Everything he looked at appeared in a new light. He was struck by an overpowering conviction that he had been born to experience this universal spirit. When Ginsberg began using psychedelic drugs, his Blake vision was his reference point. He wanted to write a poem under the influence of LSD that would evoke a sense of divinity, but he found that the act of writing interrupted the multitudinous details inundating his nervous system.
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The tension between the romantic vision of illumination and the simultaneous urge to communicate it turned his divine quests into bum trips. Ginsberg had been painting himself into a corner with drugs, thinking that he should take acid to cleanse his soul and trying too hard to attain some sort of satori. He felt a compulsive obligation to use LSD again and again to break down his identity and conquer his obsession with mortality.
I felt faced by Death. Toward the end of Ginsberg undertook a spiritual pilgrimage to India to come to terms with his unsettling drug visions.
Millbrook: The true story of the early years of the psychedelic revolution
On the way he stopped in Israel to talk with Martin Buber, the eminent Jewish philosopher, who emphasized human relationships and advised him not to get caught up in confrontation with a nonhuman universe. While riding a train in Japan in mid, he had an ecstatic conversion experience, an inexplicable but deeply felt resolution of his trials with psychedelics. The relief was so great that he wept on the train. Ginsberg had been seeking divinity through out-of-the-body trips on psychedelics. In trying to superimpose the acid high on his old memory of a cosmic vision, he was not living in the present; he was blocking himself.
Now he saw the futility of attempting to conjure visions of a blissful imaginary universe when the secret lay within his own mortal flesh. In this moment of profound insight he understood that truth could only be experienced within the framework of the body; therefore, the overarching mystical imperative was to become one with his own skin. He was not so much renouncing drugs as refusing to be dominated by them or by the obligation to take psychological risks with chemicals to enlarge his consciousness.
So I did finally conclude that the bum trip on acid as well as the bum trip on normal consciousness came from attempting to grasp, desiring a preconceived end, a preconceived universe, rather than entering a universe not conceivable, not even born, not describable. Secure in his sense of self, his mind calmed, Ginsberg had a different personal set for his subsequent LSD trips, which took on a whole new character for him.
Millbrook: The true story of the early years of the psychedelic revolution
He began to enjoy himself while he was high. After all he had been through, Ginsberg finally realized that the experience of peaking on LSD is above all one of an open horizon, a field of presence in the widest sense. Any clutching at the Eternal or the Clear Light or the hidden message of the DNA code necessarily became a fixation, an objectification, and therefore an inauthentic relationship to the infinite openness of psychedelic consciousness.
Once Ginsberg was able to direct his attention outside himself, there were no heavy judgments required by acid, just an appreciation of the world that lay before him. Despite criticisms of trip programming, Leary still saw advantages in working with a manual: if a particular spiritual state could be consistently reproduced, there was a good chance the psychedelic movement would really take off.
Leary aimed his message at those whose hearts and minds were still up for grabs: the younger generation. He saw himself as the orchestrator of a mass cultural phenomenon. His goal was to encourage large numbers of American youth to decondition themselves away from the workduty ethic by means of psychedelic drugs.
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Unhook the ambitions and the symbolic drives and the mental connections which keep you addicted and tied to the immediate tribal game. Whether or not the liberation was bogus, the style was strictly Madison Avenue. Leary not only hyped LSD as a shortcut to mystical enlightenment but also fused it with something that had proven mass appeal: sex. The three inevitable goals of the LSD session are to discover and make love with God, to discover and make love with yourself, and to discover and make love with a woman. That is what the LSD experience is all about. Merging, yielding, flowing, union, communion.
The sexual impact is, of course, the open but private secret about LSD. Leary had a knack for telling his audiences exactly what they wanted to hear. He could be all things to all people; whatever guise he chose, the gist of the message was essentially the same. Leary was a kind of carnival barker for the psychedelic movement.
He had no compunctions about using the media to promote LSD. That was what he had learned from LSD—all social roles were a game, and he could change personalities like so many different sets of clothing as the occasion warranted. His close friends never took him seriously as a guru or prophet or high priest.
During the mids, Millbrook attracted considerable publicity. TV crews filmed regularly at the estate, bringing even more notoriety to Leary, who quickly became one of the most famous and controversial figures in America. He realized that the press was not an organ for disseminating truth; no matter what one said, it would always be distorted by straight journalists.
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On the contrary, such outbursts seemed to be grist for his mill. Any publicity was a walking stick, as far as Leary was concerned, and if it came down to choosing between no publicity and bad publicity, he would opt for the latter. Leary was confident that the subliminal message—LSD could take you to extraordinary places—would come through between the lines and young people would turn on in greater and greater numbers.
The Millbrook clan not only had their sights set on America; their aspirations were international in scope. Hollingshead felt there was very little understanding of LSD in England, but he intended to change that. He proceeded to establish the World Psychedelic Center in the fashionable Kings Road district of London, attracting the likes of Jo Berke a psychiatrist working with R. London was a swinging scene in the mids, and psychedelics were an intrinsic part of the cultural renaissance that revolved around the rock music explosion.
Strangely enough, hardly anyone under twenty-one listened to the radio in England, as the BBC monopolized the airwaves with dance music and symphonies. To compensate for the lack of commercial channels, a group of go-getters organized a network of pirate radio stations that operated offshore beyond the three-mile national limit but within transmitting distance of population centers all along the coast.
The entire country was surrounded by small seacraft, and when they started beaming rock music, everyone bought transistors and tuned in. Hollingshead dug the setup.
Every week he would emerge from his London apartment wearing his long coat, pink glasses, and wry smile, to be taken by motorboat to a floating pirate station near the Thames. He tripped with the deejays, rapped, played music, and laughed. There was no censorship of any kind.
Needless to say, the British authorities were not amused. During this period Hollingshead smoked pot and hash constantly, dropped acid three times a week in doses often exceeding micrograms, and began using hard drugs. His gargantuan appetite for drugs turned him into a near zombie. In this condition he was hardly capable of keeping his own house in order, let alone leading a psychedelic revolution in Britain. All hell finally broke loose one night at a party thrown by Hollingshead and his wacked-out colleagues.
They decided to offer punch with LSD and without, but someone went ahead and spiked the whole batch. Suddenly there were over a hundred and fifty people at his pad stoned out of their minds, including a lot of unsuspecting folks. Among those who turned on accidentally were a couple of undercover policemen masquerading as hipsters.
When reports of this gala event surfaced in the London press, Hollingshead suspected his number might be up. A few days later the bobbies came to his flat and arrested him for possession of less than an ounce of hash. Hollingshead showed up in court high on LSD and who knows what else, and was sentenced to twenty-one months in Wormwood Scrubs.
He managed to smuggle an ample supply of acid into prison, but it was not his custom to turn on other inmates. However, he made an exception in the case of George Blake, the convicted spy who penetrated the highest echelons of British intelligence and passed information to the Russian KGB. Blake was serving the sixth year of a forty-three-year sentence when he met Hollingshead.
His interest was aroused as soon as he learned that Hollingshead had hung out with Leary, and they arranged one Sunday afternoon to take LSD behind bars. As the session progressed, Blake became noticeably tense and paranoid. He thought he had been given a truth serum, and he accused Hollingshead of being a secret service agent.
A few weeks later Blake escaped by scaling the prison wall with a rope ladder. When last heard from, he was living in Moscow and working in the Cairo section of the Soviet Foreign Ministry.