The Man Who Turned on the World
6. London on My Mind
It is always interesting to come back to London (why do we love
the places we are born in ?) and see how you react to the people.
Here I am no longer 'the traveller', but a resident, which is
something you realise the moment you step outside Heathrowabroad,
you can treat the outer world as mere reaction; at home this is
impossible. When an Englishman looks at London he is seeing in
its masonry the reflection of his race, like a clean slate, with
his own face on. He may not like what he sees, but it is a place
he may nod to and really feel he knows. Here, then, I am at the
mercy of my own particular form of existence; here I am responsible
in a definite way, just a citizen like everybody else....
Accordingly, I exchanged the consciousness of Millbrook as rapidly
as possible for that of the resident. Through the far-sight of
a generous friend, I soon became the lease-holder of a large,
comfortable, Pont Street, Belgravia flat, with high ceilings and
thick walls. It was here that we opened the WPC ('World Psychedelic
Centre') with Desmond O'Brien, a Lloyd's underwriter and Etonian,
as President; and, later, Joey Mellen, also ex-Eton and a graduate
in law from Oxford, as its Vice-President.
I had brought with me from America a quantity of LSD, about half
a gram, or enough for 5000 sessions, part of an experimental batch
made available by courtesy of the Czech Government laboratories
in Prague, who had taken over as suppliers after Sandoz stopped
selling it anymore, that is, after the Leary-Alpert Harvard storm.
But as far as Britain was concerned, there were as yet no provisions
for LSD et al. under the 'Dangerous Drugs' Act. The possession
of this drug did not become an offense until the summer of 1966,
when Britain fell in line with American legislation in this matter.
But it was through this loophole in the 1965 legal situation that
the WPC was able to operate in an open waythough we had to
watch anything else, particularly hash, for which we could be
busted (and eventually were, just five months after we started).
But for the time being, and encouraged by the accelerating interest
in psychedelics amongst our Chelsea neighbours, we believed that
London would indeed become the centre for a world psychedelic
In a city where world-feeling is expressed in the form of an impulse
for empirical expansion, our 'message' was simple: If you can't
capture the world, then try to conquer the heavens. For the idealism
of the conquistador would be changed to that of the mystic,
the man who conquers nobody except himself. 'The energy which,
a little while ago, was able to fill universal space is now condensed
into the confines of the individual self; for isn't it said that
what is without, is also within ? It is just that the eye of insightthe
eye that "gets in" where reality "gets out"has
atrophied in man during the past few thousand years; man is blind
to the world inside himself and needs the help of three
eyes instead of two to gain true wisdom of his own individuality.'
We wrote it; we may even have believed it sometimes: and 'acid
is to help us see
Now we could believe with Camus that 'real generosity towards
the future lies in giving all to the present'. And since it happens
so rarely in a lifetime that one ever gets the chance to give
one's all to something, or someone, we felt a tremendous
sense of involvement now that we had pledged ourselves to spread
the psychedelic doctrine. And in one of our earliest manifestos,
'Man's vision of the future is his recreationthe fulfillment
of it is his procreation. The essential ritual is procreationcreation.
'The future is what man thinks up in the presentthe logical
extension in all cycles of thought of the point of each revelationthe
illumination of darkness by the word.
'In the dawn of a new evolutionary phase poets chirp like sparrows....disregardedlike
sparrowsthe poets keep singing of a vision which is theirs
pour encourager les autres.... '
But the nagging question in such matters was how were we going
to communicate this message with the rest of the world?
Some of us had began to wonder if the solution did not lie in
the direction first suggested by William Burroughs (in 1961):
'The forward step must be made in silence. We catch ourselves
from word formsthis can be accomplished by substituting for
words letters, concepts and verbal concepts, other modes of expression:
for example, colour.'
And silence is golden for those who live in the land of gold.
But from the revolutionists' point of view, the huge monopolies
of power and influence could be seen in 1964 to have become places
synonymous with intellectual bankruptcy and spiritual (religious)
emptiness. To take one example, the situation with regard to the
University Establishment. They could be seen to be institutions
of intellectual servitude: 'Students have been systematically
dehumanised, deemed incompetent to regulate their own lives, sexually,
politically and academically. They are treated like commodities
with a price-tag, so much raw material to be processed for the
university's clientsbusiness, government and military bureaucracies.
Teachers have been relegated to the position of servant-intellectuals,
required, for regular promotion, to propagate points of view in
harmony with the military and industrial leadership of our society.'
The silence of responsible opinion in the face of such calls to
integrity, and ultimately even to sanity itself, all but amounted
to a scandal; and certainly a scandal wider in its implications
than any freedom movement growing up around psychedelic drug-use,
which the mass media promptly called 'abuse', and saw LSD made
into a 'dirty' word, like masturbation or VD. We couldn't simply
bundle the drugs into a bag and bury it, hoping psychedelics could
all somehow be forgotten. This was the problemwhat do we do
with these psychedelics now that 'we' in the sense of Everyman
have them ?
It wasand isa bit extraordinary, in Britain of all places,
that LSD has been rarely a subject, and even more rarely a successful
subject, for our best thinkers (with such notable exceptions as
Robert Graves on the subject of 'mushroom' visionary experience,
Aldous Huxley, and Gerald Heard, all of whom, perhaps significantly,
The reality of the LSD world was too random and fragmentary for
any but the most mentally flexible to identify with it, and the
unemotional 'cop-out'synthesiswas impossible. British
intellectuals were not going to confuse the LSD experience with
their literary 'stream-of-consciousness' techniques for
discovering the truth about processes of deep consciousness, eitheryou
would hardly call Tom Wolfe or James Joyce an 'acid tripper'!
