people, including John Lilly, have gotten way into it.
There are a lot of scientists, such as Deepak Chopra, who have benefited from association with this yoga tradition. Now, Patanjali said–among a great many other interesting things–that artificial minds can be created by … how to translate it is difficult … “egotism.” Artificial minds can be created by the drive to selfhood. Okay, so I translate this as follows. “If you want to create an artificial mind”-which sounds very modern and technological, almost like artificial intelligence [AI], but he’s talking about how a yogi can project his mind into form and clone himself–“what makes it possible is that there is a universal tendency to create coherent consciousness.”
David To individuate?
Francis: To individuate, exactly. That’s the basis of the phenomenon. So I applied this in my recent thinking, and this insight guides the communication-software development I’m currently into. What you need if you want to create an artificial mind–now in the modem technological sense–is you must somehow capture that drive toward individuation, toward consciousness. But it’s not a matter of building up a bunch of rules on how some expert does things, which is how AI has turned out to be.
David How does your understanding of computer science give you insight into how the brain works?
Francis: It gives an insight in a negative sense, because computer science is a completely vapid subject. As far as I can tell, there isn’t any. There are departments of computer science at universities, but is it science? It’s like they’re studying the history of the evolution of computers or something.
David Well, it’s a systems approach to a certain type of technology.
Francis: That’s the problem. You see, a system is like an artificial framework that you build, and then you try to fit stuff into it. To again use the quantum theory paradigm, you know what you observe depends on the kind of experiments and measurements you make. There’s a certain complementarity there. You make certain measurements and observations, and you exclude others. So I think the hierarchical-systems approach is the
ultimate extension and reductio ad absurdum of that approach, because you end up with a created system that has no subject matter but its own constructs. It’s like what Wittgenstein said, “Can it be that in mathematics what I am studying and seeking … is to know that which makes it possible for me to create these things.”
David So then, the study of computer science can also be the study of the brain’s ability to model things in a way that creates powerful computational tools and digital technology. Francis: Well, in kind of a backdoor way. But that’s just psychology. The tool building is