The third essay that I've written for the Spiritual Naturalist Society is about a subject of considerable interest not only to me, but also to just about everybody in Oregon, where I live, since on July 1 of this year it became legal to grow, use, and possess marijuana.
In "Marijuana is my secular sacrament" I argue that cannabis produces an experience of less-self, or even non-self, that is a genuine spiritual experience -- using that word, spiritual, in a decidedly non-supernatural sense.
You can either read the essay over on the Spiritual Naturalist Society site, or right here. In the version below I've included the entire column I wrote prior to Oregon's 2014 marijuana legalization vote. It had to be truncated on the SNS site.
Marijuana is my secular sacrament
I don’t embrace God. I do embrace marijuana. Big time.
In my experience, cannabis is way more spiritual than a supernatural being who almost certainly exists only in people’s imagination.
Pleasingly, on July 1 marijuana became legal to possess and use here in Oregon, though recreational sales are on hold for a few more months.
When I use my fingers to carefully pluck small bits of buds (flowers) to place in a vaporizer receptacle — no metal grinder for me; I enjoy touching the herbal essence of a marijuana plant — this has a sacramental feel.
I’m grateful to Mother Nature for bringing forth a substance that elevates the spirit.
There’s a reason we speak of getting high.
Cannabis has a way of making my usual worries and anxieties appear much smaller, as if I were standing on top of a mountain, looking at them from a distance rather than close-up.
At the same time, I don’t feel like I’ve lost touch with reality. Rather, marijuana stimulates a sensation of This is how life really is.
Meaning, my supposedly “normal” perception of having to make my way through a world filled with obstacles, problems, barriers, irritations, and what-not is supplanted by a flowing feeling where stuff happens, but not really to me.
Both modern neuroscience and ancient forms of spirituality such as Buddhism agree that this cannabis-caused diminishing of self is closer to how things truly are than everyday waking consciousness.
Inside the mind/brain, there is no sign of any independent, unchanging, non-physical entity corresponding to our sense of “I” or “Me.”
Yet we feel like there is.
To escape from this fantasy I don’t need to laboriously meditate under the critical gaze of a Zen master. I just fire up my vaporizer, take a few puffs of THC-infused warm air, and, voila!, enlightenment. Thank you, caring compassionate cannabis.
Now, spiritual traditionalists look upon marijuana as an illicit short-cut. They argue that changing one’s consciousness to be more in tune with the reality of no-self must be done naturally, not artificially.
I agree. We just differ as to what is natural, and what is artificial.
Cannabis is a flowering plant indigenous to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Humans have used it for thousands of years, as have other animal species, impelled by what psychopharmacologist Ronald Siegel calls the fourth drive in his book “Intoxication: the Universal Drive for Mind-Altering Substances.”
We need intoxicants — not in the sense that an addict needs a fix, but because the need is as much a part of the human condition as sex, hunger, and thirst. The need — the fourth drive — is natural, yes, even healthy.
…Over the centuries, people have sought — and drugs have offered — a wide variety of effects, including pleasure, relief from pain, mystical revelations, stimulation, relaxation, joy, ecstasy, self-understanding, escape, altered states of consciousness, or just a different feeling.
As noted above, I don’t see this as a drive to escape reality.
Rather, marijuana and other psychedelic drugs propel human consciousness into a less ego-centered state that more accurately reflects neuroscientific understanding of the brain’s inherent selflessness.
For a marvelous hip-hop dance mirroring of this truth, I heartily recommend watching Alex Wong’s and Twitch’s “Get Out of Your Mind” routine.
Jump off your self-absorbed psychoanalytic couch and go freaking crazy! This might well be the sanest thing you’ll ever do.
Oh, but what about the dangers of marijuana? It’s well known that there is no lethal dose of cannabis. Don’t people get psychologically addicted, though?
Sure, in much the same way Gallup tells us that almost half of American smartphone users agree with the statement “I can’t imagine my life without my smartphone.”
Are they addicted? Yes. Do they care? No. Because 70% of smartphone users say their device has made their life better.
Which is how I feel about cannabis.
After using marijuana heavily in college back in the 1960’s, I took a long break during thirty-five years of searching for my True Self through being a vegetarian, hours of daily meditation, and abstention from alcohol/drugs.
Back then I thought my essence was immaterial: a soul-consciousness detachable from the crude physical body.
