I have done a lot of drugs in my life. I am 37 now, and over the last two decades I found occasion to try pretty much everything. And I mean everything. Short of tapping the vein, there’s very few induced states of consciousness I haven’t experienced. I have been to the mountain top, and I have crawled through the bowels of Hell, and most places between. I even landed myself in the hospital once.
Something I was lucky enough to avoid, however, was the real-life hell of addiction. Those brief, dark places I occupied — no matter how terrifying or seemingly infinite while being experienced — are nothing, I know, compared to losing one’s life in this world to the fires of a serious drug illness. It is, I’m sure, unimaginable to anyone who hasn’t experienced it first hand.
And while this post isn’t going to be a story of such a harrowing fate, it is still going to address a theme in a common vein — the pointlessness of drug pursuits in general. (Yes, even the psychedelics.)
‘Oh, here we go...’ I can hear a lot of you thinking now. ‘Another lecture from an aging user simply because he’s losing his ability to bounce back. Time to mature, get high on life, if only I’d known then what I know now, all of that’.
Well, you nailed it. That’s exactly what’s happening here, although I hope it will at least be an incrementally more interesting read than the type of lecture just described. (And I am not naive enough, by any stretch of the imagination, to believe that anything I say will change the minds of any of the eye-rollers out there. You’ll still go out and roll again, I’m sure, soon enough. ;)
What I can do, however, is plant a seed that may sit with you for a while, even as you set about living your life as you always have. Drugs are fun, there is no doubting it. Especially the easy ones. Blow, Molly, any of the opioids. Throw a little booze in there and you’ve got yourself a night. Or two. Or a fantastic well of artistic inspiration, if that’s your thing. It’s nothing new. Poets all over the world have been cranking the opium back for thousands of years, inducing the muse and using her to pour their hearts out onto the paper; certain South American cultures still chew the cocoa leaf to this day, and up until the turn of the 20th century Laudanum was available without a prescription. (If you’re not sure what Laudanum is, it’s opium and alcohol, and it was used for everything from colds to heart problems. It was even given to babies.)
All of this is understandable. Life is tough, to say the least. Who among us doesn’t need to blow off a little steam? Work hard, play hard, right? I did it for 20 years. For a while there I was spending 5 days a week working and hitting the gym, clean as a whistle, only to follow it up with weekend-long benders. During other periods I was travelling and partying every night while I did so, for months on end. Over the long run I always got props for being able to hold it together and not let any of it truly get the better of me. I never even got addicted to cigarettes.
Only that’s the thing. I may have been able to ‘hold it together’ just fine, but I never really had it together in the first place. I wasn’t pursuing my true goals. I wasn’t facing my fears. I wasn’t overcoming my general apathy towards life. Not anywhere near as much as I should have been, anyway. And this is an ailment that affects far too many 20-somethings across the world today — a general apathy in pursuing their passions, backed up by varying degrees of drug use. It’s not a good recipe.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that if you’re pursuing your purpose and facing your fears that it’s a green light for a drug lifestyle. What I’m saying is that if you’re doing those things first, you’re probably not going to be that turned on by the drugs anyway. You won’t need such a thrill to enhance your life. Curiosity may take you there, once or twice, but if you’re moving forward on a path you truly feel in alignment with, you won’t stay. Chasing what you love, facing your fears and knocking down goals is a thrill that can’t be paralleled because it’s hard. And it’s worthy. And it gives you a sense of purpose, so that you don’t have to go out and find one the easy way.
Yeah, I know, I’m shitting on drugs. Anyone who knows me is surely being blown away as they read this, as I’ve championed the many benefits of mind-altering substances for so many years, but I’m just being honest in retrospect. Even the so-called good drugs, the psychedelics, the ones that challenge you and put you deep in touch with meaning and purpose and reveal terrifying truths to you about the nature of life and your place in it, are still of very little use if they fail to change your outlook and your actions in the long run. They are, for the most part, induced epiphanies, and while they may provide some insight into other states of being, as well as some artistic inspiration, they are, in my experience, not overly beneficial in changing your behaviour patterns when used in a purely recreational manner. It’s just as Sam Harris said in his essay ‘Drugs and the Meaning of Life’: “Psychedelics do not guarantee wisdom or a clear recognition of the selfless nature of consciousness. They merely guarantee that the contents of consciousness will change.”
And that’s really the heart of the matter, isn’t it? Content. Anything that adds to or rearranges the psychological content that makes up our identity is simply continuing to work inside of the box. It’s dealing with the archetype from inside the archetype. And, while it is totally possible to step completely outside of the box on psychedelics (I know, I’ve been there) it still doesn’t do you any good if you have no idea what’s happening, which is usually the case when you arrive in such a manner. It’s the infamous back door to Zen, only once you walk through you find out that yes, you are a total uninitiate, and the board was not expecting you. Not to mention that the odds of getting there through this method are quite slim. There are any number of rabbit holes that can segue you into serious states of psychosis along the way instead.
So yes, I am finally admitting it, because I finally get it. Drugs delay progress. They bind you to body consciousness. They bind you to mind. For the most part they are a horizontal exploration. True maturity comes from the vertical instead. It comes from the ability to observe thought itself, not to think in different ways. It is, in fact, one of the quickest ways to learn how to think in ways that are truly in service of the path that you set out for yourself, as opposed to simply being shunted into different and random patterns of thought, however interesting or out of the ordinary they may be.
So we see, yet again, that the drug of the future is mindfulness. The ability to separate yourself from your thoughts and your emotions as they are taking place and turn your strictly observational attention on to them. If they did in fact develop a drug that dependably produced this result, every time, then we might be on to something. Not a back door to Zen so much as Zen master in your back pocket. Even then however, the drug would be pointless if we failed to learn from it how to induce the state on our own.
Given this, we may as well simply start. I am not completely sober (the idea of this to me, even five years ago, was not only unwelcome but unimaginable) and I don’t know if I ever will be. I can, however, sense a growing change as I continue to play with the incredible toys of mindfulness, however brief my flirtations may be at this period in my life. The more aware I become of my mental and emotional states in any given moment, the less I want to cloud that awareness. There remain certain triggers of course — social situations apt to induce anxiety, boring tasks that might be made a little more interesting through the introduction of something or other — but one of the things you tend to find with mindfulness is that, when you’re fully engaged in the present moment, there is very little that is actually worthy of anxiousness, and life itself can’t really be boring, no matter what form it’s taking. Both are things the mind is telling you.
In this way, I don’t have plans on ‘quitting’ anything. Just a continuing devotion to practicing presence, and allowing what no longer serves me to fall away. It is a movement out of density and into lightness, and I have a growing level of certainty that those things which keep me anchored to density will continue to be shed. I am interested to see what the world looks like without them. The thoughts we have, the perspectives they create and the habits they form make up our experience of life. Drugs change that experience temporarily. A devotion to mindfulness, however — perhaps the most potent agent for altering consciousness known to us — carries the potential for changing it permanently.