Chapter 9, Counterculture

Soon after my arrival in southern Humboldt County, with my daughter. I am wearing a vest I made while still living in Philadelphia and a dress cum culottes I fished out of a free box in Berkeley. My wrist is taped because I sprained it helping to build the fence I’m leaning on.

Three years after my second graduation from UC Berkeley, I could be found living in the woods of Humboldt County with my child., 200 miles north of the city and two miles from the nearest hard road. For the next eight years, with the exception of a six-month job-related stay in Eureka, I lived the life I describe in my ethnography, Beyond Counterculture: the community of Mateel.1

Whereas the vast majority of my neighbors in the community widely known as “SoHum” (southern Humboldt County) were proud dropouts from American culture, I always viewed myself as more of a kick out, since my option to not drop out had been removed by Professor Phillips. Nevertheless, I will cop to having been drawn inexorably toward the counterculture from my earliest days in Berkeley. I had come west looking for beatniks, but I was far too ambitious to ever have been one, even if I had not missed them by a number of years. The hippies of the Haight and The Ave were highly interesting to me as a cultural phenomenon, but once again, I cared far too much about school to be a hippie for more than a few hours at a time. There can be no question but that I was what was called disparagingly in the Haight a “weekend hippie.”

In my book on the counterculture, I described what I call the “discontinuity experience,” meaning “the psychedelic experience and the physical action involved in dropping out.”2 By physical action I meant quitting school, quitting the job, initiating the divorce, going AWOL, moving somewhere else including a faraway land, changing religions, coming out of the closet or actively engaging in some other activity that greatly reduces the direct influence of mainstream culture on the evolution of the individual. Those most affected saw it as “reflecting some fundamental truth, either on a general philosophical level or in terms of their own individual sanity.”3 I coined the phrase in an effort to come up with the least value-laden term possible to describe the experience of dropping out. The point is, something happened to the individual that created a conflict in her or his worldview, system of values, hopes and expectations sufficient to cause them to seek a life as separate as possible from mainstream American culture and mind-altering substances probably were involved.

I see dropping out as being one specific result of the cognitive dissonance intrinsic to mainstream American culture, particularly in the 1960s. Cognitive dissonance, the anxiety and stress experienced by people confronted by two conflicting value systems at the same time,4 is a psychological concept that has been used in discussing the counterculture. Cognitive dissonance alone, however, does not necessarily lead to dropping out. Indeed, it is the presence of cognitive dissonance in the absence of specific action related to it that is, in my view, a major contributor to the pathology of mainstream American culture. It is true that an unknown number of dropouts fell by the wayside, by most standards, but it is also true that those dropouts who became voluntary simplicity advocates and back-to-the-landers created lives for themselves and their children that they still see as reflecting the highest of ideals. Their specific action of dropping out, many of them will say, saved their sanity and preserved, inspired and made more operational such values as environmentalism, self-reliance and equality.

For many people, discontinuity was inspired by a single profound experience, something that happened while they were serving in the military in Vietnam, going through a tough divorce, having a particularly impressive acid trip, getting kicked out of school. For others, such as myself, there were several experiences, perhaps culminating in one super whammy like getting nausea-gassed from the air after a day of indiscriminate death while discovering that your profession can be used to kill people in illegitimate undeclared wars.

The counterculture came from the spirit of a whole lot of people realizing at approximately the same time that they did not fit in. They could project their future, see what it was supposed to be if they stayed within American culture and they just did not want it, whatever it was. There may or may not have been some planning involved in what came after that, but for most of my countercultural colleagues, there was some period of shock and confusion. No one I ever met said to me, “I decided what I was going to do and then dropped out.” It was always a case of “I dropped out, then figured out what to do.”

