“Paradise is the prison of the sage as the world is the prisoner of the believer.”
– Yahja b. Mu’adh al-Razi
For many of us who have come into meditation through psychedelics, the model we have had for changing consciousness has been of “getting high.” We pushed away our normal waking state in order to embrace a state of euphoria, harmony, bliss, peace, or ecstasy. Many of us spent long periods of time getting high and coming down. It was like the Biblical story of the wedding guest who came to the wedding but was not wearing the proper wedding garments, so he got thrown out. My guru, in speaking about psychedelics, said, “These medicines will allow you to come and visit Christ, but you can only stay two hours. Then you have to leave again. This is not the true samadhi. It’s better to become Christ than to visit him – but even the visit of a saint for a moment is useful.” Then he added, “But love is the most powerful medicine.” For love slowly transforms you into what the psychedelics only let you glimpse.
In view of his words, when I reflected on my trips with LSD and other psychedelics, I saw that after a glimpse of the possibility of transcendence, I continued tripping only to reassure myself that the possibility was still there. Seeing the possibility is indeed different from being the possibility. Sooner or later you must purify and alter your mind, heart, and body so that the things which bring you down from your experiences lose their power over you. Psychedelics could chemically override the thought patterns in your brain so that you are open to the moment, but once the chemical loses its power the old habit patterns take over again. With them comes a subtle despair that without chemicals you are a prisoner of your thoughts.
The trap of high experiences, however they occur, is that you become attached to their memory and so you try to recreate them. These memories compel you to try to reproduce the high.
Ultimately they trap you, because they interfere with your experience of the present moment. In meditation you must be in the moment, letting go of comparisons and memories. If the high was too powerful in comparison to the rest of your life, it overrides the present and keeps you focused on the past. The paradox, of course, is that were you to let go of the past, you would find in the present moment the same quality that you once had. But because you’re trying to repeat the past, you lose the moment.
How many times have you felt a moment of perfection – only to have it torn away the next moment by the awareness that it will pass?
How many times will you try to get high hoping that this time you won’t come down – until you already know as you start to go up that you will come down? The down is part of the high. When in meditation you are tempted by another taste of honey, your memory of the finiteness of those moments tempers your desire. More bliss, more rapture, more ecstasy – just part of the passing show. The moment in its fullness includes both high and low and yet it is beyond both.
– Ram Dass
Photo by Yellowstone National Park via Flickr. Used under the creative commons license.