What they were unwilling, or unable, to see was that acid literature
and acid thoughts are really only those ideas that deal with high
level revelation, mysticism, telepathy, and transcendence of the
ego. And to that extent we were a new human game and had a
message of universal interest.
The developing cult of Exploring Inwardness had become a new truth,
the stable core around which a new radical movement would evolve.
Truth and response are not a private affair, for the truth comes
to one man for all men, endowing the recipient of it in his relation
to his contemporaries with the authority of the Prophet or of
the High Priest. But men do not willingly recognise a new voice
that cries from the modern wilderness
and if they are ever
at a loss for a scapegoat, they have their man in him who would
seek to remove the distorting web of Maya, the cause of all illusions
in the self.
Martin Buber, and a prophet of our time, reminds us that, according
to Hasidim, the 'teller of tales', '
the effective exploration
of the heart is the beginning of the way in a man's life,' it
is the one journey in which 'each man must find his own way for
himself'. Or such were my esoteric influences in this period,
which fed my vision of a future happier world
Thirteen cartons of books arrived at Pont Street via the S.S.
Samaria from America, a private importation for which H.M.
Customs required a Bill of Lading and a completed form C.3. (Now
you can't get more accurate than that). This was our 'psychedelic
stock' for this 'Operation London'300 copies of the Leary/Alpert/Metzner
The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book
of the Dead, 200 issues of The Psychedelic Review ed.
by Drs. Weil and Metzner, and 200 copies of The Psychedelic
Reader ed. by Gunther Weil. It was not only that, at this
time, in 1965, there was nothing similar originating in Britain,
but such literature was virtually unobtainable here, except possibly
through Bernard at Turret Books in Kensington. It also meant that
we had a Manual for running 'guided' LSD-sessions through which
we could observe the elaboration of 'the Art' as well as various
new art-forms. Now we could conduct intensive group-sessions in
which the group-mind might participate in an ancient Tibetan ritual,
and in the safety of our own homes.
All that now remained was an opportunity to use them, which soon
presented itself on the night of the first Full Moon. (Alas, for
those who do not actually feel the biogenetic vibrations
of a Full Moon, it must seem no more than a pathetic, paltry,
'astronomical' phenomenon.) But for the tiny circle of participants
who asked to take part in an experience on the Bardo plane,
it was a night to hear mysteries which quicken the heart, the
mysterious power that makes all things new again
There were twelve of us on this spacetrip. We saw ourselves as
voyagers in search of answers to the secret of magical self-liberation.
In Tibet the responsible institution is, or used to be, the College
of Magic Ritual. Since it was obviously impossible to duplicate
any of this, we structured the decor of the large living-room
along the lines of Sutra 19 from the great esoteric work,
the Tao Te Ching
soon the front room was emptied
of all furnishings, except the carpet, and we tried to have around
simple, natural things to contact during this session
a touch of earth
a splash of water
fruit, good bread, cheese
a warm hand
anything which is over 500 years old.
We also had lots of cushions, some excellent tapes and hi-fi equipment,
a slide projector, and several chillums.
We began shortly before midnight, moving into the new temple room
with a kind of piety and seriousness you find in acts of faith,
when we all took our place in the 'Magic Circle of Liberation'.
After a short silence, we passed round the bowl containing grapes
impregnated with acidabout 300 micrograms, or what is considered
to be a relatively high dosage, likely to last from between eight
to twelve hoursthe sympathetic discharge would follow in about
forty minutes, indicated by enlarged pupil diameter, rise in body
temperature, increased heart-rate, variable blood pressure, and
sometimes a moderate amount of physical trembling. Yet they are
no stronger on the body than the effects of a game of tennisonly
thinking makes them so.
During this first period, the period of 'countdown', when the
psychic energy first begins to be felt, there is a growing sensation
within of thousands of delicate threads moving about the body,
subtle lines of force which tremble like Pampas grass, as if some
thing had opened inside and they were all streaming out. It is
as though one's body is dissolving and floating away, and the
'essence' of Me was being liberated to join the 'essence' of everything
else about me. One feels open to a total flow, over and around
and within the body, and one becomes more and more conscious of
these threads of energy, of their vibrations, like harpstrings
giving forth their individual tones. There is something purely
physical about it, a sensation, something felt rather than recognised,
a matter for intuition, not intellect.
This sensation lasts for perhaps ten to fifteen minutes (though
one is hardly conscious of the passing of time). Then the threads
seem to collect themselves into a single vibrant strand, circular,
coiled like a snake; and then like a snake it slowly begins to
unwind, moving almost imperceptibly up the spine, which feels
like a hollow tube, gathering in force and intensity and bathing
the body in a silvery light and very, very sensual indeed. And
one's pale introspective self sits in the boon of these tingling
strings, sensitive to the least vibration beyond time, beyond
place, rocking to the motion of all that is.... The dominant impression
is that of entering into the very marrow of self
as if each
of the billion atoms which compose the body under normal circumstances
is summarised and averaged into crude, discriminate wholesale
impressions which are now able to be seen and savoured for itself.