Philosophically, I was preset to eventually drop out. My childhood experiences and personal makeup had led me to question everything, much to the dismay of my family. That predilection became more intense after I met my high school friend, Roy, who provided me first with the appropriate literature, then with the appropriate social context. In the wake of my first expulsion, I came to the philosophical place I had read so much about. I had to throw out everything I had been taught about morals, ethics and my place in society, then reinstate each thing separately, based on my own analysis of its relevance to me and its usefulness to society.  Contrary to our detractors, we 60s activists generally were and are extremely moral, having established our moral system after severe questioning of the one with which we were raised and having eliminated the absurd, the unreasonable, the unfair and the hypocritical. Long before I was a hippie, I had, in a sense, dropped out from the American value system, at least from the American value system as it worked out on the ground.

Also long before I became a hippie, I was thinking about the ideal society, what a society would look like in which the ideal American value system was actually manifested. A letter I received from Roy while still recovering from my expulsion from FSU, in which he as much as urged me to drop out, is an indication of this. It is a startling prediction of what I would end up doing, although I was never able to persuade Roy to follow me:

With regard to your question about finding your Utopia, answer is, of course you won’t. By now you must know that if such a Utopia existed, it would only be an escape, a permanent or at least a temporary refuge, not a place to live. The only way is to build your own, or rather, to fight the good fight trying to. And of course we always lose, which is not to be wondered at, as the outcome was known before the game started. The Greeks knew what they were doing, I suspect, when they made tragedy the highest form of art, for art should reflect life and not just nature; and every life is a tragedy. It can only have one end, which is known at the start.

Roy Eves, my friend and protector, who led me on what some might call the path to ruin.

What is more obvious than that life is a process, not a finishing. Isn’t it possible to be triumphant by playing the game well, by taking even one small step in the right direction? No one needs reminding today how tenuous is the existence of civilization itself; so much, so laboriously built up over so long, can be so easily swept away. Literally, c’est la vie. But perhaps, just perhaps, “ages and ages hence” [from Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken] things will be substantially better and if we continue to take slow steps and if no holocaust comes to obliterate them. But I do wax lengthy in philosophizing. Since it is already well known that I am a pompous ass, which is not necessarily to say that it is known whether that is good or bad, I’ll not apologize.                             January 1962, Tallahassee

As a hopefully interesting aside to this little story, Roy finished the letter by quoting me the entire Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken,5 in an effort to console me in my suffering for being unconventional. Ironically enough and illustrative of the 60s zietgeist, Mike had glued that same poem to the inside cover of a copy of Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet,6 which he had given me for Christmas the month before. Mike had been referring, if not directly to my choosing him instead of Roy, then to the life toward which Roy had been pointing me. Both of them had a stake in my choice and both quoted the same poet, unbeknownst to each other.

In retrospect, it is possible to see that I spent my whole adult life taking Roy’s advice to build my own Utopia, only realizing after his death that I had not thought of doing so in 1970, when I actually dropped out, but years before, when Roy gave me the idea and the rationale in his letter. It was a precursor to the worldview exemplified years later in the famous quote from Buckminster Fuller, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”7

My childhood and adolescent status as the perpetual misfit certainly pre-ordained that not being fully a part of society would actually be my comfort zone. I always belonged to the residual category in school, the loner, not the in-group. My friends, until late in high school, were always the other outcasts, those who were too poor, ugly, fat or thin, disabled, smart or not-smart, gender-ambiguous or insubordinate to be popular. I was accustomed to being eccentric long before I encountered a philosophy for it. I wrote for hours in my diaries, having started the first one at age 12. As a teenager, I walked alone down the clay roads around the Florida lakes, spent hours alone in a rowboat in the middle of our own lake, listening to the whispering of Australian pines onshore, writing poetry I never showed anyone. I read forbidden books and listened to all kinds of music other than pop, country and rock-a-billy. Just my homemade clothes alone marked me as an outsider in elementary school, though in high school in Groveland, I was not the only child who had a mother that sewed.

