Transformation of Consciousness

Alan discusses the different states of consciousness which the human mind can attain, and some of the chemical compounds which may serve as tools to reach these mental realms.


Part 1

States of Consciousness


Buddhist philosophy speaks of the four invisibles: water to the fish, air to the bird, mind to mankind, and enlightenment to the ignorant. Because, you see, you never know your own element. Now, it’s impossible, therefore, to give a definition of consciousness, because we don’t know anything outside it—just as the fish doesn’t know anything outside water and the bird doesn’t know anything outside air. We don’t know unconsciousness, we only know when we have been unconscious. And so we are in a very difficult fix to attempt to define the subject of this seminar. We all know what it is, and yet none of us know what it is. We know we’re conscious. It’s the same sort of problem as to try to say what color your eyes are—I don’t mean whether they’re blue or brown, but the color of the iris; the lens of the eye. Because we say it has no color. It’s transparent. It’s like pure glass. And yet, that might be a color to somebody who had a different kind of eye.


An Englishman and Hindu were once sitting in the back yard of the Hindu’s home, and the Hindu was talking about the necessity of a background for the perception of any figure. So he said, “Against what background do you see those flowers?” And he said, “Against the background of the hedge.” “And against what background do you see the hedge?” He said, “The background of the hills.” “And against what background do you see the hills?” He said, “The background of the sky.” And he said, “And against what background do you see the sky?” And the Englishman fell silent. The Hindu said, “It’s the background of consciousness.” There, you see, we reach a limit.


And you can talk until all is blue about whether consciousness and reality are the same thing, whether there really is ever any such thing as pure unconsciousness, whether consciousness is eternal, whether—as the subjective idealists would say in philosophy—there is primarily mind and all so-called physical and material existence is something in mind or something in consciousness. You can debate that subject forever and ever and ever and come out nowhere. There is no answer to the question when asked in that way. But it is helpful, as a start, to make things at once more simple and perhaps a little more difficult by overcoming, at the beginning, the traditional opposition between the spiritual and the material, or the mental and the material; by the trick of talking about all things, whether spiritual or physical, in terms of pattern. Because that’s all anybody can really talk about: pattern.


You see, it’s fundamental to our common sense—which was highly influenced by Aristotle and the Book of Genesis—that all forms are composed of some substance in roughly the same way as sculptures are made of stone or pots made of clay. But a serious physicist no longer thinks in such terms about the material world. He doesn’t think it’s made of anything. Because what the physical process of nature is, is patterns. You could say patterns of energy, but that’s using the old ceramic language. Patterns aren’t made of energy, the patterning is the same thing as the energy. So if you use the verb “patterning” as what the universe is, then you get something that you can talk about. You can describe patterns, you can measure them. You can say what a pattern is doing. Although a pattern isn’t a thing. A pattern is a verb, it is a process, it’s an activity. So we can say patterning is what is going on. And consciousness is a kind of patterning, as we shall see. Just so are flowers and human beings and stars, trees, water, air, everything. Even space itself is a form of patterning.


And this means, in other words, that the universe is what physicists would call an energy field. And likewise, consciousness is a field in the sense, say, that space is obviously a field. That is to say, an area in which things happen. That’s the primary meaning of field. A field is a playing field; a field in which something happens, like an arena. Only, when you use the word field in more in the sense of physics, you mean a field of forces like a magnetic field, like a gravitational field. And the curious thing about fields is that they exercise their energy in a non-mechanical way. For example, if gravity were non-field—that is to say, if it were the ordinary sort of exercise of energy like the propagation of heat, or like someone pulling—then, when you put something on the ground (you put a good heavy lead plate on the ground), that would be absorbing so much gravitational energy, and therefore anything you put on top of the plate would be less acted upon by gravity than the lead plate itself. And then anything on top of that would be still less. And you would reduce the energy of gravity by piling things up. But you don’t. It doesn’t make the slightest difference to the gravitational field. So, in the same way, if you take an electrical coil—say, surrounding a plastic tube—you can put a current through that and you create a field within the tube. You can put your hand inside the tube, but nothing will happen to it. But the minute you put something that is like steel inside the tube, it will get hot. But no heat will be generated until the steel is inside the tube. Because the coil plus the steel equals heat. But the coil has to polarize with the steel inside before anything happens at all. So that shows us that what is operating is a field.


Now think, then, of the world as a field characterized by patterning, for which another name is energy. And we are going to have to treat consciousness in rather the same way. Now, one thing that is characteristic of all energies—all energies whatsoever, all patterning whatsoever—is that we find it convenient to think about it in terms of the spectrum. So there is a spectrum of light: the visible spectrum running from red to violet. And beyond the visible spectrum there is a very big invisible spectrum, because our eyes respond only to a small section of the measurable spectrum of light. So we have infrared rays at one end and ultraviolet at the other, and then so on out to cosmic rays, gamma rays, hard x-rays, all sorts of things on the invisible bands of the spectrum. So, in exactly the same way, there is a spectrum of sound. And if anybody was a sufficient scientist of cookery, they would devise a spectrum of taste. There are certainly spectra of other kinds of vibration than sound and light. And there are, likewise, conceivable spectra of shapes. Spectra of emotions. So we could talk, too, of a spectrum of love, ranging at the red end from lust (or the Freudian libido) to divine love at the violet end; divine charity. And in the middle, greens would be things like friendship and endearment and so on. Each emotion, as a matter of fact, could be thought of as having its own spectrum.


Now then, the curious thing about the world is that it’s a kind of interlocking of spectra—which, the best analogy would be weaving. The interesting thing about weaving is that you’ve got the two groups of cross-threads which give you the pattern, the warp and the woof. And if you pull out either one, there is no pattern—nor is there any cloth; it all falls apart. It needs both the warp and the woof for there to be any pattern at all. And they, together, constitute the cloth.


Now, let’s look at a similar illustration in the ordinary everyday world of this interlocking of patterns. Let’s take the photograph of a face in a newspaper. If you examine this photograph under a magnifying glass, or even with the naked eye, you will easily see that it isn’t a continuous face (as faces are supposed to be), but it is a whole collection of dots. Some are heavy, some are light. And according to the heaviness and lightness, as you stand back, you get, as it were, the illusion of there being present (in terms of those dots) a human face. Now, let me pose the question: what is the relationship between the form of the face and the gridwork of dots?


At first sight, there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between them at all, because the printer uses exactly the same kind of screen with which this process is done for any face whatsoever. So the kind of screen he uses makes no difference at all to whose face it is. Anybody’s face can be on it, or any other shape. So you might say the fact that he is using a grid is completely irrelevant to the form of the face. Take still another illustration: the radio. When you turn on your radio and it comes on first thing in the morning, the announcer does not say, “The sounds you are now hearing are vibrations of a diaphragm activated by electromagnetism. This is mediated to you through a network of transistors and a broadcasting station with such and such features.” He does not intrude the mechanics of radio. He comes right on saying, “This is station so-and-so. Welcome. This is this morning’s news,” or whatever he begins with. So it would seem that the structure of the radio—the wiring, the transistors, the speaker—have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the message that’s coming across it. They are in two different worlds altogether, so it would seem.


Then take another possibility: what about the brain? Is thought, emotion, or consciousness itself a function of the brain? If we knew a great deal about the anatomy of the brain, would that tell us a great deal about the patterns of human thinking? Or would it tell us as little about the patterns of human thinking as knowledge of radio engineering tells you about the technique of Bach, whom you hear over the radio? See, there’s a real puzzle. And this is one of the interesting subjects brought out in this extraordinary book called Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan. And I don’t think he’s clearly answered it. Because he is trying to say that what is most important is not so much the message, or what is supposed to be the content of any method of extending our nervous system—such as radios, such as televisions, such as printing, such as photography—he is trying to say that the message is the medium. That is to say, you are influenced by television not so much by the advertising and all the goop that comes across on it, but by the fact of being in touch with the world through this particular electronic system with all its peculiarities. That’s a very interesting idea, and he’s put up an argument for it, but I’m not convinced that his argument is quite solid.