The impressions become more intense. The vibrations turn into
coloursbrilliant blues, purples, and greens with dashes of
red and streaks of yellow-orange.
One gradually becomes aware of movement, a rocking type of movement,
like on the crest of a wave, yet the body does not move at all
with an overwhelming acceleration one is turning around
and around, swirling, then shuttling back and forth like a piece
of potassium on water, hissing, sparkling, full of life and fire.
This experience may be likened to an emotional-reflective visual
experiences involving these three components
keep dissolving continuously from one pattern to another. Emotionally
the patterns ranged from serene contentment and mild euphoria
to apprehension which bordered on, but never quite slipped into,
alarm. But overwhelmingly they involved (a) astonishment at the
absolutely incredible immensity, complexity, intensity and extravagance
of being, existence, the cosmos, call it what you will; (b) the
most acute sense of the poignancy, fragility, preciousness, and
significance of all life and history. The latter is accompanied
by a powerful sense of the responsibility of all for all
intense affection for the others in the room
and rightness of behaving decently and responsiblyof trying
to remain 'open' and cool in all areas simultaneously.
As the 'guide' for this first Bardo session, my job was
to look after the music, the pre-recorded taped messages from
the book, and keep the participants in the flow. The set and setting
are positive, supportive, anxiety-free so that the reaction will
be ecstatic, insightful, and educational, just as when the set
and setting are clinical, experimental, non-supportive, and impersonal,
the reactions are invariably frightening and confusing.
In the greatest sessions
One does not know that
there is a guide
In the next best sessions
One praises the guide
In the good session
One admires the guide
It is worse when
One fears the guide
The worst is that one pays him
If the guide lacks trust
in the people
The trust of the people
will be lacking
The wise guide guards his words
The wise guide sits serenely,
When the greatest session is over
The people will say
"It all happened naturally"
"It was so simple, we did it
(Adapted from Tao Sutra 17, by Timothy Leary)
Shortly after dropping the acid, I played a tape of Buddhist Cakra
music, followed by Concert Percussion by the American composer,
John Cage. I then read from the Psychedelic manual:
The time has come for you to seek new levels of reality. Your
ego and identity are about to cease. You are about to be set face
to face with the Clear Light of the Void. You are about to experience
it in its reality. In the ego-free state, wherein all things are
like the void and cloudless sky and the naked spotless intellect
is like a transparent vacuum; at this moment, know yourself and
abide in that state.
That which is called ego death is coming to you.
This is now the hour of death and rebirth;
take advantage of this temporary death to obtain the perfect state;
Concentrate on the unity of all living beings.
Hold on to the Clear Light.
Use it to attain understanding and love.
If you cannot maintain the bliss of illumination and if you are
slipping back into contact with the external world,
The hallucinations which you may now experience, the visions and insights,
will teach you much about yourself and the world.
The veil of routine perception will be torn from your eyes.
Remember the unity of all living things.'
About one hour had passed since we ingested the drug, and we were
well into the first Bardo. We were beginning to confront
the awesome illumination of the metaphysical void and new energy
transformations. The instructions from the manual acted as necessary
guideposts. We were learning how to spin in neurological space.
Psychedelic equals mind-opening consciousness. Psychedelic means
ecstatic, which is to stand outside our normal patterns. It means
going out of your mind, your habitual world of contingencies,
space-time coordinates. And the key issue: 'Anything that exists
outside exists there inside'. The human brain is analogous to
the galactic onethere are some ten to thirteen billion cells
in the brain, about the same number as there are stars in the
universe where the planet earth is invisible. The problem of consciousness-expansion
is the same as the external inertia to get off this planet. The
brain is 'hooked' to the external world. Put a person into a sensory-deprivation
tank for very long and he is overcome by 'withdrawal' symptomsanxiety,
tension, physical discomfort, and paranoia.
Next I played some music by Ravi Shankar and some bossanova. Interval
of fifteen minutes. Then some music by Scriabin and part of a
Bach cello suite. Interval. Some Debussy, and Indian flute music
by Ghosh. Interval. Bach organ music and some John Cage 'space'
music. Interval. The Ali Brothers and Japanese flute music. We
also looked at slides projected on to the ceiling Tantric yantras,
Vedic Gods, the Buddha, Tibetan mandalas.
I suppose that the room in which we had gathered would appear
eccentric to most modern mindscandlelight, flames, incense,
drapes flowers, bowls of fruit, but to us it all seemed harmonious,
natural and very appropriate for the experiences we were undergoing.
The session was not to be thought of as some kind of show, a piece
of theatre, an entertainment, but a demonstration and a sharing
of novel energy levels and unusual forms of perception. And the
decor was to assist the voyager in his experience, a sort of ABC
of internal language. It was a device to help one go outside routine
modes of experiencing, beyond learned or familiar concepts, so
that one wasalbeit brieflyno longer aware of oneself as
a social figure, but as another entity. We stood outside the familiar
self, outside parochial worlds of experience, outside London outside
the idea of being English/American/Danish.
In this sense, the psychedelic experience was not something invented
by the Sandoz Chemical Company, but has been known since Vedic
times and for which an enormous literature exists. In the West
we seek to explain mind in terms of a science called psychology,
which is externally oriented towards action and behaviours. But
here one faced the fact that in the last analysis everything
is internal, everything happens in your own mind.
You may experience ego-transcendence,
Departure from your old self.
