Stress, Meditation & Marijuana
Raffi had never gotten high before, but if anyone needed to get high, Raffi did.
Stress, Destroyer of Worlds
Raffi is one of my best friends. A good man, honest and loyal, true and dependable. A loving husband, devoted father and conscientious employee.
Combine all those traits with his over-developed sense of duty and he has himself tied into an emotional gordian knot.
Raffi runs a big company, makes a lot of money, has a lot of responsibility and pressure, does an amazing job, and is going to kill himself with stress if he doesn’t do something about it.
I got my medical marijuana license earlier this year after I discovered the unexpected benefits of marijuana. Pot helped my mental, emotional and physical states in ways I could not have imagined. After getting high, I sleep much more deeply, feel much more refreshed in the morning, am more focused, more energetic and experienced less stress.
And — best of all — my normally hyper-intense mood was mellowed out afterwards. (Of course I was mellow during the high, but once I came down I was still light-hearted, mellow and much more easy-going. My girlfriend liked that.)
Opening Pandora’s Box
Raffi & I were having cigars the others night, (a fairly regular occurrence for us), talking about anything and everything. (It is amazing to have a friend with whom no subject is off limits.) I asked him if he had a spiritual practice. We’ve walked similar spiritual paths; we both used to be pretty religious, both abandoned those religious practices and neither of us replaced it with anything.
He answered me, “nothing.” No spiritual practice of any sort.
After quitting church several years ago, I realized that I still needed a spiritual practice of some sort, so I got pretty serious about learning to meditate.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I knew my body and my mind needed it, so I kept at it, and I got a little better.
I still don’t do it well, but I find what little I am able to do is a great help. It has given me a newfound ability to regulate my occasionally extreme emotional reactions. And as someone who has suffered the debilitating effects of stress, I take my meditating very seriously.
Raffi is on the road to the same sort of physical breakdown I experienced if he doesn’t get a handle on his stress. A spiritual practice is essential to managing the negative effects of stress. For me, that means meditation.
Then I told him, “marijuana can help, too.”
The Noise in My Head
All that “being present” and “being in the moment” stuff didn’t make a lick of sense to me till I began trying to meditate. That’s when I realized there was a 12-lane superhighway running through my mind all the time and it was jam-packed with traffic every moment I was awake.
For folks like Raffi & me, the spiritual state of stillness and “being in the moment” is almost impossible to imagine, let alone experience. The only time I ever experienced it — before learning to meditate — was during sex or while playing basketball. But you can’t have sex and play basketball all the time. (Ah, what a world it would be if only I could!)
I eventually had a bit of a breakthrough with my own meditation practice. I finally experienced that “is-ness” all the spiritual leaders talk about. It was a revelation. And the inner silence was sheer bliss.
And when I got high I had another epiphany.
Those voices inside my head are always yammering away in the background of my consciousness. But when I got high, the voices moved from the background of my consciousness to the foreground. I was intensely aware of all that traffic. Six different trains of thought spinning through my consciousness at lightspeed, six voices talking all the time and all at once.
Yet when I was high, I found that I could choose to listen to one and only one of those voices. And when I did, all the others just kind of faded away. Not just into the background, but completely gone. Focusing on any one thing made all the background noise disappear. And it was awesome.
And then it got better. I discovered I could quit listening to even the one voice, and when I did that, my mind became finally, blissfully silent.
The Sound of Silence
For the first time in my life, I was aware of being in the moment. I was experiencing my own life as it happened without the mediating, obscuring static of all that noise in my mind.
It was only after I came down that I recognized the truth: my mental state when I was high is the same state I try to achieve during meditation.
And that’s when I understood why mind-altering drugs have been used throughout history as a way to help people in their individual spiritual pursuits.
Raffi is at least as intense as I am, but he’s 15 years younger. Stress hasn’t triggered a physical catastrophe for him yet, but he’s well on the way if he doesn’t handle it now.
Looking back, I can see how I allowed my own stress to consume me. Regret about the past and worry about the future. I had no mechanism for dealing with it other than as much sex as I could get. Sex, and a little bit of exercise.
(I’m a huge fan of sex, but it’s not a practical strategy for dealing with stress. It provides a momentary break, not a cure.)
Exercise is certainly a necessary component of mental and emotional health, but it just wasn’t enough for me. For me — and I suspect for almost all of us — a spiritual practice is vitally important.
Blissfully Present in the Moment
Raffi was as stuck in his stress as I had been. And he confessed he knew nothing about meditating. I knew he needed to learn how to get still, how to be present and in the moment. And I knew how foreign that was to him.
But I knew a shortcut that would help him: THC.
I wanted him to experience what it felt like to be in the moment. For just a few moments, to not think about the past or worry about the future. To be firmly rooted and satisfied in this present moment with no ambition to power forward into the future and no desire to chew on regret about what happened in the past.
Meditation & marijuana go together, at least for those beginning a meditation practice.
And with his experience with pot as a benchmark, I believed he might have more success with his meditation sooner than I did because he’d know what success felt like.
So that’s how I came to be over at his house, staring at the stars and watching the water lap in his pool. And being blissfully present in that moment.
Raffi visibly relaxed. He noted patterns on his back fence he’d never seen before. His quietness was undisturbed by a clenched jaw. I could tell he was trying to hang onto his thoughts, and failing. (Which is a really good sign of being present…)
Getting the right dosage is a matter of trial and error. My first time I tried edibles, I got way too much, and I was essentially boneless for about 18 hours. Incredibly relaxed, yes — but also incapable of doing much more than converting oxygen to carbon dioxide.
Raffi may have gotten a tad too much his first time as well. But when I spoke with him the next day, he was very mellow and very relaxed. He thanked me and said he wanted to try again.
Letting Go and Trusting
I want to help Raffi find a way to recreate being in the moment for himself. I want to help him learn the little bit I have learned as I walk my own spiritual path.
Life as a sentient being is emotionally challenging sometimes. We aren’t always kind to one another or to ourselves. I suspect Raffi is extremely unkind to himself, which is sad because he is truly one of the best men I have ever known. That damnable religion he was raised with taught him to condemn himself, and he’s not been able to shake that habit yet. I know if he learns to spend some time alone with himself, learns to shut down that nattering nag in his mind, he will find a place of peace. It is a process, not a destination.
Breathe. Be still. Be present. Repeat.
Originally published at jackheald.com on August 15, 2016.