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While cleaning out my basement and attic this month and boxing up books to give away, I came across my long-unread copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It is a paperback that I bought when I was in high school, but never read until I was in college.

In this classic scripture of Tibetan Buddhism— A friend recommended it. She was far ahead of me in spirituality. She told me it was traditionally read aloud to the dying to help them attain liberation. I bought it more to impress her than with any intent to prepare for my own death.

It wasn’t until college that I really recognized that it was a classic book of Tibetan Buddhism. I came to understand that death and rebirth are seen as a process and understanding that process helps one recognize the true nature of mind.

At least that is the intent. Reading the book didn’t bring me there. I doubt that any book can bring you to understand the nature of mind.

Most modern translation come a bit closer to the psychology of death and dying. Those are still topics I would prefer not to consider, but I am much closer to them than when I did my first reading of the book.

The book and my college experiences in the 1970s also introduced me to writers such as Aldous Huxley who wrote about the inner journey and mixed Western thought and Eastern spirituality. The path I wais pointed down also had stops with indigenous religious practices, and psychotropic drugs.

I was a seeker and experimenter, but also a bit too frightened to go all the way down the psychotropic rabbit hole. Huxley’s own first psychedelic experience in the 1950s “was in no sense revolutionary.” He was disappointed, as I was, at not experiencing the visions he had read about in the Bardo or the writings of William Blake.

Still, Huxley felt a shift in consciousness and that continued for the rest of his life, as did his experiments with psychedelic drugs.

When Huxley was on his deathbed, he requested that his wife inject him with 100 micrograms of LSD. In the short video up top, Laura remembers the day, the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. And in the letter above, which you can read in full at Letters of Note, she describes Huxley’s last days in vivid detail to Huxley’s brother Julian and his wife Juliette.

A book that connected The Tibetan Book of the Dead and Huxley was another paperback on the same shelf that I was sorting through. It is a book I bought around the same time titled The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead  This book – which I think of as being “very 1960s” – is an “instruction manual” intended for use during sessions involving psychedelic drugs.

It was published in 1964 when this kind of experimentation by people such as Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert were mixing the therapeutic and religious/spiritual possibilities of drugs such as mescaline, psilocybin and LSD.

I knew back then that the band The Doors had gotten their name from Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, and I had read that the Beatles (or at least John Lennon) were aware of the book (and LSD) and used a bit of the text in the lyrics of their song “Tomorrow Never Knows” from their 1966 album Revolver.

Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.
Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being
Love is all and love is everyone
It is knowing, it is knowing
And ignorance and hate mourn the dead
It is believing, it is believing

Huxley’s wife Laura read to her husband The Tibetan Book of the Dead. as seen through the psychedelic experiences of Leary and others. Her husband did not want to die and fought his cancer. But in his last days, he came to terms with death and decided he wanted her to give him two 100 microgram doses of LSD. People who were there reported that Huxley left without pain and without struggle.

I hope that is true. Today, we often drug those who are dying to free them from pain, but the drugs generally dull the senses and mind.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Liberation Through Understanding in the Between is another translation of the original done by Robert Thurman. The edition’s foreword is by the Dalai Lama, which should not be surprising since it is still a cornerstone of Tibetan Buddhist wisdom and religious thought.

I’m surprised that The Tibetan Book of the Dead hasn’t had more of a resurgence lately, not only because of what it might teach us about death and dying and how to live our life, but because psychedelics have seen a resurgence. A few years after Huxley’s death, the US and UK governments banned almost all psychedelic research But it has recently become once again an object of scientific study once again, and thanks to the reporting, and experimenting, of writers like Michael Pollan’s latest book, How to Change Your Mind. that I read and wrote about earlier this year. Westerners may soon once again use psychedelics to take the inner journeys our culture does its best to discourage and denigrate.


You may also want to explore Tomorrow Never Knows: Rock and Psychedelics by Nicholas Knowles Bromell and The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows: A Biography by James L Desper Jr.  I discovered that the phrase “tomorrow never knows” was a line that Ringo came up with when the song was being written. Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence is an easier read than The Book of the Dead, if you are so inclined.

Michael Pollan has had several bestselling books including In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire. His seven books have been quite influential in the ways we view food from global and personal perspectives.