Do not cling in fondness and weakness to your old self.
Even though you cling to your mind,
you have lost the power to keep it.
You gain nothing by struggling in this hallucinatory world.
Be not attached.
Be not weak.
Merge yourself with them.
Blissfully accept the wonders of your own making.'
There were still the instructions of the Third Bardo to follow,
and crucial to this session, because they gave instructions on
how to re-enter one's normal state of consciousness and thus the
Now, if you wish to see the truth,
Your mind must rest without distraction.
There is nothing to do, nothing to think.
Recognise that this is the period of re-entry into the normal world.
Do not struggle to re-enter the denser atmosphere of routine game
existence. Do not attempt to use force or will-power.
Do not hold on to thoughts.
Allow the mind to rest in its unmodified state.
Meditate on the oneness of all energy.
Do not struggle to explain. Trust your guide.
Trust your companions. Trust the compassionate Buddha,
and meditate calmly and without
Do not struggle to return. The re-entry will happen by itself.
Recognise where you are.
Recognition will lead to liberation.'
Recognition, in this sense, does not lead to liberation, but is
liberation. He who really knows (that is to say, vitally, not
merely theoretically, with his intelligence) that he is one with
the entire universe, is beyond all fetters by virtue of this knowledge.
The world no longer binds him to it; because, having once been
above or outside ordinary existence, he sees the things of the
world differently, from a different point of view, and they no
longer possess the same power over him. This 'seeing differently'
means at the same time recognition; recognition, therefore, does
not only condition, but is, liberation. In his deepest being man
is spirit, and the more he recognises this, the more firmly he
believes it, the more chains fall away from him. Thus, it could
happen that, in accordance with the teachings of the Bardo Thodol,
complete recognition overcomes even death. All it needs is a believing
soul, which is what is meant when we talk about the power of faith.
Ordinary people will only be able to believe when they are convinced
simultaneously that the content of their faith is also objectively
real: that Krishna was really an Avatar, that the Bible is really
the Word of God, that Christ saved humanity from death in the
historical sense. The visionary, on the other hand, knows that
faith in the religious sense, and believing-to-be-true in the
scientific one, have nothing in common with each other, that religiously
it is completely indifferent whether Christ existed or not, and
that the true visionary who is spiritualized, employs faith as
he would an instrument. Ramakrishna, for instance, was, for a
while, a Christian and also a Mussulman; he wanted to know the
effect of these ideals; and in the meantime his faith was so strong
that Mahomet as well as Jesus appeared to him in the spirit. For
the rest, he kept to the worship of Kali, the heavenly mother,
as being the cult best suited to his nature, for he knew that
no one form was intrinsically adequate to divinity.
In the session we have just considered, it was collaborative,
and the planning increased the likelihood that each person would
have the sort of experience he wished. Thus his internal freedom,
his control over his consciousness is increased. The readings
from the Tibetan Manual were to bring about 'recognition';
that is to remind the voyager at the moment of ego-loss that he
is prepared; to insure that he will flow with the process trustfully.
While the Buddhist language may strike the Westerner as 'far-out',
keep in mind that this is only one of many manuals and instruction
sequences from which the prospective voyager can choose, and that
the esoteric quality of the language serves as a mnemonic device,
that is, say, a sharp memory tap so that the former instructions
and resolutions can be recalled.
If we agree that the human mind was born free but everywhere it
is in chains, it will take a miracle to free it: because the chains
are magical in the first place. We are in bondage to authority
outside ourselves; and to exorcise these chains is the great work
of magical self-liberation. And the one way of doing this is to
activate the soul. Then the eyes of the spirit would become one
with the eyes of the body, and god would be in us, not outside.
God in us: entheosenthusiasm: this is the essence of
the psychedelic experience.
And how, you may wonder, shall we recognise the individual who
has thus freed himself from the bonds of appearances, the man
who has liberated himself and now walks the earth?
'He who returns in the flow of spirituality
Brings back a mysterious penetration
That it is misunderstood.
Here is his appearance
Hesitant like one who wades in a stream at winter
Wary as a man in ambush
Considerate as a welcome guest
Fluid like a mountain stream
Natural as uncarved wood
Floating high like a gull
Unfathomable like muddy water
How can we fathom his muddiness ?
Water becomes clear through stillness
How can we become still ?
By moving with the stream.'
'He stands apart
He stands quietly
Like an infant who has not yet
learned to know what to smile at
He is a little sad for what he sees
While others enjoy their possessions
he lazily drifts, homeless
do-nothing, owning nothing
Or he moves slowly close to the land
While others are crisp and definite
he seems indecisive
He does not seem to be making his way in the world
He is different
A wise infant nursing at the breast of all life
Again and again I must think of these verses from the Tao Te
Ching, for they remind me of so many of the hippie voyagers
I meet on the trail, who live at a different level as the result
of extraordinary internal experiences, which alone affect men.
With Jesus, they can say: I have, like my father, all life within
They are 'different'.