But I want to go into this question because, obviously, you would not hear any music (except you had an orchestra in your room) were it not for your radio or your phonograph. And, as a matter of fact, even if you had an orchestra in your room, you wouldn’t get them to produce any music without those instruments. Now, let me ask the question in another way: what is the relationship between the piano and what you play on it? Any? You can play anything practically on a piano. And the structure of the piano doesn’t make any difference. And yet, without it, you couldn’t play. So we’ve never seen anybody thinking without a brain. So what is the relationship between? Well, again, you see, it’s rather like warp and woof. The warp goes one way and the woof goes the other. But by the interlocking of the two, you get something.


So what you’ve got, then, are spectra of different kinds. See, when you dial, and you move the dial, what you’re doing is: you’re changing the wavelength of your radio. That is to say, you are moving from one end of the spectrum of waves slowly to the other. So the spectrum of radio meshes with another spectrum which is being used in the production of music. As a matter of fact, the production of music is an interlocking of many spectra. But we won’t go into that because the emotional spectra are involved. Spectra of speed, of dexterity, of harmonics, all kinds of things go into this. So you get the picture of the world as an enormous web where spectra mesh with spectra of all kinds. And they’re all mutually interdependent. And through them, it all hangs together. And the peculiar fact of these spectra is that they come into being together, almost. The world is not—you don’t see things appearing in nature, except with certain insects and birds that actually practice weaving. But you don’t see plants and trees being exactly woven. What seems to happen more than that is that warp and woof come into being together at the same time in rather the same way that back and front necessarily come into being together at the same time. Or head and tail: you don’t see a creature born as a head and then later developing a neck, a trunk, feet, and tail. It just doesn’t work that way. It comes in together, head and tail. Even the spermatozoan has a head and a tail.


So then, what I want to go into, of course, is the spectrum of consciousness and its many transformations. The huge range of the spectrum is extraordinarily fascinating. So then, let me first be sure that we are quite clear about this physical conception of the world. You see, you can also call these spectra (if you want to) dimensions. And dimensions is a very useful idea. You can see that you can’t have a physical existence in terms of point, line, surface. Each of those is a dimension. It’s not till you get the so-called third dimension—although it should correctly be called the fourth, and time the fifth—it’s not till you get the so-called third dimension that anything is physically manifested. Then you’re there.


Now, you could say these dimensions are quite different from each other. The surface is a very different thing from a line, as is a line from a point. But somehow they all go with each other in a way that we don’t normally think of as a kind of… in other words, dimensions don’t seem to bear the same sort of relationship to each other as do opposites—at least not in our ordinary thinking. We think that opposites are mutually exclusive, and that you can’t have something that is hot and cold at the same time. It’s either hot or cold. But dimensions are not mutually exclusive. Dimensions are always dimensions of the same field or the same thing. And so, then, you have to think, therefore, of what we’ve hitherto called the mental and the physical, the spiritual and the material, as dimensions of the same thing: dimensions of patterning, dimensions of energy.


So then, you’ve got this fantastic universe with all these interlocking spectra and dimensions. And this, of course, is the real harp that the angels play. When they talk about you going to heaven and playing the harp, what are you doing? You’ve got a spectrum of strings, you see? And from that, though, when you play the harp, you don’t play all the strings at once. That’d be just chaos. Like when you play the piano: you just don’t take your elbows like this and slam the whole thing down. You select. So, throughout nature, all these spectra that are interlocked are being selected from. That is why the eyes select only a narrow band of the spectrum of light, why the ears select a narrow band only of the spectrum of sound. And further than that, by the use of attention we screen out all sorts of things we don’t want to notice. Our senses are further selective, you see? Influenced by thought. And so this is analogous to plucking the strings of a harp, where you make choices as to which strings you will pluck. So when the angels play their harp, the music is everything you see. So that’s the real meaning of what you do in heaven when you go and play the harp: you become one with God and you create the universe, you see? That’s the real me.


Well, now, what about the spectrum of consciousness? I’m going to designate—I couldn’t avoid it; I tried to, but I couldn’t—a sevenfold spectrum. That number seven is awkward. Every kind of phony occultist is hung up on seven. And I wanted to get away from that, but I somehow couldn’t manage it. So let’s take it like this: we’re going, you see, from one end, the most dull dimension of consciousness (or band of consciousness), and landing up at the other end at the brightest. So you begin with number one, which is sleep. And, of course, there are two kinds of sleep: dreamless and dreaming. Number two is torpor, as in the state of going to sleep or under the influence of alcohol: you feel no pain at all, or you’re sort of anesthetized and your senses are dulled and blurred, and you don’t feel like being very active. Three: waking consciousness—only, I have to qualify this, because the others are awake, too. But I mean our normal everyday consciousness, which we’re going to call symbolic. And I’ll explain why as we go through these in detail. Number four: sensory consciousness. Number five: cellular. Number six: molecular. And number seven: we’ll just give the name “light” to it. Now, I want to make it perfectly clear that these names that I have used are not claiming to be exact scientific names. They are simply suggestive. We do not yet have a science of consciousness—in the Western sense of science; it doesn’t exist. And that’s one of the things we shall eventually have to do. So these names are rather symbolic names than exactly scientific names, and you must keep that in mind.


Now, it’s rather interesting that this particular spectrum should best be drawn not on the usual way a spectrum is drawn, which is simply a band, but it should be drawn as a circle of which each of these is, as it were, a cut in the pie. So that, beyond here, is, again, sleep—deep sleep, dreamless sleep—because, you know, the Hindus have a way of classifying the states of consciousness, which isn’t quite the same as this. They start out with, number one, this one: the waking state. Then they take number two, the dreaming state. Number three, the dreamless state. And number four, this one, which is called turiya, simply, which means “the fourth,” and which cannot be described. And they would say that, when you go to bed at night, you sink first into the dreaming state. Then you go down into what they call sushukti, the dreamless state, and you may get back into the fourth. And that is why sleep refreshes you, because you, as an individual, are withdrawn into the center of the universe, into the Ātman or the Brahman, the primordial reality—the ground of being, to use Tillich’s phrase, which he got from Jakob Böhme. And so that’s why you are refreshed every night. That’s how you—there, you know who you are, really deep in. Because, as the Hindus teach, everybody is really it—that is to say, the Godhead—playing at being, dreaming at being, whoever is your particular personality. And then it’s only at night, then, when you sleep, that you go back again to being the undivided one and only single essence of the universe. Only, when you wake up, you forget about it.


Why? Because in the primordial state there’s nothing to remember. There’s no time. And you have to have time working for memory to work. So imagine, then, this thing as a circle where, say, at the top of the circle you have number seven. Brilliant. And then the colors of consciousness going right ’round and meeting again here. here and here. So you kind of have black and white next to each other at the top, if we put this in terms of color. Then all the other colors connecting them all the way ’round. Because, of course, you see, black and white—as I will show you later on in the seminar—are astonishingly creative. You can do everything with black and white. Black and white really contain all color. And this is why the Chinese theory of the universe is based on the opposition of the yang and the yin, the positive and negative.


The names yang and yin are derived, respectively, from the north and the south sides of a mountain. This is the primordial image. The yang is the south side of the mountain, which is bright. The yin is the north side of the mountain, which is the shadow. Now, nobody ever saw a one-sided mountain; there can’t be such a thing. So, in the same way, you cannot have a yang without yin. The symbol of the yang-yin you know well. I don’t even need to draw it. The two interlocked commas: one black, one white. And each with the opposite color as its eye, so that they look like two fishes chasing each other. This is a very profound symbol because the idea which goes with it is this: that yang and yin are a wave process where the yin aspect is the crest and the yang aspect is the trough. And likewise, in the same way as you can’t have a one-sided hill, you can’t have half a wave. Half a wave doesn’t exist anywhere in nature. There are no half waves of light, no half waves of sound. There are always complete waves or none, because you cannot have the crest without the trough and you can’t have the trough without the crest. It just won’t work.


