When I was 20 I stumbled across the book Cleansing the Doors of Perception by Huston Smith at a bookstore in San Diego. I was a Religious Studies major by then (seeking the source of what I had experienced during that first entheogenic journey, I now realize) and Hustom Smith wrote the book upon which my entire education was based, The World’s Religions. And I already knew that “the doors of perception” was taken from the William Blake phrase from which the band The Doors had gotten their name
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it really is- infinite
so I had an inkling that the book might be about different states of consciousness. But I had no idea that such an esteemed scholar would write an entire book about psychedelics (or, as he prefers to call them, entheogens, which means “god within”- theo genesis) until I plucked the book off the shelf and read the inside cover.
I am sure that my jaw dropped open, though I don’t remember anything else about that day except for the fact that I read the entire book in one sitting in my little college apartment that night, which was a singular event in my book-filled life. Reading that book led me to Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (Blake to Huxley to Morrison to Smith and now to Stephen Harrod Buhner, whose AMAZING new book Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm carries the subtitle Beyond the Doors of Perception Into the Dreaming of Earth, and I’m sure there are many more titles and names and subtitles that have riffed on this theme). I had, of course, read Huxley’s Brave New World in high school and knew only that he was also an eminent and respected scholar.
So here are these two dudes, one elderly and one already passed on (oh um, by the way, Huxley had his wife Laura inject LSD into this body as he was dying), who had previously been presented to me in school as wise men worthy of learning from, and they are both such great advocates of the psychedelic experience that they have staked their reputations to write books about it. This was when I first realized that psychedelics are not “drugs” like other drugs are drugs, and that the experience that I had when I was a teenager and had perceived as being so valuable and meaningful and positively life-changing really was as big of a deal as I had thought it was.
When I moved on to reading the writings of Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Ralph Metzner, and more I learned that most people have the kind of deeply opening and healing experience that I had when they use psychedelics intentionally and in a safe setting with a healthy mindset. I learned that psychedelics are NOT party drugs and that bad trips can, mostly, be avoided with proper preparation and intention.
But through all of this mind-opening and passion-inducing reading I knew that these substances were very much illicit (as they still are today), and had no idea how I could ever hope to openly advocate for their use some day. Instead I continued to read books and articles online. As for so many others, finding Terence McKenna was totally life changing. Back in the early 2000s, shortly after his death, I had to do some digging to find his talks online. Today they are abundant and well organized (I recommend just searching on YouTube or checking out the Psychedelic Salon podcast), and lord knows how many hundreds of hours I’ve spent with his hypnotic voice weaving mycelial threads of radical and visionary ideas into my deep consciousness, hoping that someday they would mushroom up into fruiting bodies of substantial ideas that I could put out into the world and discuss with others. It heartens me to know that so many others have been holing up in their rooms doing this same thing for many years, and that now that the tide is turning in American culture we’re all coming out of hiding and finding one another.
"Find the others, and return to first principles" -Terence McKenna
Fast forward to 2012, when I was scrolling through episodes of the podcast Stuff You Should Know and came across one entitled “How Magic Mushrooms Work.” I turned it on and proceeded to begin cleaning my house, but stopped cold when they mentioned the recent government funded study at a top university where carefully screened terminal cancer patients who were suffering from anxiety related to their imminent deaths were given psilocybin (the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms) in a safe and supportive setting.