Archive for July, 2003

Dionysian Guilt

Thursday, July 10th, 2003

Recently a couple of friends from out of town came to visit, and to celebrate, we rounded up the usual suspects and engaged in some recreational psychedelia. Coincidentally, that week had been brutal for me from an emotional standpoint, and I was still experiencing a kind of shocked paralysis about an entire set of issues. When the opportunity to spend time tripping with friends presented itself, I immediately realized the evening would likely fall into one of two categories: a) sheer escapism, or b) relentless self-analysis, possibly leading to some kind of breakthrough. I decided I didn’t particularly care which of those categories I experienced, and we were off.

It’s easy to observe a disconnect between the elders of the psychedelic movement — many of whom have spent considerable energy attempting to impart notions of reverence, respect, and sacred awareness about the psychedelic experience — and the young rave culture, which is perhaps the most prominent arm of the psychedelic movement these days, and whose reputation for excess, hedonism, and often enough, recklessness is not entirely without warrant. Any attempt to paint groups of people in broad strokes will fail on some level, as there are certainly ravers who feel divinity in their experiences and crazy old psychedelic brigands who could care less about anything other than the buzz. But still, it’s generally not the youngsters in the movement who are well versed in the spiritual traditions of the world, who have spent the time to really, thoroughly place the psychedelic experience in an appropriate anthropological or sociological context, who can trace the common lines that tie psychedelics into the mystery traditions of the world, and who can speak with any authority about the psychological and theological ramifications of the mysterium tremendum at the heart of psychedelic gnosis.

It’s generally not me who can do that, either.

I have enough raw experience with psychedelics by now to have a deep appreciation and respect for the power of these substances, and yet I seem to be cranky and contrary enough to have no resonance with any model of spirituality that has come across my doorstep. Yes, yes, my life is all the poorer, please don’t bother writing in to save my soul for I’m well aware of how shallow things are on Planet Scotto. In the meantime, for years and years I was faced with a certain discomfort at the notion that the majority of my psychedelic use was almost purely recreational in nature. Oh, sure, I could also use psychedelics as tools to gain insight into my psyche and all of its sundry problems, but as I got older, that was less and less the idea.

For a brief period of time, I searched about for justification, settling on Dionysus as my role model. He stands for so many kickass things! Let’s see: “God of wine,” sounds about right. “God of Greek stage,” hey, I’m a theatre guy, perfect. “Personal delivery from the daily world through physical or spiritual intoxication,” aha, now you’re talking. “The value and significance of excess and the potential of this path for inner transformation” – it’s like this god was made for me! Someone named Edinger writes of Dionysus, “Wisdom for him is not the slow accumulation, the step by step approach. But the sudden illumination, the rapture of revelation. He is change and transformation.” So there! Getting drunk six nights a week, taking as many drugs as I want whenever I want, and just sitting back and waiting for something to happen to me is all part of my spiritual path, dude.

It became clear soon enough, though, that I was just casting about for some greater justification, some excuse that would allow me to keep taking psychedelics in a non-spiritual, non-therapeutic context, without feeling like a schmuck any time someone on a holier path was around. But people like me tend to self-select towards each other, and soon I forgot all about those concerns, insulated within groups of like-minded hedonists, people who were smart and experienced enough to have great respect for psychedelics, while at the same time feeling free to use them to party, to enhance their sex life, to forget about work for a while, to celebrate a friend coming into town, to commemorate a holiday, to go out and watch a movie, you name it.

I think we’re the category of psychedelic users that might be the biggest thorn in the side of those who are trying to reform the image of psychedelics within the medical or spiritual worlds. We don’t constitute nearly as obvious a potential threat to public health as ravers; we’re often clever enough to have researched what we can about these things and are still choosing to use them in seemingly irresponsible ways; there isn’t any kind of even remotely organized or dogmatic approach to spirituality that works for us or adequately describes our psychedelic use; and we have no intention of attempting to force Pandora’s box shut by calling a halt to our use of psychedelics in order to help reform their public image in some specific way.

Maybe in the long run, though, that’s what our culture needs: spreading the word that responsible adults can use psychedelics safely in recreational contexts, and that, hey, this stuff is fun! Oh sure, it’s dangerous too; you have to be careful, or you could put somebody’s ego out. And just as with our culture’s favorite recreational drug, alcohol, psychedelics have physiological risks that are ignored or avoided at the user’s peril. But there’s an inherent pleasure for many people in the psychedelic experience: heightened physical sensation, enhanced audio/visual input, a celebratory awareness, a sense that consciousness is a vast landscape to be explored and not just some passive receptor designed to consume media. People should know about this! Nobody’s dropped acid and jumped out a window in, what, years now? So come on, people, let’s boogie! Psychedelics don’t have to be dark and scary – they can be shiny and cuddly and exciting! They feel good! As the saying goes, “People take drugs because they work!” Do we need any greater justification than that?

Some people do, sure, and I certainly respect and dig on that. Meanwhile, my friends from out of town rounded up the usual suspects, and we all got down together that night. We played some kickass music, and one of our out of town friends had brought along a rather amazing computerized glowstick toy that dazzled us for hours. We laughed, goofed off, rolled around, “forgot our troubles, come on, got happy,” etc. I slid solidly into escapism, deliberately ignoring the massive psychological burden I had come into that night with.

And then, at one point, I was left in a quiet room, and contemplation was practically forced upon me. When all external input died away, I was left alone with my thoughts, as seen through the extraordinary magnifying glass of this particular psychedelic. Perhaps a half hour went by, as I sat with myself and finally faced myself. I realized that all week I had been agonizing over all the possible ramifications of all the possible actions I could take to relieve this burden, and because I could not find the “right” solution, I was paralyzed in a kind of painful, depressing fugue state. I had what I would call a “micro-epiphany,” where I realized that I needed to just take any action, didn’t matter which, to get past this fugue state, to give myself an opportunity to move freely again in the world. I had slid without warning (“the sudden illumination, the rapture of revelation”) into meaning.

Then, content that my work there was finished, I went upstairs to rejoin the party. I was drunk on gin and tonic by the time the sun came up. I guess there’s no real moral to the story — which is itself, perhaps, the moral.

Citation: Moore S. “Dionysian Guilt”. Erowid : eScottology. July 2003