Now, however, there is a pulse in this. There is a point where the yang force reaches an ascendancy and then begins to drop into the yin, where the yin force reaches an ascendancy and begins to rise into the yang. And the Chinese are always thinking about this in relation to tendencies in natural and human affairs, where, for example, the yang force of a storm will reach a peak point where it must drop over into the yin force of calm. The whole book of changes—called the I Ching—is based on this. The I Ching is a marvelous play with yang and yin, you see. Just let me say this about it in parenthesis: when you want to make a decision, and you’ve got all the facts in—at least all the facts you have got time to collect, because you could go on collecting facts about any decision forever. But the time comes when you have to make it. And you say, “Now I’ve got all the facts, and they really don’t help me to decide. Because I might go one way and I might go the other. Let’s flip a coin.” And everybody’s always doing that. But, you see, a coin only gives you two possibilities; two answers. Either the thing answers yes or no. So the Chinese have a coin, as it were, to flip which gives you 64 possibilities. And you take one of them. And it doesn’t give you a yes or no answer, it gives you a kind of thing like a Rorschach blot—really, it doesn’t look like a Rorschach blob, but that’s what it is—into which you read your situation and make up your mind accordingly. And this is done, you see, by combining the yang and the yin in a complex pattern.


The I Ching consists of hexagrams, and they are composed of two kinds of lines: an unbroken line, like this, is a yang (or positive) line, and a broken line, like this, is a yin (or negative) line. Then there you’ve got them. Now, there are—if you take a figure with three lines (which we’ll call a trigram, see?), there are eight ways of making such a trigram with yang and yin lines. This one happens to mean fire—no, water. No, fire. Excuse me. Fire. Two positive and one negative in the middle. Now, if you’ve got eight trigrams, there’s a possibility of making out of those eight trigrams 64 hexagrams. So this one would be water, and you would get one which was fire and water together. See? So to each of those the book of changes attaches an oracular remark. And if you look up the book, when you’ve, by a certain process, got your hexagram, it gives you some light on your decision and the direction it should take by bringing it out of you by its remarks in the same way as a Rorschach blot brings out your psychological disposition. So that’s 64 ways of tossing a coin. If you had a 64-sided coin, you could do it that way. If you could make such a thing. You probably could, but it’d be spherical.


So from yang and yin, from the the extremes of polarity—because, you see, light is as intensely alive as you can get. But if you go too far into light, it’ll burn you up and you’ll get darkness. People don’t know. They don’t realize that the farthest you can get into darkness, it’ll start getting bright. Because you can’t have darkness without light any more than you can have light without darkness. So when we were babies, we were never told this—and it’s a secret—that light and dark go together. It is the only real secret there is. Black and white.


But we’ve forgotten the secret, because with black and white we’re playing another game which is called: uh-oh, black might win! See, that’s what makes everything a thrill. If you knew you would always win in any situation, it would be just a pushover and life would suddenly cease to have any interest whatsoever. You would be—I mean, imagine yourselves in total control of everything that happens; a kind of Jehovah type. You would be bored to death! Everything would be just what—no surprises, nothing. You see, when, in a game—you’re playing a game and the outcome of the game becomes known: supposing in the course of bridge, the four players all suddenly realize together that one of them has all the cards, it will take the tricks, what do they do? They don’t play the game. They cancel it and begin again. Shuffle the pack. When, in chess, two pundits are sitting there, meditating, and one of them suddenly says, “Well, it’s obvious. In 53 moves you’re going to win,” they cancel the game. So, in the same way, an omniscient God who knew the whole future would cancel the universe and say: “Think up another!”


So it is fundamental to the game of black and white that it must seem that black will win and eat up white. That, in other words, nonexistence will triumph over existence. Or rather, let me put it this way: non-being will triumph over being. Because the secret is that existence is being and non-being, oscillating. So that for every time you get being you get non-being, just as everything is vibration. And these spectra of vibration—light is vibration. If I sit next to a girl at the movies and I want to make flirtations with her, and I put my hand on her knee and I leave it there, she’ll cease to notice it. But if I gently pat her knee, she’ll know I’m there all the time, because I go on and off, on and off, on and off, on and off, on and off. And that is energy, you see? That’s something happening. And so everything is on-off.


Only, sometimes on-off happens so fast that you don’t notice the off. For example, light is a pulsation. But all light seems to be constant. And so we don’t notice the off because our retina is retaining the image of on while the off is happening in the light. So we don’t notice the off—except if you get an arc light, you can notice a little flicker to it. And that’s why they don’t allow arc lights in sawmills, because sometimes the flickering of the arc light can synchronize with the movement of the teeth on the saw in such a way that the saw seems to be still when it’s actually moving, and people get into very serious accidents that way. But everything is on-off.


Now then, sometimes, you see, we don’t notice the off. But at other times we don’t notice the on. And that is when we’re asleep—when, in other words (or when we’re dead), when the trough, the off section, takes a long spin. Because, you see, there are big vibrations and little vibrations. Some vibrations happen so fast that we can’t measure them. Others happen so slowly that it takes a century. It may take a million years for a single swoop of the curve that goes down or that makes the up-crest of the wave. You see, when you look at the wave pattern, you must realize that the crest is measured from the top to the middle of each trough, and that the trough is measured from the top of each crest to the bottom of the trough. They overlap. So if you can argue it’s all trough, you can argue it’s all crest. It’s a funny world.


So the argument that it’s all trough, and that maybe just a little bit of crest, about poinnng, like that—poinnng—these are the people who say we are flashes in an eternal darkness. This is a pessimistic point of view. Then there are the people who say there really is no death at all. Death is just an illusion that seems to happen. This is the optimistic point of view. And the optimistic point of view is essential to the pessimistic, as the pessimistic is essential to the optimistic. Because you wouldn’t know who you were, you see, if you didn’t have both points of view. I’m not going to, see—and when I teach, I don’t try to persuade anybody. And everybody is at liberty to disagree, because I wouldn’t know what I was thinking unless there were people to disagree with me.


So, in the same way: supposing you’re in a social scene like here in La Jolla. There are nice people and there are not so nice people. There are various kinds of nice people, various kinds of not so nice people. There are, for example, nice people who belong to the country club set. There are nice people who belong to the arty set. Nice people who belong to the social service set, and so on. And then there are nasty people who could variously be defined as the poor, the beatniks, the generally disrespectful people who live on the wrong side of the track or the wrong part of the hill or whatever it is, or the wrong town. But the nice people boost and maintain their collective ego by talking about how dreadful the nasty people are, and the nasty people boost their collective ego by talking about what frightful bourgeois squares the nice people are. But neither group realizes that they have a symbiotic relationship just like bees and flowers. Only, whereas the bee-flower relationship is harmonious, the symbiosis of different social groups is disharmonious. Because each group needs the other to know who it is. Because if you were the only kind of people that were, you wouldn’t know who you were. See, in a totally conformist society, someone sitting next to you is just like you. There’s no point talking to him. Because you might just as well talk to yourself. In other words, really, truly, to be yourself, you need “other.” You don’t know what you mean by “self” unless you know what you mean by “other.” So this is how yang and yin, the polarities, generate everything and are absolutely essential to each other.


Now, the funny thing is this. If you belong to a certain group of saved or elected people, and you know you’re saved and elect because of the damned people outside—whether this is a social salvation, a spiritual salvation, or any kind of salvation you want to think of; financial salvation, whatever—when you realize that you only know who you are because of the, as it were, adversary or enemy or out-group, you start laughing. Because that’s very funny. It’s the contrast from suddenly thinking, you know, “Wow! Those bastards outside!” and suddenly realizing that they are enabling you to take this pose of coming on tough, which you think is great. And you start laughing. And this is why society, as we now know it, is afraid of this ever getting let out. This is really subversive. This is terrible subversive stuff. I mean, all that Marxist [stuff] is just the same thing ass-backwards. It’s the collectivist idea of the state as opposed to the individualist idea of the state. But the individualists become collectivists through huge corporations. Lenin said he would love to see these great corporations growing up, because it would be just so much easier for the state to take over. They’d have already provided the organization. But, you see, there is a tendency within our economy to become a collectivist economy just by progressing with its own whatever it’s doing, with its so-called free enterprise. And there will be naturally, therefore, a tendency in a collective economy to fall apart because it all gets so boring, and stop everybody out on his own initiative again. This thing goes ’round and ’round.