On his podcast, Tim Ferris talked with Pollan about his new book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. From the title alone, it would seem to be a departure from his other work.

I am just getting started with the book. The general topic is one I have read about in the past, but my firsthand knowledge is very limited.

“Psychedelics” is a term that still has 1960s baggage attached to it, though their use goes back centuries. Psilocybin, mescaline, and others have been in and out of the news. They have been legal and used for medical purposes, and also illegal, controlled and banned depending on the time period.

Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety. But apparently the book got more personal than he expected.

He decided to explore himself altered states of consciousness as he was researching the brain science and psychedelic therapies being used today for depression, anxiety, alcohol/nicotine dependence, OCD, PTSD, and others.

From what I have heard and read about the book, he does address the risks of psychedelics too.

Studies into the “entropic brain” are getting serious attention in universities again, though on a limited basis.

Tim Ferris is very much aligned with Pollan’s newest project and is putting a million dollars into the scientific study of psychedelic compounds. This is by far the largest commitment to research and nonprofits I’ve ever made, and if you’d like to join me in supporting this research, please check out.

Pollan’s book has been described as a blend of science, memoir, travel writing, history, medicine and participatory journalism. Though the book is certainly a deep dive into psychedelic drugs, he also explores human consciousness and how we might use the drugs “to be fully present and find meaning in our lives.”

I’m reading that taking “microdoses” of psychedelics, primarily LSD, is now growing in popularity and it isn’t something occurring at those recent semi-Grateful Dead concerts. This is professionals who then head out to the office.

A microdose is about a tenth of the normal dose. For LSD, that is 10 micrograms, or 0.2-0.5 grams of mushrooms. That kind of dosage is considered “subperceptual.” meaning an  energy lift, maybe some insight, but not tripping – and continuing on with normal daily activities.

In the 1960s, there were plenty of experiments to study the creativity enhancing effects of psychedelics, and lots of celebrity “endorsements.”

Having been through those 1960s days, it seems like a long, strange trip to today and reading about psychedelics being used “to improve cognitive functioning, body awareness and spiritual evolution.”

The five categories for enhancement are generally listed as: physical, emotional, perceptual, creative and spiritual.

The benefits include more overall energy, resonance and openness, improved mood and patience, enhanced senses, improved comprehension and increased awareness of universal connectedness, in an enlightening and almost divine way.

Though it’s not all love and flowers. Some microtrippers also report that personal issues can be more disturbing and that day of energy can end with a heaviness requiring more sleep, and a warped perception of time.

Reading posts on Reddit is hardly scientific research, but many microdosers are active there and sharing the good and bad experiences – bursts of creativity and cluster headaches. And there are still the associations with music and counterculture that will create threads about it on phish.net. But you can also find the straight-ahead Forbes.com carrying articles headlined “LSD Microdosing: The New Job Enhancer In Silicon Valley And Beyond?”  Strange trip indeed.

 

I have a friend whose cousin is dying of untreatable cancer. At this point, he would consider any treatments and one thing he is exploring is psychedelic healing. I know that sounds like 1960s hippie quackery, but I found out that there is quite a bit of scientific research into it now.

New Jersey was the 14th state to approve medical marijuana which is a much milder drug that has faced the same prejudices. One of the articles I found is  from Scientific American. It is a  primer on much of the research into the use of psychedelics for medical purposes. The drugs that put the “psychedelic” into the sixties are now the subject of renewed research interest because of their therapeutic potential and are in clinical trials.

Psychedelics such as LSD and the compound in magic mushrooms might ease a variety of difficult-to-treat mental illnesses, such as chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug or alcohol dependency. (Scientific American Mind – December 2007)

MAPS is funding clinical trials of MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) as a therapeutic tool to assist psychotherapy for the treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other illnesses.

Their preliminary studies have shown that MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy can help people overcome PTSD. You might know MDMA as the popular drug Ecstasy (although “Ecstasy” does not always contain pure MDMA). In laboratory studies, MDMA has been proven sufficiently safe for human consumption when taken a limited number of times in moderate doses.

Some of these substances, like ayahuasca, have been used in trials in Peru to actually treat substance abuse.

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