Yet this sort of fear — the kind that comes from a mature, conscious, and personal choice to enter and confront, even if only temporarily, both the beauty and terror of “seeing” more than we usually see, is, I believe, of a far different order than the externally-imposed, nearly-hysterical terror created by the advertisements of such organizations as The Partnership For a Drug-Free America, whose terrifying image of a whole egg (image l) and then a splattered one (image 2), accompanied by the horrific text – “This is your brain.”(l) “This is your brain on drugs. (2)” – substitutes a media-created, obliterating terror for a well-informed and humanly honorable right to make a free and mature choice about the state of one’s own consciousness.
So that I was scared and apprehensive, as anyone who dabbles in the sacred ought to be, when — on May 18, 1991, on one of the most beautiful spring days I have ever seen (even in my ordinary state of consciousness), resplendent with lilacs and apple blossoms, song sparrows and mourning doves — in the company of my good friend James and my new family (who accompanied, but didn’t partake along with me), in a small town in Southern Vermont, I, for the first time in 15 years, ingested a small clear capsule containing 250 micrograms of the substance known as LSD.
“And the light shall bless the shadow/ And the day shall sing.” The words had come to me on a morning walk into the gorgeous Vermont hills before ingesting the LSD capsule, and they are, I have little doubt, about as close as I will be able to come to accurately conveying the experience of LSD in language. As Rilke says: But later, among the stars,/ what good is it — they are better as they are: unsayable. (“The Ninth Elegy“)
But try one must, nevertheless. As Rilke also says: Speak and bear witness.
The first word that comes to mind is stretching. Suddenly, the skin seems no longer quite able to contain the body. The smile seems too elongated for the lips, laughter too full-bodied and boisterous for the mouth. It is as though the body has been, all this time, inside an envelope that is suddenly being turned inside out, so that what was once confined is opened, what was housed is unleashed. It is, indeed, the “envelope” between self and world, that rather accidental and arbitrary, purely cellular, separation between self and air, self and sky, self and tree, self and other, that seems, euphorically, to be breaking down… or, perhaps more accurately stated, revealed as illusory.
And now a second word comes: adorable. My friend James, a handsome, youthful, intense-looking man in his early 60s, is standing near his dog, Boomer, who, at thirteen, is near the end of the canine life cycle. They exchange gazes, words, gestures. And there is, indeed, something so adorable about their interaction, so terribly humorous and sweet. It is, I think, no accident that the word adorable keeps coming to my mind, coming as it does from adore… to venerate, to pray. And Boomer, this dog now nearing the end of his life, seems alternately whimsical, serious, playful, questioning, and serene. No accident, I think to myself (if “thinking” is still what I can be thought of as doing), that the Buddhist deities always manifest themselves in animals… cows, dogs, cats.
The best thing of all, perhaps, during this early period, is how much fun the world is… how whimsical, how divinely entertaining. These interactions, of man and dog, of dog and child, seem so perfectly hilarious… and the hilarious and the adorable, the frivolous and the worshipful, seem to be one.
Now it is the same sensation I remember from my earlier experiences: the natural world, first, becoming a tremendous, tremendously poignant, clarity… then a vibrant, pervasively copulating, breeding, animating whole. Time — as I suspect most LSD “trippers” and mystics will tell you — is among the first things to go… it “goes,” that is, only in the conventional sense of being a constraint, a measure, an obstacle. Minutes, perhaps hours, pass, but each contains so poignantly the seeds of some renewal and “turning” that the idea of time as something that is merely “passing” seems entirely inappropriate, inconsequential. One can only think of the visionary Yeats, in ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, fusing “what is past, or passing, or to come.” Or of Rilke, writing in a letter of 1924: “It seems to me more and more as though our ordinary consciousness inhabited the apex of a pyramid whose base in us (and, as it were, beneath us) broadens out to such an extent that the farther we are able to let ourselves down into it, the more completely do we appear to be included in the realities of earthly and, in the wider sense, worldly, existence, which are not dependent on time and space.”
My wife hovers around me, appears and reappears. As does my year-old son Noah, along with James and Boomer. We are, I realize, well dispersed throughout the life cycle: Boomer (at 91 dog years), nearing the end; James, at 61, a man in full maturity; my wife and I, at 36 and 42 respectively, around mid-age; our son Noah, just beginning his in-this-flesh-incarnated life.
There is a beauty in all this, a rightness. Simplistic, perhaps, to say that I have a sense of having fulfilled some sort of biological destiny, of having taken my place in the cycle of death and renewal… simple, yet accurate. And James’s face, his presence — hovering, nurturing, kindly, competent — goes through all the permutations of this cycle as well. At times, I see him as youthful, vigorous, boyish, curious. At others, he is elderly, wizened, slightly fragile, saddened… dying. All of these, no doubt, true.
Michael C. Blumenthal is a poet and educator who has also ventured into essays, memoirs, and fiction. Blumenthal trained as a lawyer, went into editing and then became a lecturer in poetry at Harvard University and ultimately director of the Creative Writing program there. Among his better-known verse collections are ‘Days We Would Rather Know’ and ‘Dusty Angel’. His eighth book of poems, ‘No Hurry: Poems 2000-2012’, was recently published by Etruscan Press.