But the important thing is that, supposing you believe in a free enterprise economy: you must have—in order to maintain your solidarity, especially in a very great country—you must have an external enemy. And if there wasn’t one, you’d have to invent one. Because it keeps everybody on their toes, it keeps us from slacking on the job, and saying, “We’ve got to beat those fellows!” And, “They’re terrible!” So we’ve got to be very serious about that, see? Wowee! And, of course, you lose your sense of humor. When you get so serious, you don’t really know underneath that it’s a game. And you become a bircher on one extreme or a communist on the other.


So you have to keep—if you want to be a sane human being—you have to know right in the back of your head (right back here, what the Germans call a Hintergedanke, which is way the back of your mind), you have to see the point that enemies need each other. Cops and robbers. Where would the cops be for a job if there weren’t any robbers? How would you know you were law-abiding if the weren’t criminals? It’s tricky. But it’s very dangerous teaching. Very subversive, because you might think I would say, if I realized that, “Well, it simply doesn’t matter what kind of a person I am,” and do anything I want because evil is necessary to good. There’s no fun in that attitude because that simply says, “I won’t play.” Alright, if you want to sit by yourself under a tree and not play, I guess you could do that—provided you don’t interfere with our game. And if you come and interfere with our game and say, “Well, now, look here. You people, you’re all wrong.” You know? “Because you think you ought to be good. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re good or not.” You see? You mustn’t do that. Don’t interfere with a game in order to have this kind of knowledge. That’s why all this kind of knowledge has always been esoteric. And in any esoteric school, people were tested first before they got in, in order to find out whether you were civilized.


In other words, you can’t give powerful tools and powerful knowledge to people who aren’t civilized, and who have no humor, and who have no graciousness. That’s why it’s difficult when young people get hold of knowledge for which they’re not emotionally prepared. And they are given full and total instruction on birth control when they’re four years old—it means nothing at all. Or it may mean something positively dangerous. But nowadays there’s no way of concealing these things. I said it’s a secret, but in the world of science there are no secrets. So I don’t feel any compunction about talking about these things, because if I don’t, somebody else is going to. Because an awful lot of people know about it. But that is the inside dope. if I may say so: that these extremes need each other and can’t manifest without each other. And the point is how to keep your head when you know that.

So, let’s have an intermission.

Part 2

Seeing Past Words


Well, now, this morning I was dealing mainly with two key ideas, one of which was the physical universe as a system of inter-meshing spectra depending on each other and playing with each other in the same way as warp and woof in weaving. And I underline the notion that these spectra are different dimensions rather than components of the physical world. And that, although I’m using the word “physical” here, I’m using it in the sense of its original meaning, “natural,” rather than the later meaning that has been attached to it, that is to say, “material” world, the world envisaged by analogy with ceramics. The material world considered as a world made out of stuff.


You see, as we all know, stuff is supposed to be something inert and stupid which can’t do anything. And therefore, in order that stuff may be found in intelligent shapes, it has to be informed by an external energy, an external intelligence, so as to be brought into shape. And this is the idea of the world based upon the analogy between creation and carpentry, or creation and ceramics, or creation and sculpture. Just in parentheses, good ceramicists and sculptors don’t treat their medium as if it were stupid. The potter who is a good potter knows that there is life in clay, and that he has to respond to that life in order to do the work of pottery properly. But those who are not themselves artists don’t know this, and therefore the public has been bamboozled for centuries on the notion that patterns have to be composed of some sort of basic stuff. Now, I was trying to substitute for that sort of conception of the world the idea of interweaving spectra, which are different dimensions of energy, or of patterning. And I used, advisedly, the verb (“patterning”) as distinct from the noun (“pattern”), because when you use nouns in combination with verbs, you obscure language. Watch out for this. This underlies many people’s misunderstanding of things: the differentiation of noun and verb. It’s an entirely unnecessary differentiation, and it gives one the impression that wherever there is an action going on—that is to say, something appropriately described by a verb—there must be some other kind of thing than an action which is described by a noun. And to this is ascribed the origin of the action.


So when you say there is thinking (because the verb has to have a subject which is a noun), someone says, “Well, who is thinking?” Obviously, there can’t be any thinking without a thinker, without a who who thinks. And that is a question, a problem, that arises simply because it is a convention of our grammar that every verb has to have a subject which must always be a noun. So a noun stands for a thing, and a verb stands for an event. And we therefore suppose that events are caused by things. But if you ask a person what he means by a thing, he will never be able to tell you. He will give you a series of synonyms such as “object,” “fact,” whatever. But all these are simply alternate words for “thing.” Then what do you mean by an event? You say “process,” et cetera. And he is equally vague. You can always describe events in terms of things, and equally, you can describe things in terms of events.


If I want to say, ordinary, “While the cat sat on the mat, the dog went for a walk around the house.” That’s noun-verb language. But I can equally say, “While the catting sat on the matting, the dogging went walking around the dwelling.” And I’ve changed the whole sentence into verbs, and it’s still as clear as it was in the beginning. Or I can turn it all into nouns: “The cat seat upon the mat, the dog upon the walk around the house.” It’s all nouns. But in a noun world, of course, you will have a static world. In the verb world you will have a dynamic world. But there aren’t—for example, if you take the word “fist,” is a fist a noun? Yes. But it describes a process. It’s not properly a noun, because this noun suddenly vanishes. This thing, called fist, disappears the minute I open my hand. What happened to it? See, I stopped fisting and I went into handing. So the verb language has a little edge over the noun language as being better suited to the kind of process that nature is. So when you realize that you can discuss the whole of nature in the verb language, you don’t have to ask the question, “Who started it?” You don’t, in other words, have to seek for a noun as the explanation of the verbs. You don’t have to seek for something that is not-process to start process off. So this, then, is the language I’m using when I talk about patterning as the basic goings-on of the physical world. And patterning can be described and measured and so on and so forth.


So then, the other point that I was making particularly was: in in the spectrum you have the extremes of the spectrum. The sound and the silence, the light and the dark, space and solid. And I was showing how, by the yin-yang philosophy of the Chinese, these extremes are not opposites but poles. They go together. They require each other. You know one in terms of the other. And so, in this way, you don’t have the world as an opposition of light and darkness, of being and non-being, in such a way that one of the poles could exist alone—either being or non-being, non-being or being—because the whole nature of poles is that without both of them that are neither. And so, if we have a polar universe, then you don’t, as it were, have to worry (as if this was something to worry about) that the play, the music of existence, might cease forever and ever and ever.


In that kind of cosmology argument that’s now going on—you know, there are two dominant theories of cosmology among physicists. One is the steady-state theory and the other is the explosion theory. The steady-state people want to make out that free hydrogen in space is all the time, as it were, coagulating and forming itself into new bodies. Whereas the explosion theory people, who have the edge of the argument at the moment, say there was originally an enormous concentration of energy which blew up and expelled all the galaxies from it, which went floating out, and the whole thing is gradually dissipating itself, radioactively, until it will reach a state of quiescence. And, of course, if you have a Judeo-Christian mind which thinks of time in a linear way instead of a circular way, you’ll think that’s awful. Because the whole thing is running down, and when it’s finished that’ll be it. But, you see, I always want to ask the question: what was it like before the big bang went off in the beginning? Probably pretty much the same state of affairs as when it all petered out in the end. In other words, whatever happened once can always happen again—given enough time or given enough something or other. So I’ll settle for either the steady-state theory or the big bang theory. Doesn’t make much difference, except by way of describing the pattern; how it happens.


The question of whether it happens—I always figure that whatever did happen could happen again. You know, think about myself: well, I’m a kind of a funny phenomenon that this universe is doing. And it’s done me this time. It may be to me again later on; maybe a million years from now it’ll do me again. Not quite the same way, but rather like me, near enough to be me. You know, like you play the piano, and you play a certain piece and then you stop, and the piece is dead. Then you think, well, let’s play it again. You play the same piece again. It’s the same piece, but it’s a different playing. Play the tape recorder. I’ve got the tape on here. I can play it. Then it stops. Then, several days later, we put it on and play it again. It’s a little different, probably, but the same process. And every time the universe plays any one of you, each one of you it plays is I. See, everybody calls himself “I,” and you feel your “I” just as much as I feel I’m “I.” That is to say, that you are the middle, the sensitive center, out of which everything looks. And you call yourself “I.” Well, that’s my name. And everyone is “I.” The only trouble about being “I” is that you can only be one at a time.