The milieu of 'swinging London' in 1965 appeared to me
like the best possible caricature of the Edwardian world, that
mighty institute for the threefold passion of independence, indulgence,
indifference, which gave soul to their esprit and their art of
living. Real love was unknown to them, they had no serious interests
of any kind- the whole of their existence was spent in grooving,
getting high, making the scene. And yet many of them were intelligent
and profound and their profundity was not impeded by their life-style;
on the contrary, it gave them a means of expression. And for this
reason the frivolity of this period occasionally gave an impression
of gravity and profundity which struck me as being strange and
made one dream.... It was a period when people paid attention
to dress, and clothes were no less essential than their bodiesit
was a means of expression, and their dressed condition mirrored
in their consciousness the outer expression for themselves. 'By
changing his clothes he changes the man within.' The mode of dress
assisted in expressing certain traits of his being. In this way
the process of dressing-up can not only heighten or lessen the
individual's power of expression: it can indeed bring about self-realisation.
How did I come to make this observation ? Shortly after I moved
into the Pont Street apartment, a couple of my friends took me
aside and suggested that I get some new clothes, costumes of the
Chelsea of the mid-sixtiesEdwardian jackets, embroidered in
gold and silver, and silk shirts with huge collars, velvet pants
and blue suede shoes, and so forthand thereby prove that the
spirit of this age is the spirit of its wearer. It was a method
of clothing oneself with a certain purposeexpressing certain
traits of one's being which in the ordinary course of events remain
in the background. It is a mode of dress to reveal what the individual
is; it alters, as it were, the centre of his being. Such an individual,
they argued, is more himself than he is otherwise in his 'real'
Accordingly, I let myself be persuaded to exchange my jeans and
sweat shirt for a new wardrobe, and Michael Rainey's shop 'Hung
On You' sent round a huge pile of fashionable clothes and a bill
for £600. There were about five of us staying at the apartment
and we divided the clothes between us. I ended up with a pair
of flared pin-stripe trousers with an enormous belt and silver
buckle, several silk shirts and ties, and a couple of hand-embroidered
jackets. Now I was at one with the fashion of my times. The only
problem was a psychological oneI was embarrassed to be seen
in them and consequently I stayed indoors, ignoring all invitations
and gradually reverted back to my jeans and sweat shirt much to
the chagrin of those for whom clothes had great significance.
There was also the additional factor of the cheque, which bounced,
and I felt somehow uncomfortable wearing these expensive clothes
as a result.
My associations in this period with a select group of young aristocrats
and artists and musicians and writers, responsible for influencing
sharply the patterns of the New Vanguard of British culture and
intellectual life, was felicitous in the extreme; but it cannot
be held solely responsible for making a revolutionary of me.
l was certainly surrounded by a number of high-powered anarchists.
My partner, Desmond O'Brien, was already achieving renown as one
of the most far-out LSD exponents in London and had ever been
described in one publication as 'Mr. LSD'; and our Vice-President,
Joey Mellen, one of the first persons to trepan himself, had already
embarked on a career as a priest in a new order which was to make
him a distinguished figure of great importance to English evolutionary
religion. In addition to my colleagues, associates of the World
Psychedelic Centre included such notables as Victor Lownes, who
co-founded the Playboy empire with Hugh Heffner; Julian Ormsby-Gore,
the film maker; Alex Trocchi, the philosopher-writer; Michael
O'Dwyer, the art gallery owner; Julie Felix, the singer; George
Andrews, the poet; Jo Berke, the psychiatrist working with Ronnie
Laing- Feliks Topolski, the painter; John Hopkins, the writer;
Nick Douglas, the painter; Kim Ella, the singer; Ian Sommerville,
the multi-media expert; Roman Polanski, the film maker; Bart Hughes,
the high priest of the trepanation movement; Sir Roland Penrose,
a director of the Tate Gallery; Hugh Blackwell, the writer; as
well as Roger Lewis, Billy Bolitho, Virginia Lyon, Steve Groff,
Mark Warman, Olivia de Haulleville, Shelley Cholst, Maggie Russell,
Shirley Scott James, Bill Burroughs, Bobby Davidson, Donovan,
Paul McCartney, Jim Arender, John Eason, Nicholas Gormanstone,
Christopher Gibbs, Suna Portman, and Victoria Ormsby-Gore, all
of whom made outstanding contributions to the current London scene.
They exemplified a constellation of attitudes that were of great
importance to the cultural-artistic life of London. They represented
perhaps the seminal non-conformism of England's mid-sixties intelligentsianot
the evangelical non-conformism of such as the Millbrook sect,
but an intellectualized form of psychedelic enlightenment, of
which popularised Learyism was largely a culminationthat freed
so many of England's educated people from the rigidity of social
and class and cultural patterns which had outwardly been solidifying
into right-wing Toryism. Their rebellion was typical of this period;
the Establishment was the enemy, the representative of the rigid
patterns they felt needed to be violently rearranged.
These exotic friends were supplemented through their contacts;
and affiliations developed with such places as St. Martin's School
of Art, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, where we conducted
a 'Workshop in Consciousness Expansion', and such literary figures
as Professor Neville Coghill, Norman Mailer, and Philip O'Connor.
there was a problem, a self-indulgence of mine which
earned me some social suspicion, if not also social ostracism,
and which led methough against all my instinctswell over
that line which divides the normal from the abnormal.
I refer, of course, only to my taking of methedrine.
It was not illegal to take methedrine, provided that one has a
prescription, signed by a registered medical practitioner; and
one could legally receive regular supplies of this (or any other
'hard' narcotic) drug, provided that the physician prescribes
for an 'addiction'.