I finally realized, with Roy’s help, that if you do not care what anyone thinks about you, you are free to do as you like, within the law. And, there it was—the beginning of my emancipation. My life was chaos, of course, for the ensuing five or six years after that breakthrough—emotional scenes with my parents, my expulsions from school, my bust, hostility, poverty, loneliness. But, through it all, I knew that I was free in a way none of my detractors ever would be. I was free to follow my real friends, to do is I pleased and, best of all, to open all the doors in my head.

High school sophomore, wearing the athletic jacket from my brief and disastrous tenure on the girls basketball team. My string bean build in combination with my lack of athleticism was enough to put me in the residual category in high school.

By the time I reached the final phase of my discontinuity experience, I had my nightmare year in Georgia, my bohemian education in Tallahassee, my two expulsions and everything that happened in Berkeley to call into question both my ability and my desire to participate in American culture. There was my “rolling stone” epiphany in the Santa Rita jail—the conscious recognition, acknowledgement and acceptance that I might always be alone—and one failed marriage, to suggest to me for the umpteenth time that maybe there just really was no way for me to be normal without enslaving myself in so many ways. And then, there was People’s Park.

Ruth Rosen, in Berkeley in the Sixties, describing the People’s Park movement, says that, except for the day of the aerial gassing on campus, “I found it possible to resist the feeling, the collective hallucination, that we were involved in a revolutionary struggle.”8 Her experience differs slightly from mine in that I never experienced the collective hallucination that we were involved in a revolutionary struggle, in the usual sense of the word “revolution.” On the day of the gassing, I experienced a collective perception of unbeatable repression, compelling enough to cause me to abandon everything I had hoped to achieve in Berkeley and ultimately, to head for the hills. Once there, I experienced a collective vision of what a peaceful, creative, free society might look like, one compelling enough to make me stay there long enough to raise my children in the company of others with a similar vision. I have never regretted the choices I made in reference to those perceptions and those visions. But, before I got to the hills, there was the dropping out.

Talking backwards

In the Berkeley Rose Garden, still wheezing from the ambient gas I had inhaled leaving campus on the day of the helicopter, I had heard myself think, “Well, I gave it my best shot and that didn’t work.” I had said aloud that we had to leave and all who heard me did so. My friend Lynn, standing next to me when I made my declaration, also ended up in a countercultural community in northern California. But, my dropping out is one of those that, in addition to everything else, included mind-altering substances and it would be disingenuous to downplay their role, especially since I spent a portion of my book on the counterculture in support of the contention that the counterculture could not have happened without mind-altering substances and their role in re-wiring the individual and collective mind of its participants.

The psychedelic experience is included in my definition of the discontinuity experience because it was part of dropping out for the vast majority of the people I studied in SoHum, but I did not mean for it to be exclusive to those people. I have encountered people whose discontinuity experience did not include the use of psychedelics or marijuana. Some of these were spouses of the users and some had had religious experiences that had led them to drop out, changing their thought processes in the same way that psychedelics had changed that of others. I view these people as exceptions to the general rule.

I concur with those historians who emphasize the role of psychedelics and marijuana in creating the counterculture. In my case, however, and that of many people who eventually landed in SoHum, the path that led to the counterculture featured both psychedelics and political oppression. I believe that neither could have led me to drop out, on its own. My use of mind-altering substances was never sufficient to impact my scholarship in any way, other than to cause me to question its value. My dropping out from graduate school, or being kicked out depending on your view, might have simply led me on a different career path, without the political oppression that rendered me incapable of visualizing any viable career path in mainstream America.

When Timothy Leary began to urge my generation to “tune in, turn on and drop out,” my anthro friends and I had nothing but scorn for him, though many of us were pleased to use the LSD that purported to come directly from his source at Harvard. My first acid came from Dave Wald, son of Nobel prize-winning biologist George Wald. Dave, a former Harvard student, claimed to have been one of Leary’s experimental subjects and, however true that may have been, he probably did have acid connections at Harvard. What Dave gave me was, he said, considered as pure a product as one could obtain. I was interested in LSD because I had read of its possible use in treating mental illness but I had zero interest in Leary, aside from an academic one in his position as a cultural icon.