See, when a child asks, “Who would I have been if my father had been someone else, mommy?” Well, the funny questions children ask. Well, you have to be someone in order to be anyone. But every someone is “I.” And it’s all, as it were, the same “I” looking out through different “I”s. Like, you put an electric light inside a black sphere and make holes in the sphere, and all the holes are different, but the light at the bottom of it’s the same. Something like that. That’s a kind of a rough analogy. But anyone knows from a physical point of view that every organism is simply a pattern of behavior which can’t be separated from the pattern of behavior which we call its environment. It’s all one pattern. Except the one pattern, like every one pattern—give me a pattern, and every pattern… look at these bamboos: there’s a pattern. And every pattern has wiggles in it. And sub-wiggles. And sub-sub-wiggles. See, the main wiggle is the stem. Then the twigs come out as a sub-wiggle. The leaf comes out as a sub-sub-wiggle. And if you look into the leaf, there are sub-sub-sub-wiggles. And that’s the way it goes. They all belong to the pattern. It’s difficult, too, to say who’s wiggling what. Is the stem wiggling the leaves or are the leaves wiggling the stem? Both arguments are equally valid. The universe is doing me and I’m doing the universe, because the universe depends on my optic nerves and all that structure to turn the sun into light. It wouldn’t be light if there weren’t any eyes. Just like a hand on a drum: if there’s no skin on the drum, there will be no noise. Takes two to make love, to make an argument, and do anything. That’s the yang and the yin.


Well, now, let’s go through this spectrum—or begin to go through it; I’m not going to go all the way through it this afternoon. You begin at the end of sleep, torpor, and we’ll go as far as number three. Do you know that sleep is a very mysterious subject? Scientific students of sleep are not yet at all sure what sleep is. Apparently people need it, but nobody really knows why they need it from a strictly scientific point of view. And we apparently need to dream in sleep, also. People who are deprived of dreams get very, very restless and unhappy. But we’re not quite sure why we need dreaming. I mean, we’ve got all sorts of theories. The Freudians and the Jungians, and so on. They think they know why we need to dream. But it hasn’t been really rigorously established, scientifically, why we do or why we need to sleep. But from a naïve point of view, you can say, “Of course I need to sleep. Because after I’ve had a whole day of business and friends and work and so on, it’s just too much. There’s too much input. I want to digest it. And while I’m digesting it, I don’t want any more input. I don’t want any more information. So I want to be turned off.” That’s, you know, one of those simple, common-sense things that everybody knows, but has not yet been fully explained.


So sleep is this marvelous thing that we have, which is a forgettery process that is apparently essential to our psychic health, every twelve hours or so. And if you don’t get it, you start getting worried. As a matter of fact, insomnia is a thing that is rather curious. Because if you do get insomnia, the worst thing of all to do is to worry about it. Invariably, if I can’t sleep, I don’t try to go to sleep, I get up and work, or do something, or I read a very difficult book, especially one that is big and weighs a lot. This is a good way to go to sleep. But if you have insomnia, don’t ever try to go to sleep. Nobody can try to go to sleep. Lots of mothers think they can get their children, and they say, “Darling, try to go to sleep.” Didn’t your mother say to you: try to go to sleep? Because she wanted to get you out of the way. That was the only reason she said try to go to sleep. She thought, perhaps, it was good for you and that you ought really to get your sleep. It’s like telling some child that it’s got to eat its spinach. And, you know, the child can start chewing and chewing and chewing on meat or spinach, which tastes of nothing, and it chews it into an absolute hard, stiff pulp. And there’s just nothing to be done with it except spit it out. You know, they’ve already extracted by their teeth instead of their stomach all the vital juices of the thing, and all that remains is roughage. And you say to children, “You must go to the bathroom after breakfast, every day, regularly.” You must be regular, otherwise you’re constipated, and that’s bad. This is a form of the double bind, you know? You are required to do that which will be good only if it’s done voluntarily.


So try to go to sleep. It is impossible. Sleep has to happen because it’s a spontaneous activity. And can be helped, as we shall see, when we come to consider torpor. But, by and large, sleep is a spontaneous activity, and is a way of turning yourself off to get away from the bombardment of awareness and forget. Because forgetting renews. And that also is a function of all demolitions, of deaths, of destruction of patterns, of knocking down buildings, of the whole change process in the universe. Because we want to do what we’ve done before over again. Only, if you remember it too often, it’ll become boring. So if you forget, then you can do it again, and it’ll be just as amazing as it was the first time. And so there absolutely has to be a forgettery built into this universe in just the same way and for just the same reasons that there must be an eliminative process in the body as well as an eating process. And both are vitally important.


And, you see, we have very different attitudes to the two. Eating is something we do socially, eliminating is something we do privately. Eating we consider—we want all the good smells and all that kind of thing. Eliminating is all bad smells and that kind of thing. Well, this is largely social conditioning that tells us this. But nevertheless, these are the two sides of the game we play, and there’s a spectrum between the two. So, in the same way here, you have to forget just as you have to eliminate. So that everything is renewed because it can happen again without being boring.


Things that happen all the time in any way begin to pass out of consciousness. For example, if there is a constant noise going on while we’re talking, it will annoy us at first, but after a while we shall cease to notice it—if it’s constant. But if it keeps varying, coming on in different volumes and different rhythms, it’ll hold our attention all the time. So anything that just goes, Diggity-ding, diggity-ding, diggity-ding, diggity-ding, diggity-ding, diggity-ding, diggity-ding, diggity-ding, you will eventually cease to notice. So then, sleep is the renewer because it’s the state of forgetfulness. I’m not going to go, in this seminar, into the whole problem of dreams. That would lead us very far afield.


Now, torpor describes something approaching sleep. But this also is a valuable state because it’s very comfortable. In sleep you’re not aware of sleeping, but in torpor you are aware of the comfort of tiredness and minified consciousness. It is a sort of pseudo-return to the womb. And so when, after a hard day’s work where people have been irritating and combative, you go home or you go to the local bar, and you down a number of martinis, they turn you off and they put you into a state of near torpor, or what is quite correctly and scientifically called (this learned and funny word) narcosis.


Narcosis. Narcissus, you know, is connected with narcosis. It means torpor. Reduced consciousness. Reduced sensory input. And the reason why Narcissus is associated with narcosis is that Narcissus, when he saw his reflection in the water, didn’t know it was himself. And he became so fascinated by this image in the water that he became unaware of everything else. He got hung up, or, shall we say (to use current slang), hooked on his own image, and he didn’t know it was his own image. That was the only reason he could get hooked on it. So Narcissus and narcosis are associated. And so the permissive narcotic in our culture is alcohol. And other narcotics like opiates exist. But you must remember that you can only correctly use the word narcotic, or something inducing the state of consciousness, which is torpor. Now, you can do it by massage, by relaxation exercises, by hot tubs. Many, many ways of inducing torpor. I mean, in torpor you’re not truly relaxed, because you tend to lose muscular tonus, which you always retain in true relaxation. But you begin to go like a limp rag. Now, there’s a place for that in life. And it’s good as an way of sleep induction for people who have insomnia and are so anxious that they don’t allow themselves to be turned off.


I would want to say, in general, a good word for sleep and torpor, because a lot of people are against them. Ouspensky, who was Gurdjieff’s, sort of, Saint Paul—and as much a misinterpreter, in a way, too—always felt that his life was a war against sleep. That intense light consciousness should conquer darkness. Now, that’s a stupid idea. To be a human being you have to love the light, but you also must trust yourself to the darkness. Be able to let yourself go in the faith that you’ll arrive back all in one piece.