In 1965, not only was my purchase of methedrine legal: friends
bought their heroin and their cocaine with no more trouble than
that with which they purchased their cough syrup. I took my methedrine
in the 'pure' form, as a liquid, being the form in which the drug
is most easily assimilable. And in doses that medical descriptions
of the typical methedrine-addiction syndrome indicate to have
been heavy ones, about seven injections a day.
But that I had a serious addiction, a description of my nervous
activity makes clear: the restlessness, the ability to work for
days without adequate sleep, and even without rest at all; the
abrupt changes of mood; and the equally abrupt collapse into somnolence
not far (if at all) removed from a torpor bordering on coma these,
to those who have studied the effects of methedrine addiction,
are the unmistakable evidence of heavy and prolonged indulgence
in a powerful narcotic.
I also smoked pot and hashish constantly, and tried every chemical
I was handed. I also took acid about three times a week and in
dosages in excess of 500 micrograms. I never slept, and after
about two months I had turned myself into a sort of zombie. Every
now and then I injected myself with dimethyl-tryptaminea fast-acting
psychedelic of short durationto jack myself back into life
Naturally, this 'hard' drug-taking led to a complete disorientation
of my life, which was now chaotic in the extreme, and I spiralled
further and further down until I was caught in a mental prison
of anxieties, paranoia, frictions and most despairs of consequence.
It was all very, very frightening, and I began to think that I
would remain forever hung up on an endless chain of manic-depressive
emotions. It was ironic, really, that after all those lessons
in meditation, all those disciplines and yogic exercises those
trips under LSD, those austerities and years of metaphysical reflection,
the mystic dreams, quiet days, the idea that there was no need
to achieve anymore or to go about and do things and make
things happen, I was now at the mercy of a non-miraculous addiction.
In vain I tried to kick the habit, but it was impossible, the
monkey was on my back and I could not remove it. I began to believe
that it was all somehow a cosmic plot in which I was the victim.
I had nightmares which nearly scared me to death. I reached a
point where communication with other people was impossible. I
saw the whole world conspiring against me. I was literally out
of my mind and living in some kind of hell of my own making. And,
worst of all, there was no one I could turn to for help, for there
was no one I trusted; such were the effects of this poison I injected
And the situation at Pont Street became more and more unreal so
much so that all my friends stopped coming round and everyone
thought I was crazy, which I was, if my behaviour was anything
to go by. That is how I appeared to them, what I was for thema
stupid, insensitive, unthinking person. What this drug had done
was to reveal the hidden monstrousness and infernal depths within
my psyche. Certainly, I made conscious efforts to exorcise the
sources of my confusion, but in vain. How would I ever rid myself
of this methedrine hell, this habit which was killing me? I had
plunged into the abyss, gone beyond my limitations, beyond even
the confines of my reason which had served me so well. This was
the land of madness, of death. How undignified, despicable, meaningless!
Yet, like all addicts, I clung to my drug. I had grown accustomed
to it, I had even formed a superstitious affection for it. I didn't
want to stop my habit. One fix meant four more hours of life another
fix, four more hours of life. I couldn't just let myself go, for
this would have meant death, and I still clung stubbornly to life.
But there was a sense in which I was already dead. The taking
of methedrine implies excess of life, intemperance, and surfeit;
it is also a way of killing yourself. This realisation accounted
for the uncontrollable terror, the panic, which gripped my soul
at nightfall, when I was alone with the alone and lost in a maze
of contradictory emotions, when I knew that my addiction was at
once tragic, dangerous, terrifying and immoral.
And I was not the only one who thought so. George Andrews, obviously
disturbed by what was happening, wrote me a letter:
'Dear Michael, I have been hearing some strange stories about
you from a lot of different people. In Tangier I learned to draw
a very sharp line of distinction between the psychedelic guide,
who is rare, and the psychedelic hustler, who is a dime a dozen.
For someone with as much experience as you have had, to be using
it the way you seem to be, you have in your hands the Void in
crystal form, the lightning of the gods, the jade wine of the
immortals. All the flip-outs and bad trips one is responsible
for are added to one's daily load of karma. Why make the
load even heavier? Why not lighten it instead?'
But the advice could not be heeded. Like a poison gas, the methedrine
had become all-invading, and I knew that I was close to death.
I ought to have known better. What a situation to be in! The euphoria
of the drug had become my refuge from the real world. It was a
barrier between myself and other people, a wailing wall, a wall
of separation. And I wondered what would become of me. Was I a
helpless puppet in the hands of some unimaginably cruel demon,
tugged and pulled on invisible strings, but off from myself, since
my innermost being was no longer in control. What was the use
of knowing mystical truths ? What help were they now ? That I
had to stop injecting toxins into my body was obvious enough.
But how must I do this? Never have I, the wanderer, felt such
pains of anguish in my soul. It seemed to me at times as though
the demon methedrine was at hand to strip my mind of all reason.
I was in the depths of despair, and anguish. Where I should be
laughing and playing, I felt horror and disgust. And I did not
understand how I had got myself into such a situation, how my
addiction was possible. The demon laughs: what is there to understand
? It is something to like and enjoy. It is a matter of course
! Is this the secret?I felt as though in some mysterious manner,
in some indescribable sense, I was living in a plastic world where
there was neither light nor fertility nor, on the other hand,
any wish to understand my former research after truth. The spiritual
light was extinguished in the same sudden and mysterious way as
it flashed up. The old dregs filled me up, took me to task, threatened
to weigh me down; I felt my humanity as something alien, burdensome;
worse still than that of the helpless animal in a trap, because
I knew how to question the validity of that which was beyond my
power to control.