Now I look upon myself as an integral part of nature. Like everything else, I’m made of energy and matter which eventually will return to its basic constituents when I die, leaving me nowhere to be found.
So I live for today here on Earth, not for an imagined tomorrow in some heavenly realm. Ingesting an herb which alters my brain chemistry is not only morally acceptable, it is “spiritual” in the way I now view that word, as realizing that I don’t have a soul, or self. (The Onion humorously reports on another guy’s similar discovery in “Search for Self Called Off After 38 Years.”)
Sam Harris speaks of this realization in his book, “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.”
My goal in this chapter and the next is to convince you that the conventional sense of self is an illusion — and that spirituality largely consists in realizing this, moment to moment.
…Most of us feel that our experience of the world refers back to a self — not to our bodies precisely but to a center of consciousness that exists somehow interior to the body behind the eyes, inside the head.
The feeling that we call “I” seems to define our point of view in every moment, and it also provides an anchor for popular beliefs about souls and freedom of will.
And yet this feeling, however imperturbable it may appear at present, can be altered, interrupted, or entirely abolished.
…Subjectively speaking, the only thing that actually exists is consciousness and its contents.
Far out, man.
Inspired by Harris’ arguments, I used his ideas in a pre-election Strange Up Salem column I wrote for my city’s alternative paper, Salem Weekly: “A strange reason to legalize marijuana.”
Here’s a news flash from the front page of modern neuroscience: “You don’t exist.” At least, not in the way most people believe they do.
We feel as if we look out upon the world as a detached ethereal consciousness floating behind our eyes, inside our head. We feel as if we’re a weightless self or soul inhabiting a body.
These feelings are wrong. The sense of self is an illusion. You, me, and everyone else are billions of neurons woven together via trillions of electrochemical connections.
Marvelously, the brain tells itself stories about how it is other than it is.
As biologist Edward O. Wilson puts it in his new book, “The self, despite the illusion of its independence created in the scenarios, is part of the anatomy and physiology of the body.”
Scientifically obvious, yet shocking to our intuitive sense of ourselves as immaterial self or soul. I am brain-meat that has evolved the capacity to consider itself, if not divine, largely aloof from physicality.
Which is my philosophical neuroscientific reason for voting “Yes” on Measure 91, Oregon’s marijuana legalization initiative.
Apparently an underlying assumption of legal pot opponents is that human consciousness is some sort of pristine, pure pool of unsullied awareness which shouldn’t be contaminated by chemical substances like THC, the major psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Here’s another science news flash: the brain produces conscious awareness, and it is filled with over 100 chemical neurotransmitters.
They make us happy, horny, hungry, and so much more. Including, high.
I’m writing these words buzzed on a chemical my brain adores: caffeine. Is this wrong? Should caffeine be illegal because it alters my consciousness, increasing alertness and improving my mood?
Of course not. It’s beautiful, really, how humans can bring parts of the world into their brains, then those substances enable them to view the world differently.
We are the world. The world is us. There is no immaterial self standing apart from materiality.
So it isn’t a big deal to add marijuana to the long list of ways human brains are legally altered chemically in Oregon. Marijuana is safer than alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs. Informed adults should be able to choose their preferred consciousness-changing substance.
After all, there’s no such thing as a normal state of consciousness.
No one knows how anyone else experiences reality. If somehow this were possible, likely we would be surprised by how differently another person subjectively perceives the same objective world.
Further, whatever you or I experience in the privacy of our own awareness, it is extremely doubtful that the socially accepted definition of psychological normality is the best we humans are capable of.
Artists, visionaries, mystics, poets, meditators, and, yes, users of psychoactive drugs, along with other explorers of altered states of consciousness, tell tales of how they opened doors of perception that made them feel more in touch with reality, not less.
Vote for Measure 91. This is a wonderful way to strange up Salem, and Oregon.
Strange Up Salem seeks to lift our city’s Blah Curse. Give us a Facebook like. Brian Hines blogs at hinesblog.com
While I generally agree with you, my experience with marijuana is much different than when I smoked it in the 70's. The last time I smoked it I started having a hyped up reaction, increased heart rate, muscles tension, anxiety etc. It could be that there are different strains that have the more mellow reaction, but I found I couldn't smoke it any more.
It should be noted that I get the jitters from drinking real coffee, so I have to drink decaf that still has some caffeine, but much less.