My first awareness of the existence of LSD came, like my first awareness of the existence of Vietnam, from Life Magazine. While still in Georgia, I had read an article about psychiatrists experimenting with it as a treatment for schizophrenia. The idea was that, since LSD mimics the symptoms of schizophrenia, psychiatrists could somehow speak to the unconscious minds of persons who had taken LSD and use interactive methods to address unconscious causes. It was very psychoanalytical. So, in the back of my head, was the idea that perhaps taking LSD would allow me to come to grips with whatever mental problems I might have had. I wanted to try it and see if I could straighten my head out.

By the time the opportunity presented itself for me to use LSD, I had even more reason to question the status of my own mental health. There was the doctor who had diagnosed me as being near a nervous breakdown in Tallahassee, the experience I believe was auditory hallucinations there, my mother’s mental health history and my ongoing struggle with insomnia, vivid nightmares, and emotional lability. There had been a six-month period during my marriage in which I was seeing a psychoanalyst for what were alleged to be psychosomatic symptoms, paid for, in part, by Mike’s insurance at work. All of these factors, except my mother’s medical history, I now ascribe to malnutrition, PTSD, misdiagnosis of physical problems as mental (something I later learned was typical of male doctors treating female patients) and unremitting stress, but at the time I had only the psychoanalyst’s assurance that I was not schizophrenic, merely neurotic.

The psychoanalyst trained me to keep dream journals and analyze my dreams, a skill for which I am deeply grateful and which I continued to practice from then on. He also assisted me in processing the incredible buildup of resentment I harbored over my two expulsions from college. That his treatment had resulted in some improvement in my symptoms, however, only reinforced my fears about my mental health. If I were completely normal mentally, why would psychoanalysis cause improvement? There was a point in Berkeley when I actually made an appointment with a student health service psychiatrist to discuss my situation, but I found her even less educated on the subject than I was and unable to cope with the fact that I could not speak to her through my uncontrollable crying. Psychiatry, it seemed, would not be the answer even if I could afford it. When John offered to obtain some LSD for me from Dave and to be my “guide,” I decided to take the chance on whatever else might happen, in the hope of reducing symptoms I feared were mental.

I had, by that time, been using marijuana ever since my arrival in Berkeley, about three years. I had found that weekend use of marijuana, in combination with the very mildest use of alcohol, had gone a long way towards stabilizing my sleep pattern and helping me reduce the stress of being in a highly competitive environment while working halftime. It also gave me some confidence in my ability to cope with the distortion of perception caused by mind-altering drugs. This is, in my case, the only sense in which marijuana can be said to have been, as so many have characterized it, a “gateway” drug. Whether I would have opted for LSD in the absence of marijuana, I would claim, is an open question.

One thing is certain and that is that I did not embark on my LSD journey without having done some research. Unlike the acid casualties of the Haight-Ashbury, I did not simply pop whatever pill was handed to me. As an anthropology student, I well knew that cultures throughout the world that use psychedelic substances like peyote, use them in a highly traditional way, in ritualized contexts, under the supervision of experts, to a specific end. I had typed up the ethnographic notes of anthropologist Michael Harner as one of my assignments at the museum and I certainly knew the kind of circumstances under which the Jivaro Indians used ayahuasca. Figuring in the advice I sought from Billy Clewlow, I planned my first acid trip very carefully.

Although I did not trust Dave to tell me the truth about anything, I did trust him not to lie to his good friend John, my significant other, about the quality of the LSD I would be taking. I chose a day when I could be sure that no demands would be made on me that would require any thought and I chose a place where I could expect to feel safe and comfortable, i.e., my own apartment. John would be my guide, meaning that he would not also partake and would stay with me the whole time and talk me down should the trip become unpleasant. Nevertheless, in spite of my planning, there were some mistakes. One was that, for that first trip, I did not know that I was much more sensitive than most people to all drugs. I took the dose that Dave had recommended to John, but it was too much, making the trip much more intense than any of us had anticipated.