It was an impossible situation. It would never have occurred to
me a few years ago, when I first started to extend my sensory
appreciations and nervous system, that one day I should find myself
sitting in the living-room of a Belgravia apartment trying to
inject myself with 'speed'; or that if by some freaky accident
such a bizarre experience had come my way I should wish to write
about it. (Still less that my publisher would condone such an
eccentric choice of subject.) But the relation of the individual
fettered to earth through addiction with the individual who knows
the light of Brahma or Jesus or Buddha, resembles that of the
ant with the human being who crosses its path: no matter how certain
the ant is by instinct, it cannot help itself when faced by problems
which must appear transcendental to its organism. Just so in the
case of the addict who attempts to solve the riddle of his own
addition. From the angle of reason, it is insoluble. 'Don't you
see?' says a well-intentioned friend. 'Just look at the mess you
are making of your life ! Stop ! Understand !
' How can
an addict understand ? And even if he wants to give it up, he
cannot do so. The intentions he calls forth turn back, thoughts
take flight, he cannot grasp the totality of the experience, he
is afraid of exploding into a million bits of protoplasm. So he
continues. And to ask a psychiatrist or the local vicar to cope
with your addiction is as senseless as to ask an Indian yogi to
repair a jet aircraft. Today, neither psychiatry nor religion
have much to offer in the way of comfort or cure.
Hugh, a friend of mine, also shooting speed, came round to see
me. He was desperately seeking to reassure himself that there
was some meaning to his life and that this drug could help him
find it. He had been up for the last three nights writing his
'Journal' in which he attempted to solve the riddle of the universe,
seeing in his crazed eye previously invisible relations and connections
between words and worlds, and himself as the sun-like source of
boundless energy, ceaselessly giving, ceaselessly pouring out
words without hindrance or resistance. He showed me a few pages
from his never-ending work-in-progress
'Aquamarine light smoke the slow drift and eddy of youth in blue
jeans and a painted facesounds like chandeliers drip glitter
and tinkle chime pagodasPont Street and Sunny South Ken sweet
sounds of Donovan on a pyramid of people spotlit in a flurry of
congasthe black saint dressed in tribal white moans blues and
mike yells lights hurt by the finger gleams of lunatic heads creating
a collage of movementHEY BABY WHAT IS THIS ?it happens in
murmurs and purple planes of light in mauve rhythms in slow syncopated
tinsel quivers and glitters in their eyesblond hairstripes
Drugs, man ?
It all made coherent sense to me when he read it aloud, but I
include it now as an illustration really of the random processes
of thought which occur in states of methedrine narcosis. It was
also fortunate for Hugh's reputation that, as popular prejudice
against speed began to growand the law began to take cognizance
of that prejudiceHugh was steadily being weaned from his habit
by the undemonstrative, patient and assiduous attentions of his
In my case, three events occurred to shake me out of any feelings
of indifference. The first was a telephone call from Texas telling
me that Leary had been found guilty of transporting three ounces
of marijuana across the Laredo-Mexican border as well as failing
to pay taxes on it and had been fined $40,000 and given the maximum
sentence of thirty years in jail. 'That s the same what Prometheus
got,' the lawyer added, somewhat casually.
The second was a half-page advertisement in the London Evening
'LSDTHE DRUG THAT COULD THREATEN LONDON. Just for kicks, some
famous artists, pop stars, and debs are "taking a trip"
on LSDone of the most powerful and dangerous drugs known to
man. It produces hallucinations. It can cause temporary insanity.
Kicks like this may be bought at the appalling cost of psychotic
illness or even suicide. It is banned in America and elsewherebut
is still available in London, quite legally. Still more appallingjust
half an ounce of LSD could knock out London. Socially, the stuff
is dynamite. London Life magazine has investigated LSD
fully and has uncovered a social peril of magnitude which it believes
demands immediate legislation
to stop the spread of a cult
which could bring mental lethargy and chaos. London Life
reporters have also traced the man who calls himself Mr. LSD.
He has given them an astonishing series of interviews. Read all
about him, and about LSD, in this week's London Life.'
Mr. LSD was of course our President, Desmond O'Brien, and believe
it or notthe reporter was Hugh, whose mind, as I have already
indicated, was racing ahead of itself into the higher realms of
associative paranoia due to methedrine poisoning. When I telephoned
Hugh about all of this, he said that he had been so stoned that
he had told the story of what was going on at the World Psychedelic
Centre to the London Life editor who was, as it happened,
the reporter who first broke the Profumo-Keeler scandal. 'This
thing is bigger than the Keeler story,' he had told Hugh. But
of course it was too late for me to do anything. There were even
advertisements on televisionspirals of colour in and out of
focus and a voice saying 'LSDthe drug that could turn on London.
Read the exclusive story in next week's London Life.'
And the third and final straw was an article in the Sunday tabloid,
The People, that was headed in one-inch lettering.
'THE MEN BEHIND LSDTHE DRUG THAT IS MENACING YOUNG LIVES....
The drug is LSD-25Lysergic Acid diethylamide. It is by far
the most dangerous drug ever to become easily obtainable on the
LSD, which is said to give "visions of heaven and hell"
is used legitimately by psychiatrists to produce carefully controlled
In the wrong hands, the hallucinations it produces can lead to
utter irresponsibility, disregard for personal safety and suicidal
IT IS, IN FACT, A KILLER DRUG.
