Autobiography Part 4b: "LSD"

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Sometime around then I got introduced to a guy who hung out in People's Park selling LSD. I'd had one acid trip in college, but years later, when I described it to an old hippie, she told me, "If your ego didn't completely disappear, you need a bigger dose." True enough.

When I was around 7 years old, a light bulb burned out in our house, and my parents removed it, but didn't have a replacement. For many days I walked past that empty socket, till I finally flicked the switch on and stuck my finger in. It was an awful, frightening, painful few seconds till I managed to pull my finger back out (hence my continued survival). Thing is, in those days leading up to my shocking experience, I may have pondered about when and how I'd stick my finger in that socket, but I never seriously considered not doing it at all. That's my particular mind, or karma; it's just inconceivable to let an opportunity like that pass by.

I took 3 hits of the acid. During the first hour or so, there were some frightening moments, as I/my/me disappeared 90% or 99% and I desperately worried about losing the rest. But then it indeed disappeared completely, and remained that way for hours. The world was revealed as harmless, dream-like mind-stuff. The distinction between "I" and "this" was revealed as far less obvious than previously thought.

At the end of the trip, the world re-solidified, and I/my/me popped back up from somewhere or other. Those few hours in the perfect dream-world were intriguing; maybe LSD could serve as crowbar in my mental deconstruction project. I think I tripped about every other weekend for the first few months, then continued irregularly, several times each year during 1985-87.

Near the end of this period, I took a serious dose, and a couple of hours later found myself seeing the universe and my place in it from a strikingly wide and clear perspective. I saw all those efforts I'd made for years to detach from my wants and opinions, and how that had removed some suffering. Then I saw that it was the nature of the universe that desires arise endlessly. The best I could ever hope for was a temporary break in the suffering, till new desires and delusions appeared and continued the cycle. It was like mowing a lawn in which the grass never stopped growing. Like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, and finding that as soon as you finish one end, the other end needs painting again.

I was never going to escape suffering. My whole life direction was like running on a treadmill. I was like a hamster on one of those hamster-wheel thingies. It wasn't just tragic, it was meta-tragic. I mean, Hamlet is a tragedy, but it's OK, because at least people can watch the play and get touched by existential insight. In my tragedy, the tragedy of all beings, the tragedy of struggling to find a lasting refuge from suffering and never ever reaching it, there wasn't even any audience to appreciate the epic story. OK, maybe the occasional acid-head could watch it for a few minutes, but that didn't count for much.

As I languished in this hell, trapped in this box of hopeless existence, I heard a voice whispering. I'd rarely gotten auditory hallucinations, and I'd never put much stock in disembodied voices. But this was a desperate time, and I was ready to listen to anything. I concentrated on the voice, which was repeating the same phrase over and over, gradually getting louder. I recognized it as ZMSS's voice, saying with a light and amused attitude, "Don't make anything."

Suddenly it was clear: the horrific universe I was perceiving, the "me" trapped in it, all of it, was made by thinking. Just one moment of not thinking, and that whole world of infinite suffering never existed. Dang, that was something. That simple little teaching phrase had saved me from a hell that had no possible escape.

Every year, right after New Years, ZMSS would come to that Zen Center near me and lead a week-long retreat. I had good reasons to avoid it. The intensity of Zen practice, the sheer number of hours of sitting meditation, was greater than anything I'd contemplated previously. All my years in ashrams, meditating at most a few hours in a day, couldn't prepare me for it.

The Zen forms (sitting posture, chanting style, rules, etc) would be new and different. I'd gotten comfortable with the Yoga style, but this new style would be difficult, even physically painful. At Yoga, I had some expertise, I'd been an old-timer at the ashram. At a Zen retreat, I'd be starting over as a rank beginner. I could recite philosophies from Yoga scriptures decently well, but if I went to the Zen Master again, there'd be those horribly uncomfortable questions, and I had absolutely no bloody clue how to respond or what it was all about.

But there was a major curiosity factor. And I couldn't deny that the teaching had proven its usefulness. Lots of teachings will work in most ordinary situations, but "don't make anything" had helped me even in the midst of the weirdest and worst of extreme bad trips. Crap. As with the light socket, I'd have to go to that retreat. It was January 1988.

Next time, I'll blog about this first retreat, which included difficult and amazing experiences during sitting practice, and formal teaching interviews with ZMSS that hit my mind strongly.

[originally posted here]