The second mistake was that I had not stipulated to John that we should be alone. I was quite alarmed when, shortly after I took the acid, Dave showed up with his girlfriend, Lisa, both of them having also dropped some acid. I realized later that Dave had come to deliberately mess with my head, probably as vengeance for my having encouraged his wife, my best friend Hazel, to leave him. John trusted him and I was too stoned to object, but John did have the presence of mind to remove Dave and Lisa into another room after Dave’s first run at bumming me out. Why he then decided that he had to leave me briefly to go to the store for something, I never did understand, but during his absence, Dave came back into the room with me and once again attempted to put me on a bad trip by criticizing my taste in music, literature and interior decoration and asking me pointed questions about my southern past.

It was Lisa who came to my rescue, coaxing Dave back into the other room and amusing him there. Lisa, only 16, was a beautiful mixed-race woman from an all-female family with roots in Trinidad. Although she had spent most of her life in Oakland, she had lived in Trinidad as a child and spoke with a slight West Indian accent. I spent the remainder of the day listening to her sweet voice speaking in that musical accent from the next room. John came back, unaware of the situation until I had come down sufficiently to regain my powers of speech, and provided me with a sense of physical safety. But, it was Lisa’s voice that led me out of the bog in which Dave had attempted to mire me. Frightening images of menacing faces that had appeared on the walls in Dave’s presence were replaced with patterns more like sunshine and flowers when I heard Lisa’s voice.

Visiting my friend Lisa Wang, who rescued me from my first bad acid trip. Here, we are both pregnant, discussing potential names for our children. She gave me a girl’s name and permission to use it if her child was a boy and mine was a girl, and that is what happened.

There is no way to explain in words what the acid experience is and was for me or anyone else, but I can say that I came out of it having found what I sought. I lost, for a time, all power of language and with it all power of thought that depended on language. During that time, memories that I have no difficulty in describing as repressed came back to me, good and bad, and they stayed with me ever after. If one believes in the existence and power of the unconscious, as I do, then it can be said that the LSD did, in fact, put me into direct contact with mine much more effectively than six months of psychoanalysis had. If I had been in any danger of going off the deep end, I believe that my conscientious use of LSD brought me back from the edge.

Because of Dave’s machinations, I can easily believe that taking LSD is playing Russian roulette with one’s mental health, especially if it is done without taking the precautions that I took and have always taken. In my case, I won, rather than lost, the game. I came out of it with a much firmer sense of who I was and the value of who I was. I also came out of it with a sense of revelation about the degree to which I had been molded by my culture and the extent to which this molding had been done on a subconscious level. As I came down, returning from my cultureless state, I was able to consciously notice the return of each structure. Language came back and along with it came rules, expectations, commitments, assumptions and relationships. That was not necessarily a bad thing, because along with those came the understanding that they were all imposed and could be questioned and changed. The memory of being without them, of knowing that they were not me, I would now have with me, along with the knowledge that there was such a state of being.

My lifetime intake of LSD is probably around a dozen trips, all before the age of 35, and most in Berkeley. I took DMT twice, once with a professor. I took MDMA once, at the behest of a husband who thought it might save our marriage. Somewhere along the line, I became more interested in non-chemical substances and took peyote tea, psychedelic mushrooms, and substances alleged to be mescaline. Many of the trips were bad trips, particularly when John stopped using Dave as his source. I believe I took some unidentified street drugs sold as mescaline or LSD. Each time I learned something new about myself that was useful to my quest for unquestioned sanity, but I hasten to stipulate that I have no information on how applicable my experience with psychedelics applies generally. That there were thousands of acid casualties in the 60s, I have no doubt. That there were also thousands of people who, like me, found their true path in life because of them, I also have no doubt.