We have obtained evidence of "LSD parties" being held
We have discovered an alarming group of people who are openly
and blatantly spreading the irresponsible use of this terrible
These men run what they call the Psychedelic Centre.
It has operated from a number of addresses, including one in St.
James's Street, and a flat in Pont Street, Chelsea.
Amongst the Centre's activities is the publication of a handbook
called A Psychedelic Manual.
This lists recommended doses of LSD and other drugs and antidotes,
and contains a treatise on drug-induced hallucinations and other
The manual gives various reasons for the use of drugs such as
LSD. These include: "For personal power
for sensuous enjoyment
The manual which is written by "B. Goldstein", says
the taking of LSD and similar drugs offers "a release from
our conditionings" and "senses become more acute".
Recommending group sessions of drug-taking, the writer says: "A
person should approach the experience with love and trust in the
company of those he trusts."
"A psychedelic experience lasts normally from eight to sixteen
but the results may last from several days to several
"The voyager should set aside at least two days for the experience
This is irresponsible, dangerous gibberish.
The Centre was deserted and in a state of considerable chaos when
our investigators gained entry on Thursday.
There were used hypodermic syringes, empty drug ampoules and a
variety of pills.
Among the litter of papers were dozens of phone numbers, some
of them of well-known show-business stars and personalities.'
A 'paranoid', according to Bill Burroughs, is someone who has
some idea of what is really going on. In this sense you could
say that I was a 'paranoid'. I had read the newspapers and realised
that my time was up, that the police would now be on to me, so
I split London for the country, though with little or no idea
of where I should go or what I would do.
I rented a car through Hertz and set off for the North, to Durham
to be exact, arriving there late one evening, and very, very stoned
indeed. I still had several dozen ampoules of methedrine, about
two ounces of hashish and a similar quantity of good grass. I
spent a couple of days in Durham retracing familiar places of
my early childhood, visiting family and generally grooving around.
London seemed a memory only as I wandered the narrow streets and
alleyways surrounding the Cathedral, a place that had become somehow
unreal in my imagination, a place I did not wish to return to.
But in my paranoid state (one of the real dangers of modern life),
I began to suspect that the Durham police were on my heels, so
I left as suddenly as I came, this time for Yorkshire and the
For the next three days I just drove and drove and drove, staying
at country hotels and leaving early in the morning. I think I
must have clocked up 2000 miles since leaving London. My drug
intake had also increased, so much so that there were times I
had to park the car because I could not see the roadmy vision
was blurred and distorted, and I had difficulty remembering how
to change the gears or which pedal was the brake and which was
the clutch. My paranoia level also increased and to such a degree
that I thought I was being followed by the police (such are the
delusions of the advanced methedrine-taker, who sees danger even
in shadow). But the most amazing experience occurred on the fourth
night. I was cruising through the lanes and by-ways of the Lake
District in the early hours; there was no traffic on the roads
and the countryside was still and motionless, when, suddenly,
the mirror lit up and I experienced a sort of panic. Police. It
could only be the police at this time of the night, and they had
somehow got on to me. I immediately accelerated and sped through
the lanes like an express train, swerving round corners, darting
through empty villages
but still the light in the mirror.
I could not shake my pursuer, probably a cop specially trained
at the Police Driving School, I reflected. Faster and faster I
sped. And still the light in the mirror. Sheer panic. I was trembling
all over. Terror gripped my soul. I was like an animal being chased
by a pack of dogs, with no hole to dive into. Then I saw an open
farmyard, and turning into it, I drove through the potted yard
until I came to a narrow path overgrown with grass. But it was
straight and somehow I managed to keep on the path. I must have
driven three or four miles along this bumpy grassy path when the
headlights picked up a gate blocking the path, and for a moment
I was tempted to accelerate and smash my way through it, as they
seem to be able to do in the cheaper American movies. But I stopped,
and very fortunately so, because when I got out of the car to
open this 'gate' I discovered that it was a barrier fence with
a drop of about 100 feet to a river below. And that the 'path'
was not a path at all but a disused railway track with the railway
lines removed. My next discovery was equally surprisingthe
'light' I had been picking up in my mirror and which I had believed
was the light beam of a pursuit police-car was only the reflection
of a full moon ! I was being chased by the moon. And it was this
extraordinary hallucination that brought me back to some kind
of sanity again, and I slowly backed my way to the farmyard and
on to the road again, where I parked the car and fell asleep,
thankful that I had had such a lucky escape from certain death.
At dawn, when my head was a little clearer, I decided that I had
had enough of this fantasy existence and, at a leisurely speed,
drove back to London and to my flat in Pont Street. Strange! Back
in the face of this flaming world I am reminded of the serenity
of the Buddha. And my mad car ride was like a dream, induced by
all the drugs; I had been to hell, but the flames had done me
no damage; they were as harmless as shadows.
A new dawn breaks. Once more, as on the first day of creation,
I am born. The laughing moon, insecure and pale, hurries away
from the flaming sun in a sweeping curve. The silver has changed
into a dull red. The black background which but a few hours ago
threatened to absorb me, reveals itself now as a grey crust of
dross. And I am back in reality once more. A thought strikes me:
must addicts all contend with a nisus to self-destruction ? In
my case, it is only bad temper that keeps me going
of Siva. Bom!
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