I have a friend who—her name is Charlotte Selver, and she does the kind of work for which there is no name. She calls it “sensory awareness.” And one of her experiments is to get a person to lie on the ground, and simply she says to them, “Now, it’s alright. The ground is going to hold you up. So just just lie down. And there’s nothing else you need to do, because the ground is firm and it will hold you there.” Then she examines the person’s body after a while and says, “Look, do you know what you’re doing? You’re trying to hold yourself together. As if your skin weren’t strong enough to contain you. And you’re doing this all the time to keep yourself from falling apart. Why? You think, do you, that if you don’t hold yourself together you’re just going to go bleah and disappear into some kind of frightful green jello? No, you won’t.” In the same way, a lot of people—that’s why we would wear such ridiculous clothes. Especially women. Men are pretty bad, but women…. The men and do it around the neck. You know, the necktie: the symbol of slavery. It’s a noose to strangle you. But you feel tight; really held in here, and held in by the belt. And women wear girdles, eeeh! hold them in like this. And krrrk! the coat that fits your body. Jacket, you know: put it on and it fits and you’re squeezed. Or you get these tight pants that hug you, and you know you’re there. Other people, of course, don’t know they’re there till they’re sitting on spikes. Then they really know they’re there. And a lot of people make trouble for themselves in order to be able to sit on spikes, so that they know they’re there.


Now, supposing, instead, you switch to another kind of clothes—you wear Japanese clothes. I often wear Japanese clothes because they happen to be, for men, the most comfortable form of clothing ever devised. There’s only one place where it holds you, and that’s at the belt. But you wear the belt not ’round your waist, but below your belly, and you wear it rather loose. Otherwise, the garments are flowing. They don’t interfere with the nature of the cloth. Because the cloth is woven on erect a linear pattern. See? Cloth is straight, like this. So when you get a Japanese kimono, it folds up instantly for packing. But you try to pack a a western man’s jacket or a woman’s suit jacket, and there’s absolutely no way of folding the thing at all. So it always comes out of your suitcase needing to go to the pressing. But you take a kimono and you put it on, and it falls exactly according to its own nature around you, and they’re very dignified. But you don’t feel closed in. Now, that makes some people terribly uncomfortable if they don’t feel pinched and pulled together, they don’t feel dressed, and feel this is: I’m going around in a bathrobe. And a lot of people can’t wear a bathrobe beyond a certain hour of the day, because they don’t feel that they’re respectable. I mean, you can perfectly well get up and put yourself into the most beautiful, any kind of gorgeous bathrobe you want to, and run around and do your work if you don’t have to go to the office. Even if you had to go to the office, they ought to allow you to wear interesting robes. And furthermore, I once asked a Japanese why he didn’t wear a kimono anymore. And he said, “You can’t run for a bus in a kimono.” Well, it’s perfectly true—unless you hoist it up and tie it into the belt, you can’t. And that’s rather undignified. But the thing is that in this age that is now forthcoming, when we’re going to cut down the working hours because of automation, people have got to learn to saunter and dawdle. Otherwise, they’ll get into mischief. And so, forms of clothing which are supremely comfortable but which require a kind of a sauntering attitude to life are going to be very important for the future of civilization. This is a pitch for the kimono.


But this is all to do with letting yourself go into the earth—into the darkness, as it were—and trusting the world that lies below you as much as you might trust the world that lies above you. Drop. Fall freely in space. That’s a marvelous sensation. It’s like floating. That’s why people do skydiving. Because, just until they pull that parachute, they have the sensation of flying. Even though they’re dropping very fast, they get the sensation. Total freedom. Eeeeeeeh! See? That’s what everybody’s looking for. So we get that, in a way, in sleep. The arms of Morpheus. And the idea of sleep as healing—some psychiatrists are very keen on the idea of putting their patients (by hypnosis and other methods) into long, long periods of sleep where they feel completely secure, looked after, nothing to worry about. I have a favorite sleeping place. It’s a house on top of the hills in Hollywood. There’s a great eucalyptus tree, and underneath this there is a deck. And I like to get a sleeping bag and lie on my back underneath this eucalyptus tree, and look up at the stars through the shadows of the leaves, and just go. See? That’s a marvelous feeling.


Well, now we come to the things of sleep, where I will say this one thing about dreaming and about torpor. We know the motto in vino veritas: “in wine, the truth comes out.” Of course, it also has a subtle double take meaning. All popular sayings have many levels of meaning. And it’s a Christian saying; in vino veritas. Belongs to the Western culture. It also means “in the wine is the true blood of Christ.” The Catholic mass. That refers to the fact that life requires death; the drinking of blood. But in the sense, in vino veritas, the person reveals himself, lets go of himself, lets his unconscious come out when he is drunk, or also in sleep, when the dreams come out, and show the inner side of things. You will see, in that way, that these two states can, in a certain sense, be creative. They let things come up which are normally put down. Because [the] number three spectrum, the waking state of what we will call symbolic consciousness, is highly guarded. It is the most guarded of all these states.


Now then, I want you to understand, then, that the ordinary state of consciousness—what you call normal consciousness—is by no means a frank, objective awareness of the real world. Not by any means at all. It is a state of highly cultivated, hothouse-reared, special ways of perceiving the world in accordance with symbolic formulae. And it all depends on your orientation to the physical world as to what you see in it. You know the story of a tailor who went to see the pope, and they asked him, “What was he like?” And he said, “He was a 41.” Or a woman who says to a man, “You saw Mrs. So-and-so today?” “Yeah.” “What was she wearing?” “Gee, I have no idea!” You didn’t notice, but you saw. But you didn’t pay attention, because you weren’t interested in what she had on, but what she had off—or whatever it be. So we notice according to what we are programmed or conditioned to notice by our social conditioning—that is to say: our upbringing, our education, our professional needs, our survival needs. So do we notice what’s happening?


Now, supposing somebody from an entirely different planet came into this room and started looking at us, and he wasn’t programmed to notice the things that we notice, he would ask the most amazing questions about what we are doing. He’d notice that most of us have standard ways of holding our hands. Why do some of you sit like this? Why do some of you sit like this? Why do some of you sit like this? Why don’t you do this? Wouldn’t that be the obvious thing to do with your hands? Just let ’em hang. Very few people ever do that because they feel a funny feeling; that they’ve got a couple of wet fish down here. They don’t know what to do with them. See? Then he’d notice all sorts of funny things about us that would never occur to us to think about. And he would notice, for example, you might say, “Well, what color is a human face?” You know, the comic strip artists tell you: pink or brown. They do a black outline and then they color the whole face pink. Now, for a change, take a real good look at a face and you’ll start seeing that it just doesn’t have a particular color. Not only does it depend where the face is in relation to the available light, and what it’s reflecting, but also it’s a patchwork of all kinds of subtle color changes, and it’s full of funny hairs and spots and all sorts of things which we are not supposed to see—especially on ladies; girls. Men don’t care so much if they have a hair somewhere. But girls carefully pluck hairs out with tweezers and make them disappear so as to get as smooth a texture as possible. The Japanese go so far as for a beauty to cover herself completely with the white paste so that she’s got complete pancake makeup. Dead white. And when a Japanese photographer takes a picture of you, you’ll never recognize yourself because he he works out every wrinkle, every shadow, and presents you as a complete mask. Because it’s inauspicious to have shadows.


When a Westerner first painted one of the emperors with the shadows showing, they said, “But you can’t paint the emperor that way! His face is not dirty. And besides, it’s inauspicious to have a shadow fall on the imperial visage.” So you can see shadows. The artist Rembrandt taught you to see shadows. Leonardo taught you to see shadows. But modern painters have discovered that shadows aren’t darkness, shadows are light, shadows are color, shadows are full of vitality. So you’ll begin to get vivid purple shadows. People say, “Well, but you don’t go ’round with the purple shadow on you, do you?” What do you mean? You think that a shadow is brown because you haven’t ever looked at a shadow. You don’t realize that shadows are absolutely vibrant with light. We’ll go more into that later, when we come to this number seven. But there it is, you see? The world that we see (or think we see) is actually not the world at all, but is a selection of things that are in the world, a selection governed by certain symbolic processes—what a man ought to look like, what a woman ought to look like. And we try, ourselves, to dress and to behave in such a way as to live up to the symbolic requirements that are expected of us.


