7 things LSD taught me about identity & consciousness
I want to make clear that my intention for writing this article isn’t to promote or praise neither LSD nor any other drug. My definition of “a drug” is the following: anyone/anything that one continuously exploits (out of habit) to make his existence easier for a certain limited period of time. Human relationships can be a drug. The celebrity cult can be a drug. Sugar can be a drug. But all of those can also be saviours (ok, let’s leave the celebrity cult aside on this one, I doubt it’s useful for anything) if encountered on a proper occasion.
Furthermore, I don’t want to put my experience onto a piedestal, not only because it’s subjective but also because I don’t see it in a spectacular light. As Stanislav Grof wrote (in The Holotropic mind, a book I warmly recommend to anybody that is sick and tired of the rational scientific constraints that, for a modern man, create more problems than they’re able to solve), people often times fall short when they’re trying to overpresent their mystical experiences to their friends. In the end, these experiences often times come across as (in my words) cheap, kitschy, struggling attempts to hold onto a rock in a wild, formless river that is modern life.
But they shouldn’t come across as that.
So I summon each and every one who ever experiences non-ordinary states of consciousness to speak of them with something like a traditional japanese-like level of respect and dignity. Bow down to your experiences very slowly and gently, think them through, what can they teach you about the nature of your existence, how can they transform your everyday experience?
Don’t forget to bow down to ordinary states of consciousness. Every day we experience several different ones without even realizing it. We are just so lost in everyday worries and banal pieces of information that we let those states pass by without ever getting to know them, without ever learning to build on them.
Sometimes I feel weight in my chest. Sometimes I feel the same kind of weight in my stomach. Sometimes I feel like I could fly. Sometimes I feel anxiety that renders me uncapable of going out of my house and act like I feel any kind of sense in my life. Sometimes anxiety overwhelms me. But sometimes it doesn’t.
Whenever it doesn’t, it is because I put a tremendous amount of effort (hopefully it’s only in these initial stages that I need to try so hard) into seeing anxiety as a positive thing, as a call for change. The fruits of my efforts — my body again light and poignant, my mind again sharp and free — mean that anxiety isn’t the only option at the time & that it doesn’t define me. It even means that I somehow define anxiety. I have the option to develop something like a playful attitude towards different states of consciousness.
Have you never experienced empathy for somebody? Have you never felt like you knew exactly what another person is going through? Have you never been overwhelmed emotionally and even physically by the cruelty that takes place somewhere far away from you? Have you never felt that something is suffocating you after experiencing a breakup, death of a loved one, personal failure? Have you never had great connection to another person? Have you never been in love.
I’m sure you have experienced at least one of those things. It’s because consciousness most probably isn’t locked up in your brain. Jump to #7 to read more about this seemingly unusual idea, now let’s start with something waaaaay more obvious.
1. I’M OVERLY ATTACHED TO THE IMAGE I HAVE OF MYSELF
I consist of a core, which I perceived very clearly at the time of my experimentation with LSD, and of several layers of constructed identities which I have developed in different enviroments for various social purposes. The core is something universal that’s always within me and can always offer me orientation. It is not conditioned by my social status, relationships or personal traumas. I reckon that it can be tougher to tell the core apart from the identities for a person who has suffered emotional traumas in the most important years of his development, that is his childhood and early youthhood. I feel it is extremely important for a human being to know not only who he is in the social sphere, but also to know who he is in a universal sphere. That way, (s)he will be able to actively engage in social and other matters without being overly defined by the social, economical and political circumstances he finds her or himself in. He will be flexible and will feel like he’s not being controlled by an outside force. But to know yourself outside of the social sphere, you need to, at least for some time, detach yourself from the prevailing image you have of yourself. Read, meet people outside of your social group, develop empathy and understanding.