At some point after the birth of my second child, I knew that I had no further need for psychedelics, that I had learned all I needed to from them and that my further spiritual and mental evolution could continue without them. Any psychedelics I took after that point was over my objections, under pressure from men in my life, and that only happened twice. I continued my regular and moderate use of marijuana, which I consider to be a healing herb far, far less harmful to adults than cigarettes, overeating, processed foods, any form of booze or most of the prescription drugs urged upon people by their doctors, in the thrall or service of the pharmaceutical industry. I believe it has never harmed me and has, in fact, healed me in many ways and been a preventative in many ways.

How psychedelic drug use relates to the advent of the counterculture, in my view, lies in the experience of having one’s culture removed from one’s consciousness and then re-established, bit by bit. What psychedelics do is to reveal the extent to which what is perceived is controlled by subconscious cultural assumptions, which have been inputted since infancy. That experience provides insight into what is really required of one as a member of the human race and society and what is not really required, therefore the grounds for a collective vision of what society could be, were it based on real human values, not bullshit. Beyond that, at least in my case, psychedelics connected me, re-connected me, with something I experience as beyond myself. I have no qualms calling this a religious experience, since for me it was a return to the best of my childhood religious experience, but I would make no statements at all as to how people who would not call it religious might have experienced that part of their history with psychedelics. And that, incidentally, is perhaps the first rule of hippie. Your trip is your trip. It belongs to you and shall not be parsed or criticized. Neither shall you parse or criticize anyone else’s trip unless invited to do so.

My religion came back to me during an LSD trip I took with John, Billy and some other anthro students one sunny day in Sausalito. Billy had provided the acid and suggested we take it on a sailboat owned by friends of his and docked in Sausalito, a picturesque harbor town across the bay from Berkeley. We all drove over together, went to the boat, which Billy had been given permission to use in the absence of the owners. We dropped the acid and proceeded to wait for its effects while enjoying the sun and the bay. Presently, one of our group became uneasy about being on a boat in the absence of the owners, even though Billy assured us that it was okay. She became so uneasy, however, that we decided to leave the boat and go somewhere else, violating one of the rules of responsible acid taking, that you should find your place and stay there.

A sunny day in Sausalito, much like the day I dropped acid there.

Now going up rapidly, we left the boat and began wandering about on the streets of Sausalito, crowded with weekend visitors and traffic. As usual, I was affected much more than my companions by the same dose of LSD, perhaps even a smaller dose, since at some point I had figured out that I should probably take half of what everyone else took to get the same effect. Rapidly approaching the point where I would be unable to form sentences, I clung to John’s arm and was dragged about in what seemed to be an increasingly aimless trek. People began to look suspicious to me, as I am sure our group must have looked to them. Then, we came to Billy’s car, suggesting that the trek may have merely been to the car, and were instructed to get in. Billy had decided that we should head for the nearest beach, probably Rodeo Beach, just northwest of Sausalito. Probably John did the driving, since he has always claimed that LSD has no effect on him.

By the time we got there, I was too stoned to handle looking out the car window and was being hugged and soothed by the others. Putting me onto a beach in that condition was a stroke of genius. The paranoia disappeared in a flash and I felt that I had come home, which makes sense when you remember that I was raised in Florida. Luckily, it was one of those rare days in Marin County when the wind at the beach does not make it nearly impossible to relax there. A blanket was thrown down on the sand and I was placed upon it and held protectively by John until my trip smoothed out. Gradually, unable to speak, I became aware of the ocean. I got up and walked down to it, kicked off my flip-flops and began splashing my feet, along with the many children around me doing the same.

Rodeo Beach on a fine sunny day.