So then, we think that’s a certain kind of work that is worthy of being done. And you ought to be tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief—or whatever it is—and you ought to fit into one of these roles. Of course, there are innumerable things one might do. Infinite. But we we like to get classified. We want to know whether you’re Republican or whether you’re a Democrat, whether you belong to the left wing or to the right wing, whether you are a Christian, a Jew, Baptist, Methodist, whether you are a Mohammedan, or what you are—just so long as we can get you put into a compartment. That is to say, into a symbolic classification. Now, what is the reason for that?


Well, this kind of consciousness, here, is based on a very peculiar specialization of the human brain, which we call in everyday life conscious attention. That is the capacity to focus or concentrate awareness upon what we call any one thing at a time. It’s as if, in other words, conscious attention where a spotlight, and that the rest of awareness were a floodlight. In other words, every nerve end in your body is receiving input all the time; is in this sense energized, is aware of everything that comes into its periphery. So you are taking in the totality of your surroundings, but conscious attention is flipping from point to point to point to point to point, like this, and is making sense out of what it sees by adding it up with memory. It’s an immense advantage from some points of view to be able to have this faculty, because it does the same sort of thing for the human organism that radar does for a ship. That is to say, the function of radar is to scan the surroundings of the ship and watch out for unexpected changes in the environment. And radar is a scanning process. In other words, it is a beam that goes out and bounces against things and feeds back the bounce to the screen. So, in exactly the same way, consciousness (or conscious attention) is always scanning the environment and watching out for new eventualities that might be threatening or that might present favorable opportunities for some sort of advancement.


Now, conscious attention has to be programmed as to what to attend to. What is important to look out for? So that we say to baby, when we’re teaching it language, “Watch out for the cars on the street. Watch out for that dog. Watch out for this. Watch out for that.” This is programing the baby’s radar. But we, as a human community, have put so much importance and so much psychic investment into our radar that we believe ourselves to be that. We identify the self with the radar, and not with the rest. So that we get this sort of a situation: when I say, “I do this. I walk, I talk, I think, I run, I hit.” But other things—such as the beating of the heart, the breathing of the lungs, the functioning of the glands, the constellation of the shapes of the bones—are all defined not as think anything I do, but as something that happens to me. Just in the same way, when it rains, it happens to me. I don’t rain. But I do walk. And so, in other words, what has happened here is that we have identified ourselves with the point of origination of conscious attention, and with the point of voluntary control. That’s me. Anything else happens to me.


So, in this way, we have disowned most of ourselves. It’s not me. The body you have is merely a vehicle that you go around in, like an automobile. So if I would say to some young woman, “Gee, you’re beautiful,” she might well reply (if she were highly influenced by our culture), “Oh, you’re so like a man. All you think about is bodies. I may be beautiful, but I got my body from my parents. And I want to be admired for myself and not for my chassis.” See, she’s a poor little chauffeur. That’s how she defines herself. She’s disowned herself. She disowned her body and said, “It was given to me by my parents. I’m not responsible for it.” Or a child, in rage, can say to its parents, “I never asked to be born! It was you who brought me into this world.” And that child doesn’t know that when the father was going after the mama, and there was just an evil gleam in his eye—that evil gleam in your father’s eye was you. Just as it was you that was the little spermatozoan that made it. It was you that was that fetus. Just as, if your heart is you, all that was you, too.


But, you see, this waking consciousness, symbolic consciousness, ignores that altogether. Because it sets limits (and rather arbitrary limits) to what you are. You are just that voluntary center. You are that beam of consciousness that sweeps over the environment and sees things in series, one after another. Especially if you use a language which uses an alphabet. Alphabets spell everything out one after another. And you see, in other words, these sort of words strung together into sentences which build up meanings. Whereas, on the other hand, if you work in terms of an ideographic language, although it’s true that an ideograph has parts like words do, the parts of a word always follow each other in this direction, whereas the parts of an ideograph may go in an entirely different direction. See? This, which is the tao in Chinese. “I take it in all at once.” I need a sentence to translate that word in English. But it’s more of a picture than it is like ordinary words. And as you grasp all the elements of the picture simultaneously, you see the form altogether at once. That is nearer to the way nature exists. Things in nature exist all together at once. Everything’s happening all together everywhere all at once. You know? And we say, well, in words, it won’t stop for you to describe it. It’d take too long. By the time you describe it, it’s all different. So, we do, you see—luckily for us—have an aspect of our organism which is paying attention to all the things we don’t notice. This is how you can walk without stumbling, how you can drive a car downtown and at the same time carry on a conversation with a friend. Because it is your subconscious, as it were (or whatever you call it), that is taking care of the driving, and is watching out for the red and green lights and for the other cars while your consciousness is preoccupied with the conversation.


So, however, in a culture where the value of spotlight consciousness is exalted, and that is you, then do you see: you have an exceedingly great need for state number two. For torpor. Because the spotlight is so bright, and you can have too much of it so fast. And also, if you identify yourself with that only, you identify yourself with the troubleshooting aspect of your organism, and you become relatively unaware of the amazingly harmonious and happy states of your organism that are going on all the time. And in times you see certain kinds of cultures, certain epochs in history, people emphasize that you’ve always got to be on the watch. And they regard it as very simple to relax into the beautiful, wonderful processes that are going on in us that are harmonious constantly. See, to enjoy breathing: that’s a silly thing to do. Most people would say, “What? Enjoy breathing? What’s that going to achieve?”


This all goes back, you see, to this Christian idea:

Bretheren: be sober, be vigilant. For your adversary, the devil, is a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resists, steadfast in the faith.

You know, the hymn:

Christian, dost thou see them

on this holy ground,

how the pow’rs of darkness

prowl and prowl around?

Christian, up and fight them

You know? And wowee! It’s going on all the time. See, you’re never safe. Just as there are termites in the basement gnawing away, parasites in your blood, probably a few little cancer cells kicking up somewhere. Go to the doctor! Inspect, checkup once every two months. Watch, watch, watch, watch! It’s coming, you see? It’s coming! And you’ve got to krrck-krrck correct it here, correct it there. Keep everything going. Otherwise the weeds keep coming in. If you don’t watch out, the birds are all over the roof. Birds, you know, keep watching human beings? You know? The minute the birds got any idea that a house is really vacant, they’re going to move in. Squirrels, rats, everybody is waiting. And so, on the spiritual level, there are the demons. They’re just waiting, watching for you. So stay awake! Don’t dare go to sleep. Don’t ever relax. Because if you do, in it will come. Watch therefore, and pray. You never know when it’s going to happen.


So this is the complete identification of man with his troubleshooter. Just got to be on the watch. Now, the only difficulty about this is that, when you manage to protect yourself so successfully against all the powers of darkness, you reach a point where you become the kind of creature that’s no longer worth protecting. It’s the same sort of thing that happens that, if to defeat the Nazis you have to become Nazis, what was the point of the fight? If to defeat the Gestapo and the Secret Service and the red Chinese and all that plot we have to have a secret police ourselves, who are going to be just as bad as theirs, what is gained? What are you protecting? See? The biggest farce of all is this: that if you want to know the real lowdown on the next war, join the Air Force and be safe. Because the only people who are really going to be protected are the guards. You know, you’ll either be way up there, or else you’ll be in great vast basements in Nevada, where they’ve built under-mountain airports with all sorts of oxygen tanks and supplies and things that will last forever—because what a farce the whole thing has become. The original idea of guards and soldiers was to protect the women and the children. Now what we do is: we have the women and children bombed out of existence in the cities, whereas the guards are guarded. So all guarding eventually becomes guarding of guards. It’s circles of defense protecting circles of defense. And in this way, mammals turn into mollusks.


A mammal is so constructed, you see, that the hard stuff is on the inside and the soft stuff on the outside. A mollusk is the other way around, with the hard stuff on the outside and the soft stuff on the inside. Well, nature favors a bit mammals over mollusks, because a mammal is more sensitive, more responsive. You see, a mollusk—you go donk on it and it doesn’t feel anything, whereas a mammal is really pliable. Which is why, of course, in military tactics we abandoned armor. The knight in armor was completely helpless once he was unhorsed. Because he wore this armor, but he depended upon the forward rush of the horse and his lance to just blow through everything. But once you manage to unhorse him, he was a clumsiest thing. He was like a lobster. And all you had to do was to knock him down and crack open his shell with a can opener. So increased mobility was found to be more effective.


