Want a mystical experience? Got no time or inclination for meditation, austerities, guru-worship, or rituals? A shortcut is available: hallucinogens, such as psilocybin.
This is no surprise to baby boomers like me who experimented with LSD, mescaline, and "magic mushrooms" back in the 60's. I was searching for the Meaning Of It All, so I was part of the flower children subset who looked upon hallucinogens not only as a good time, but as a doorway to higher consciousness.
I figured that these trippy drugs had pretty much gone out of fashion. However, an article in the December 2010 issue of Scientific American informed me that research is demonstrating the promise of hallucinogens for resolving serious psychological problems.
Also, inducing profound mystical experiences. Here's one person's description of her encounter with the Light. An excerpt:
With my eyes closed I was overwhelmed with glorious golden light, suffused with every color, prisms and rainbows everywhere like a shining hologram. The Light itself was alive, a radiant consciousness of ultimate intelligence, perfect integrity, singularity and purity. The Light pervaded everything. It composed everything. Its presence was benevolent, calm, and intense.
It was as if the Light were revealing to me the innermost workings of the universe. Without words, It informed me that It, as the Light, was the source of every physical manifestation and that each had its purpose: "Everything is in my perfect control. With this as Cause, there can be no mistakes." I knew It to be the substance of every particle in the microcosm and the overarching essence of the macrocosm. In that moment I intuitively understood how everything is being created anew each instant from Its emanation. Why, then, could we not see the Light completely composing and permeating all of creation? How could the shining substance of all things be hidden? Later I remembered what the sages have always told us. The only possible answer is that our sense perceptions are an illusion.
Faced with the reality and the glory of the Light, there is nothing to do but gape with the greatest reverence. There are no questions in its Presence, no desires, no resistance. I felt suspended in a clear and peaceful state and enjoyed a weightless sense of free-fall, without time and space, though I remembered that they existed elsewhere. Even my physical surges abated, as if their purpose had been accomplished. Occasionally I still felt a faint muscle spasm, like the echo of receding thunder.
Only the first part of the Scientific American article, "Hallucinogens as Medicine," is available online. Below I'll share some passages from the piece that relate to mystical experiences which are similar, if not identical, to those reported by meditators and other non-drugged seekers of higher consciousness.
If a hallucinogen can stimulate the brain to have these experiences, this calls into question whether they are truly "spiritual" in a nonphysical sense -- as believers in the supernatural usually assume.
The experiences may point to a valid understanding of reality, though. Alternative ways of comprehending the cosmos are commonplace in human history. Logic, objectivity, and detached analyses tell us a lot about the universe, but certainly not everything.
From the article:
At the end of the session, when the psilocybin effects had dissipated, Lundhal, who had never before taken a hallucinogen, completed more questionnaires. Her responses indicated that during the time spent in the session room she had gone through a profound mystical-like experience similar to those reported by spiritual seekers in many cultures and across the ages -- one characterized by a sense of interconnectedness with all people and things, accompanied by the feeling of transcending time and space, and of sacredness and joy.
At a follow-up more than a year later, she said she continued to think about the experience every day and -- most remarkably -- that she regarded it as the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant event in her life. She felt it had brought on positive changes in her moods, attitudes and behaviors, as well as a noticeable increase in overall life satisfaction.
...The mystical-like experiences brought about by hallucinogens interest researchers particularly because such experiences have the potential to produce rapid and enduring positive changes in moods and behavior -- changes that might take years of effort to achieve with conventional psychological therapy.
...One typical comment from a subject: "The sense that all is One, that I experienced the essence of the universe and the knowing that God asks nothing of us except to receive love. I am not alone. I do not fear death. I am more patient with myself."
...In 1964 Eric Kast of Chicago Medical School, who administered LSD to terminal patients with severe pain, reported that the patients developed "a peculiar disregard for the gravity of their situations and talked freely about their impending death with an affect considered inappropriate in our Western civilization but most beneficial to their psychic states."
...Imaging of the brain areas involved in the intense emotions and thoughts people have under the drugs' influence will provide a window into the underlying physiology of mystical-type experiences produced by hallucinogens. Further research may also yield non-pharmacological approaches that work more quickly and effectively than traditional spiritual practices such as meditation or fasting to produce mystical experiences and desired behavioral changes.
...Understanding how mystical experiences can engender benevolent attitudes toward oneself and others will, in turn, aid in explaining the well-documented protective role of spirituality in psychological well-being and health. Mystical experiences can bring about a profound and enduring sense of the interconnectedness of all people and things -- a perspective that underlies the ethical teachings of the world's religious and spiritual traditions.
A grasp of the biology of the classic hallucinogens, then, could help clarify the mechanisms underlying human ethical and cooperative behavior -- knowledge that, we believe, may ultimately be crucial to the survival of the human species.