The ocean became a playful person, someone I had known long ago and loved, welcoming me back after a long absence, sending waves rolling in to gently shake hands with my feet and smiling all the while. I sent out to it the nonverbal equivalent of the words, “Oh, there you are, why has it been so long since I’ve seen you?” I don’t know how long this went on, as I waded in up to my knees, oblivious of the fact that my jeans were getting wet and the incoming tide threatened to wash away my flip-flops left so carelessly near the water. There was never any danger of my going in too deep or my being carried out to sea because the beach was crowded with people and, in any case, John had followed me down to the water’s edge, in spite of the fact that he could not swim, and was watching me closely.

Suddenly, I heard angels singing directly over my head and looked up to see them flying in a wide circle, sunshine flashing on their wings. I heard a voice everywhere and nowhere, a very matter-of-fact, but warm and gentle voice saying, “The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and all they that dwell therein.” It was a Biblical quote from my childhood, Psalm 24, which I had memorized as a Sunbeam, but never thought about. Now, I knew exactly what it meant and that, here and now, it was a message meant specifically for me. It meant not only that all are equal in the sight of God, all they that dwell therein, and not only that no one has the right to damage or destroy the Earth, but that the Earth IS the Lord, the fullness thereof and all they that dwell therein.

I would have been burned at the stake as a heretic for believing that in certain periods of history, but I knew it on the beach that day and I have known it ever since. It is a concept that requires no particular religion, or even a belief in God, because as a concept, it is about connection more than it is about supernatural entities. As I would discover later on, reading The Dancing Wu Li Masters9 and The Tao of Physics,10 quantum physics covers it for atheists. On that day, for me, though, it was even more than a belief, it was a deep experience. I felt my connection to everything else. I was the ocean, I was all people, I was the children. We were all part of one much bigger thing, the body of God. I had the sense that if we all knew that, there would be no more wars and we would not be destroying the Earth. I date my commitment to the environment from that experience, which I treasure, acid-inspired or no. I have always been grateful that there was a substance available to me that helped me obtain that vision.

As I began to come down that day, and the reality we all share began to re-assemble itself for me, I realized that the angels had been seagulls, and their singing had been raucous seagull cries. I found that my flip-flops had been rescued for me by some of the children and that the warm sun had dried my jeans. I was returning, not exactly to the person I had just been, but to a person I had not been for a long time. I continued to hear singing, singing other than the seagulls, and a strange tune it was, too. It was a chorus singing one syllable, a rhythmic slide up a quarter-tone scale, then back down again. Almost as if it were asking and answering, repeatedly, “Oooh? Oooh.” Finally, it resolved itself into the waves washing over the gravel down the shore, the smallest stones at the highest part of the rise from the waves making the highest note and the larger ones at the bottom making the lowest note. I found deep satisfaction from realizing this, as it made a very gentle and smooth transition from the otherworldly high to the real world I would now have to live in. It was as if someone had said, “One minute it is singing, the next minute it is gravel, see? There is so little between the two worlds.” It was a sort of promise that what I had experienced was always there, unchanged and eternal, only constrained by the necessity for mutually shared perceptions, which can be changed, and for the better.

In subsequent journeys, what I discovered was that, in the right context with the right people and the right approach, LSD and other psychedelics could be a very good therapeutic tool. I began to pinpoint emotional confusions and blockages. I began to let out the person that I had hidden in order to succeed and I confronted repressed memories head on. On one acid trip, I remembered my sister’s bloody suicide attempt, after having repressed it for over a decade, and was able to tell the story to my guide as I came down, robbing it of some of its power. The sight of my mother crawling on the floor holding her surgical incision together after my father knocked her down and caused it to tear came back to me as well and I was able to distance myself from it emotionally, realizing that I had been only a witness, not a participant. What acid did for me was to give me back huge chunks of my personality that I had lost and memories I could rob of their strength by facing them squarely. The nightmares subsided until decades later, when Lyme disease brought them back. The crying jags diminished and the random pains subsided. The Life Magazine article had been right.


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