the plastic flowers of perception

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called psychedelics “plastic flowers for the mind,” meaning that they’re false prophets, insufficient for self-realization. Meanwhile, Anaïs Nin (a psychonaut if there ever was one) described her LSD experience with characteristic lyricism but came to a similar conclusion — its meaning was diminished by its artifice. Of course acid trips are “unnatural.” They do not emerge spontaneously from meditation or other contemplative practices, and LSD in particular is more heavily refined than a lot other drugs (like mushrooms and marijuana). But these instruments of consciousness-alteration should be treated outside the division of real/fake and given the special considerations we afford technology — which we normally understand as “unnatural,” but whose impacts are undeniably real. Drugs are media, screens, in a sense, like eyeglasses. They enable us to apprehend sensoria in entirely new ways and, like many technologies, blur the distinction between mind | body | everything beyond the limits of our skin.

A chapter in Richard Doyle’s book Darwin’s Pharmacy, a pretty far-out theorization of the noösphere and how hallucinogenic plants assisted human evolution, is called “The Flowers of Perception.” Flowers emerge from the earth but so does plastic; both are cultivated by the human hand, and nobody yet has devised a solid argument for a stable and exact degree of intervention that divides natural from unnatural. Anaïs Nin and Trungpa Rinpoche both observed the transient nature of the drug experience as an indication its insubstantiality. But acid trips, Buddhist meditation (Trungpa’s formula) and the artistic consciousness (Nin’s concern) all denote different experiences. If the idea is to maintain a certain respect for all of this — and in particular for the overarching possibility of a metaphysical ground of creation, which Trungpa and Nin both wrote toward — even when forces of society undermine it — we probably need all tools at our disposal. Some will be disposed of more quickly than others (and they should; when asked about psychedelics, Alan Watts said that “once you get the message you should hang up the phone.” People who do a lot of acid are weird…). I’m not sure that any one is more or less worthwhile than any other.

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