Some may also have more extreme reactions too. Kurt Vonnegut's son wrote about a schizophrenic reaction he had to smoking pot, maybe other drugs too, in The Eden Express.
I think the problem is that current cannabis is much more potent than it used to be.
Posted by: Paul | July 18, 2015 at 10:43 AM
Paul, good points. The plus side of legal recreational and medical marijuana, though, is that the THC and CBD potency of is/will be clearly indicated on the cannabis product.
The strain also will be shown. Indica (more of a body high). Sativa (more of a head high). Hybrid (mixture of each). And so on.
So if you were able to try out various types of marijuana flowers, including a pure CBD strain that has minimal psychoactive properties, I bet you'd be able to find some cannabis that would appeal to you.
Back in the old days (for me, the 1960s), we had no idea what sort of marijuana we were buying and using. Nor did we know if it was contaminated with chemicals or whatever. The new days are way better for cannabis consumption, for sure.
Posted by: Brian Hines | July 18, 2015 at 10:54 AM
I won't hold my breath that here in Japan a Measure 91 comes along for people to vote on in the near future. (Is there an inadvertent
pun in there somewhere?)
Posted by: William | July 18, 2015 at 11:28 PM
From rss..manjit quote
Several months ago, I was inspired by numerous events from the lives of close friends and family to write a post in praise of the Radhasoami faith on a purely worldly level...but not being a member here, and realising the, imo, inherent absurdity of the dynamic on the Churchofthechurchless blog, there was nowhere to post it...so I forgot about it.
I then received several emails asking me to look at what was being posted here, and, coincidentally, I saw an article posted from Brian’s blog which related quite profoundly to what I intended to write several weeks or months prior.
I’m still disinclined to write this, really; I feel for anyone interested in genuine insight, mysticism & experience, there is just too much noise on forums like these. (Actually, I nowadays prefer the word “occultism” or “occultist” to “spirituality” or “mysticism”, for it has become exceptionally clear to me that the deeper truths, deeper experiences, deeper realities etc are “secret”, and not to be found in cults, religions, forums or books...merely hinted at, at the very best.)
But a sense of some sort of, no doubt misplaced, “duty” makes me write this....so here is my token effort.
This relates to Brian’s post about “Marijuana is my secular sacrament” post. A profoundly misguided and ignorant post on numerous levels, and potentially dangerous for anyone who, foolishly, considers Brian to have any kind of insight or awareness of the “sacred”.
Background: I first smoked weed aged about 12 or 13. I also, decades ago, dealt and grew it. Been to Amsterdam several times, studied Rastafarianism, and read numerous texts which romanticise cannabis etc etc. I also know numerous people who did & still to this day smoke weed every day. Some of them my best friends, to this day.
Weeks or months before Brian’s article, several (yes, SEVERAL) of my very close friends were going through a variety of mid-life crises, cannabis psychosis, anxiety attacks etc. It was entirely transparent that their cannabis use was profoundly heightening their anxieties and inability to deal with life’s problems & crises (not all were cannabis related, but 2 or 3 were).
From my perspective, I was astonished at how the, imo basic, things I learnt as a child of 13 reading RS books such as Charan Singh’s “The Path”, were still incomprehensible to adults. People were astonished at the hardships of life, at aging, lost loves, grief, careers not going how they planned,, regrets etc etc....all things I thought were profoundly obvious, things that never have, and never will, affect me personally on anything more than a very superficial level, were causing these friends of mine terrible suffering.
I actually realised what a blessing it is to truly understand and comprehend the RS teachings on a purely worldly level at least! I saw a kind of peace, grace & contentment in these teachings (that, if anyone here knows me, I do not personally believe in all their metaphysical aspects) that the materialistic culture we live in can never provide, indeed which only heightens the sense of ultimate meaninglessness inherent within it, in context of our mortality.
It was ironic, a kind of nudge to post here, that several weeks later I see, prompted by others, a post from Brian about how wonderful and sacred his cannabis use is, positively recommending it.
Utterly ignorant, dangerous & presumptuous advice.
Cannabis psychosis is a very real problem, far outweighing that of the obvious & very common “laziness” & demotivational aspects etc that everyone should know about.
Brian’s apparent solution to this very real problem, which he doesn’t even really mention, just insinuates via his “solution” (I know several people who have had to be sectioned against their will due to cannabis psychosis, know them very well) is to find a mix of CBD & THC (indica and sativa strains, relatively & generally speaking) which suits them.