2. MISUNDERSTANDINGS MOSTLY COME FROM NON-CONSCIOUS CONCTRUCTED IDENTITIES
Many misunderstandings would never have occured if people would communicate from their core. But because people mainly communicate from their constructed identities (without even acknowledging it), which were created in several different states of consciousness, under the influence of several specific circumstances, those constructed identities are bound to randomly crash against each other. So many words said, so many feelings created, but so little relevance for a real human relationship. So much randomness. When I argue, I sometimes feel like the words coming from my mouth are not even coming from me. Who is it arguing? Is it really me? Or is it a construct that I’ve once attached to my core?
3. I DON’T NEED TO GET STRIPPED OF MY CONSTRUCTED IDENTITIES, I JUST NEED TO ACCEPT THEM
Now I might be wrong here but I really don’t feel the need to change something now that I’ve come a bit closer to mapping out my identity. Maybe I want to get in touch with my core more often, but I certainly don’t want to get entirely stripped of my identities. I don’t want to share my core with everybody. I think it’s extremely idealistic to think that if you “let your core shine”, you will experience enlightenment. Maybe in another time, another place & another culture. I think the smartest thing to do, at least for a person my age who is trying to get somewhere in this hectic world, is to think about when (in which situations & with which people) he should manifest his core and when he should employ one of his several identities. That way his core won’t be shat upon & his identities will help people (especially the ones who grew up on social networks and think that one’s identity is equal to one’s facebook profile) decipher his inclinations, goals, values, or any other feature that establishes one’s identity in other people’s eyes. People are still beings that need symbols in order to communicate. Give’em some.
4. SOMETIMES A BAD STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS ISN’T ACTUALLY BAD
Often times in my life I experienced periods in which I felt helpless and empty. Because I was not trained in recognising different states of consciousness (because in physics class they only taught me about the connection between the speed of a tennis ball and the force inflicted upon the tennis ball, like it really matters!), I just thought that every tough patch in my life actually means that my life is one step closer to ending. I noticed that a lot of people think in a similar manner and therefore I want to make it really clear that something our culture has marked as “getting up on the wrong side of the bed” can sometimes be extremely positive. Joseph Campbell, who deserves to be crowned as the father of modern mythology studies, wrote about how several “primitive” cultures perceive the plunge into darkness as a beginning of a new journey. States of consciousness are in a way indicators that let you know how far astray from your natural existence you have wandered. By offering you various cues, they help you progress from one life period to another. If you’re able to decipher their cues, they give you momentum that you can use to excel in life. But to deal with the dark states of consciousness, you have to overcome your fears and be willing to explore them. Write your fears down. Make sense of them. Commit a symbolical act that will help you overthrow your fear. Throw your fear away. In the trash can it won’t look so frightening anymore. It will look like a shamed bully whose “alpha state” was calmly turned into a complete absurd. By the bullied, by you.
5. STOP OVERUSING YOUR BRAIN
I know that you have probably, like myself, been trained to constantly think, plan, ponder, make sense & philosophize. That’s because our education system tends to employ just a certain part of our body — the brain. Not only that we constantly overuse our brain, but our whole culture is obsessed with this organ. We are stuck in this narrative that sees the brain as a god that will help human beings rise onto a higher level. I think this belief is absurd. Nowadays, pretty ironically, we’re burdened by more dogmas than ever. Scientific, religious, cultural etc. The informational sphere is so complex that I’m kind of surprised that not more people have gone mentally ill. The world has undergone massive changes in the last few decades and each individual has to find a way to adapt to those changes. Especially for older people, that is not easy to do.
We should all learn how to feel our body, feel our every muscle, every bone, every organ. We are not our brain. Our brain might make us succeed in this world, but not if it burns out beforehand. Feeling our body makes us feel more grounded. Being more grounded helps our brain telling the important pieces of information from the excessive ones. Often times when a stressful situation occurs, the reaction of our body is faster than the reaction of our brain. We get anxious and stuck. If we feel our body, we are more responsive to stressful situations. We tend to respond in a more positive manner, embracing the positive side of stress. Today’s world is constructed through persistent micro-changes, therefore our reactions should be micro-exact and subtle. To be clear, I’m not proposing a new-age, plant-hugging, self-listening attitude to the world, I’m just saying that there’s more to our being than our brain. Be mindful of the way you move your legs when you walk. Stretch. Concentrate on various micro-events as if they were macro-events. Dare to go “out of your mind”.
6. EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE, TAKE THE TIME TO SEE HOW THINGS LOOK FROM A DISTANCE
This is the idea I found the toughest to transfer from my LSD state into my everyday experience. The problem is that even when encountering ordinary objects like a spoon, a chair or an old pair of sunglasses, I tend to consciously or subconsciously attach (emotional) meaning to those objects. Doesn’t the smell of coffee make you react in a certain way? It’s the brain’s way to simplify things, to save itself from getting burnt-out. But the brain sometimes isn’t able to efficiently respond to complex situations that include a lot of emotions, personas and random micro-events. Because it has the urge to still make sense of things even if in some situations that’s simply not possible, the brain sometimes messes up and mixes up things with their meanings. But we usually go on like nothing even happened. Next time a situation like that occurs, our minds get even more tangled up.
We start to run away from reality into an illusion we have created for ourselves. But the more we run towards that illusion, the further away we are from anything tangible. We find ourselves in no man’s land where everything has multiple meanings and where all the meanings are somehow interconnected while no individual meaning actually has any weight of its own. This can be extremely confusing and it is bound to occur ever more often in a world filled with multitudinous events and information.
While I was in my LSD-induced state, I found it easy to spot multiple layers of events, some micro, others macro. One moment I concentrated on my arm and could feel & see blood running through one of its veins, the next moment I overheard a conversation my two friends were having. After that, my attention jumped towards the trees which seemed to be growing right in front of my eyes, and after that to random passers-by which seemed like they were actors in a stage play. There was no one individual event that seemed the most deserving of my attention and sense-making; it was basically just patterns constantly repeating themselves on various different levels. My language felt like it was actually an accessory: whenever I spoke a word, I sensed all the possible connotations it could have. I felt extremely well equipped to recognize the sources of those connotations. Something I usually take for granted as a part of myself (my inclusion into the balkan culture, for instance) was then something I knew was a part of me but didn’t define me. I saw action stripped from its meaning (various events just randomly crashing, merging, flowing, disconnecting, reconnecting) while seeing possible meanings as separate entities which I could or could not attach to the actions.
Why is it that I find this idea the hardest to incorporate into my day-to-day life? Because I love subjectivity. I love to experience without calculating. I love to feel. But when should I stop feeling and start observing? Furthermore: is it possible to feel through observing and vice-versa?
7. EVERYTHING SPRINGS
The notion that permeated the very basis of my experience (and completely overwhelmed me) was the notion that everything springs. I realized that at every given moment I am imbued with a certain will that takes me down a certain path. On that path, I coalesce with other people & events who have wills of their own. Our wills crash against each other and form a reaction. Some reactions reverberate, eventually develop wills of their own and crash against other reactions. It goes on and on and on. We’re like cells on one level or spaceships on another. Some reactions make the history books (or the news), some don’t. Some reach our consciensces, other don’t. Some reactions are chaotic while some operate within a certain pattern. Some of them have to be thought-over, stopped and nourished like a bonsai.
Due to the ever more complex informational sphere, the intermingling of different cultures and rapid progress of technology, the space within which reactions may occur is getting broader and broader. Consequently, there’s more and more space for randomness. The world is getting more and more paradoxical. Things happen, coalesce, merge, connect, rot, dissolve, happen again… In this world, it’s so easy to become a cynic. We strive for truth and freedom only to realize that things such as truth and freedom don’t really exist. From there on, each takes his own path. One gets condensed into the relativity of everything, one develops an extreme position that seemingly represents the truth, one endlessly theoretizes about everything etc. But the fact is that nobody really knows how to cope with this dilemma. No worries though, at least in that aspect we were all dealt the same cards. As The Priest from Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, a movie that so vividly presents the transient nature of everything, says:
A human life is truly as frail and fleeting
as the morning dew.
It truly is.