This may be redundant to some of you that have read my biography, but after I took psilocybin I had a lot to protect. I had my empire that I had built, and my tenure, and all of my ‘games,’ my antiques, my airplane, and all this stuff.
When I took it, I went into the living room by myself and I started to experience what, as a psychologist, would be a dissociative experience. That is, I was experiencing myself about eight feet away in various roles of my identity. So, I appeared as a cellist but I’m a lousy cellist, so I thought, “Well, the cello’s over there, and I’m here, so I guess I’m giving up cello-ness.” That’s what this drug was doing to me, and each time I said, “Okay, let it go,” a new image would appear; me as a pilot, me as a professor, until finally there was me as the child that my parents called Richard, and all those images of “Richardness” were over there, and I thought, “If I let those go, I’ll have amnesia – I won’t know who I am.”
Then I thought, “Well, at least I’ll have my body,” and I sat there and I looked down on the couch, and I saw the entire couch but I didn’t see my body.
Now, if you’ve been raised as a philosophical materialist, there are limits to how far you can push the game, so when your eyes are open and your body isn’t there, doesn’t it raise an interesting question? So, I’d say I was about to scream, but then, “Who was that screaming?” There was this absolute panic somewhere in the universe and this kind of jocular voice saying, “But who’s minding the store?”
Then I realized that though all my social identities were gone, and even my body was gone, awareness was still here – if I stopped panicking. I was still aware – I wasn’t aware of anything, but I was aware. I was just resting in awareness, and I started to experience bliss, and I experienced feeling at home in the universe, feeling that this was truly who I was, and that I had been trained to think I was something else than this. It all had a deep intuitive validity.
It was a heavy snowstorm that night, and I ended up walking back to my parent’s house where I was staying. It was about 3:30 in the morning and the snow was about 3 feet high, and I thought, “I’m a young, strong man who shovels the walk.” So I set about shoveling the walk when I see my parents’ face appear at the upstairs window with that look they always used when I had done something particularly inappropriate. That look of, “You damn little fool, what are you doing shoveling snow in the middle of the night?”
I looked up at them, and I saw the way they had always been and I saw how I had always reacted, but I was seeing it from an entirely different place, and I knew it was perfectly alright to be shoveling snow, and I just laughed and smiled, and waved at them, and went back to shoveling snow. Now that was the beginning of the end, or the beginning of a basic change in my psyche, because I no longer was using external criteria to tell me who I was to be, because I had experienced something that was intuitively so valid, and there was no way I could compare the two.
-Ram Dass, 1994
Photo by Peter Simon