Has he considered suggesting not smoking cannabis at all? This is foolishness on a grand scale, which could be excused if it wasn’t coming from someone who constantly seeks attention for his righteous & right-on criticisms of the dangers of “cults” like Radhasoamis.
There is a transparent absurdity to this even the least insightful amongst us should notice.
That, on a purely worldly level, Brian’s argument in favour of marijuana as a “sacrament”, especially in respect of his criticism of the dangers of RS, is completely and utterly ridiculous & hypocritical should be obvious.
On a more mystical or occult level, that is harder to explain & understand – experience is the main key to understanding here. And it is without the slightest shadow of a doubt, to those who have eyes and ears, that Brian has absolutely no experience of the mystical or occult to be able to compare his “sacrament” to.
In a sense, everything is sacred. Smoking crack & heroin roller-coaster balls is sacred!
But, is it the height of potentiality for the human experience of the “sacred”?
This is not even a question worthy of an answer, as it is obviously not!
Cannabis provides, imo and experience, a shadow or false imitation of a mystical state of being. That is why all those sadhus in India have fallen under it’s alluring temptation. In fact, for me, even a puff or two of a joint would set me back several weeks in achieving any kind of REAL spiritual ecstasy or bliss or other experience – it is a big no no, imo, if you wish to achieve something REAL in this field. But some prefer cheap and easy goals. That is not the way of a genuine occultist or mystic.
A story which, hopefully, some will understand the true meaning and significance of. I won’t over-sell it, those with insight and intuition should “get it”.
As a teenager I smoked every day. Around aged 18ish, something “miraculous”-ish occurred which I believe I’ve shared on this forum. To surmise, I wrote a letter to Gurinder (in, I later realised, a profoundly altered state of consciousness), heart felt & drenched in tears....amongst the things I mentioned, was how I couldn’t stop smoking weed, and how I wanted to stop & follow RS properly. That night was full of wonders I won’t speak. But, the next day, I stopped smoking weed completely, and unexpectedly and without the slightest problem....something I thought was impossible at the time. (I didn’t smoke even a single puff of weed from that night for around 4ish years).
Several months later, totally sober & completely following all the tenets of RS, I used to have wonderful night-time journeys, visiting with all sorts of gurus, heavens and what not....Gurinder wrote to me to not practice any kind of mystical practice, so these dreams were completely spontaneous, not induced.
One of these dream journeyss, where I was lucid, but not intentionally so, so just “going with the flow” so as to follow Gurinder’s letter to not intentionally do anything mystical or esoteric, I found myself in a pseudo-Amsterdam (which I had visited a couple of times aged 17). I walked around all these wonderful shops with their wonderful array of magical weeds and substances. As it was a dream, I smoked some......I have never, ever, in my entire life, smoked such wonderful weed/hash! It was utterly sublime, utterly intoxicating, and utterly without any negative effects whatsoever. It was truely amazing, and a memory I’ve never forgotten!
This is the thing, I learnt then the mind has powers we cannot even conceive of, abilities to experience things we can only dream of.
And, that was only the beginning, since then I have experienced & understood things I won’t, and indeed have never even hinted at, let alone expressed fully. This is the Occult.
Beware those who try to sell rocks & stones pretending they are diamonds and rubies. They are fooling themselves, as well as trying to fool you.
Posted by: rhuby da rhubarb da rhubarbariando | September 08, 2015 at 03:48 AM
After reading all the Pros and Cons regarding the use of Pot, I am really wondering if I might have missed using it, or using any Drugs? I did try smoking Pot twice, in my mid 20s, but did not like how it made me feel, as compared to Alcohol. Pot made me feel like a Lamb where Alcohol made me feel like a Lion. But, Alcohol also kept me in poverty, with out a pot to pee in, or a wndow to throw it out of, so I quit drinking, at 35, and have never taken another drink, to this day.( I turn 74 in a few weeks ) I wonder if I missed out in the Joys of Life , by living such a boring life? I married at 19 and am still with my same and only Bride. So, no Orgies, no Psychedelic Adventures, to compare to Surat Shabd Yoga Meditation or Yogananda Kriyas. Maybe that is why I am unable to enter any higher than the low Astral Plane. I wonder if Swamiji had Pot in his Hukka and his Orgies of getting his Toe sucked was enough to keep him satisfied? Guess I might never know.
Posted by: Jim Sutherland | January 12, 2016 at 11:44 AM