So, now, this watch business. Watch—God always be watching you see? As I say, it creates, it protects, it encourages a style of life which eventually is not worth living because it is like being the great dictator. It is like trying to be God. If you are the great dictator and you’re in charge of everything, you should read a Hindu book called the Arthaśāstra. This deals with advice to a man who is a chakravarty—that means a “turner of the wheel;” or we would say a big wheel—who is the supreme ruler. And it tells him, first of all, that he mustn’t trust anyone. No friends for you, my boy! No intimacies. Keep your own counsel. And especially watch out for women. They have a way of worming secrets out of you for their favors, which you want so much. So don’t ever get too close to a woman. You can have concubines and prostitutes and everything like that to satisfy your physical needs, but don’t fall in love. And trust no one. Then arrange it so that everybody around you mistrusts everyone else. You set up what’s called a kind of negative mandala. A mandala is a circle of power. You so arrange it that your immediate ministers are at odds with their subordinates. Why? Because if your immediate ministers do anything to betray you, their subordinates (who want to occupy the superior position) will sneak on them to you. Then you’ll knock off the grand vizier and put someone in his place—because he is fool enough to want to get up there. But still. Then, outside that rank, you have another rank of people at odds with those. And so all the way down. Divide and rule. Then you live at the center yourself, and you have a secret passage connecting your inmost center with somewhere down the river where you’ve got a boat waiting in case anything goes wrong. And on the way out there’s a stone which you can remove. And when you remove this keystone as you escape through your underground passage, the entire palace will collapse and kill everyone in it. It gives you architectural instructions how to do this. Then, of course, you have to have poison testers for your food. Eat nothing until someone else has eaten it and see if they drop dead. And then you have to have guards standing beside you, always, day and night. But there are other guards. secretive, behind panels in the wall, who are watching the guards guarding you. And so you can’t really ever sleep except with one eye open. You can never be like an ordinary inconspicuous individual and take a carefree walk in the park. Because you have got to be in control 24 hours a day. So, do you see how big brother—this is a Hindu version of big brother—is the greatest prisoner of all? He is the captive of his own survival system. He can never go this way. He’d find it very difficult, too, to go this way. He has to be all the time playing God, playing the personal autocratic monarch of the universe.


Now, you may think this very courageous, and so on. But in the end, the game isn’t worth the candle. It has to fall apart. So always watch that what you fight for is worth fighting for, and that it’s something other than fighting for fighting for. Because otherwise you start fighting for fighting for fighting for fighting for fighting for fighting for. So these, then, in sum, are the advantages and limits of waking consciousness: that it is a version of the world where what is important is what is valuable for survival; where we live for a future where we live always watchful for trouble. Because death is the thing most of all to be avoided. But this is a form of life which is always in danger of becoming not worth living, and which totally ignores a whole world of experience going on all the time around us which is magical, gorgeous, and far surpassing in depth and wonder most of the things which ordinary waking consciousness people call pleasures.

Part 3



Yesterday afternoon I was working mainly on the contrast between the normal state of waking conscious attention—which was this one, number three—and what you might call the generalized awareness of the human organism. And I was using the metaphor of conscious attention as a spotlight, and the generalized awareness of the organism as a floodlight, and showing how, by identifying ourselves with the spotlight operation of consciousness and with the voluntary neuromuscular system, we attain to a very partial conception of ourselves and a very partial and symbolic view of the world. That is to say, we see what we learn to notice, and we screen out everything else.


We really don’t notice anything that we don’t also have a name for. And children are constantly asking, when they’re learning to talk, “What is this?” and “What is that?” And you’ll notice that children very often point to things for which we don’t have any names, and they want to know what it is. For example, we don’t—like some of the American Indians—have a name for dry space. Nor do we have a name for the inside surface of a cylinder. There may be a mathematical term for it, but in ordinary speech the inside surface of the cylinder doesn’t have a name for it—except a long phrase “the inside surface of a cylinder.” Nor, for example, do we see any connection between having six toes and pushing aside the branches of a bush to get through. But in an American Indian language, those are the same ideas. It’s all based on the idea of vee. You vee the branches to get through, and as to your foot, you have a sixth one veeing off at the edge. You see? Now, what you notice, the way the world seems to you, the way its logical connections seem to you, depend on whether you have words for it or whether you have symbols for it.


So then, what happens is: as a result of concentrating on,or of using—shall I say, overusing, over-exercising the faculty for conscious attention—we come to have a sensation of our own existence as beings definitively separate from the outside world (the world beyond the skin) and from most of what goes on in our own bodies. And this state of affairs we could call alienation when this state of affairs exists all by itself. But it is not necessary for that state of affairs to exist all by itself. The spotlight consciousness can be supplemented by increasing use of the floodlight consciousness, so that it becomes balanced. We assume that the baby, before it has learned conscious attention and before it has learned any words, is all the time using floodlight consciousness—with a little bit of spotlight—and therefore would feel, as Freud supposed, oceanic—that is to say: at one with its surroundings. When, later, words are used and it is taught to be itself and to construct the outside world as society constructs it and conceives it, then the baby develops a sense of having a separate ego.


And this development is brought about by means of a stratagem which gives the infant a great deal of confusion. Because since the baby is given a sense of identity by parents and teachers and relatives and other children, it is unable to resist the pressure put upon it by the social group. The pressure of a group, even upon an adult, is enormously powerful. Much more so on a child. So the odd thing is that, by the commanding pressure of this group, the child is informed that it is free. That is to say, that it is an independent agent and an originator of actions for which this separate identity is to be held responsible. And in that, you see, there is a weird gimmick. Because the baby is told that it must be free. You are ordered to be free—that is to say, you are required to do actions which will be acceptable only if you do them voluntarily.


And this basic contradiction that underlies our sensation of personal existence is the result why most people are confused and why there is a nagging sense of frustration underlying all civilized human existence: because you are trying to solve a self-contradictory and therefore insoluble problem—how to be responsible. You see, the word “responsible” carries its own contradiction. It carries freedom. You are able freely to decide upon your own actions. But you must be responsible. You must do what you’re told. So that paradox creates, then, the sense of the separate ego, which is (if anything is a hallucination) a hallucination, because it does not correspond to any kind of scientific facts whatsoever. The separate organism—although separate, although having a clear outline and identity in that sense, and although every human character is unique and different from all others—nevertheless, every organism goeswith its environment inseparably. And the behavior of organism-environment is a single field of behavior. These are the facts as they are seen by physicists, biologists, and ecologists. But our experience, our sensation of our own existence, is not in accord with the facts.


So what it seems necessary for us to do is not, as it were, to try to get rid of the sense of having a separate ego. You can’t do that. You can’t wash off blood with blood. And if you try to get rid of it, you actually intensify the hallucination that it exists as a real thing. But the ego exists in the same way as the equator. That is to say, it is a social institution, an imaginary boundary, which has a certain convenience to it. But when you start mistaking social institutions for physical processes, you are under a hallucination.


So, then, could we possibly go to a state of consciousness in which, without giving up the spotlight—that is to say, the faculty for conscious attention and for constructing symbolic worlds by selection among our sense impressions—could we do that not sort of all by itself in a vacuum, but against the background of more generalized awareness? Because, after all, every particular activity, every tracing out of details (as I pointed out yesterday), requires a background. So the background of ordinary attentive consciousness (looking at) is generalized awareness, and the more you become aware of generalized awareness, the more you realize that you and the external world—right out to the furthest known galaxies—are a single process. And so, when this begins to appear, one moves into state number four, which I’ve called sensory awareness.


There is a Zen saying:

When looking for the pillow in the dark, the mind is all in the hands.

Now, it’s very interesting how you can, as it were, shift your mind all over yourself. Normally one thinks of it as in the head—although for Chinese and Japanese, the center of the mind is always in the center of the chest, which they call xīn in Chinese or kokoro in Japanese. And that means the heart-mind. And they feel that they think from here. We feel, of course, that we think from here, and that we have a little man inside our head who is the ego and directs it all. But you can—as in the saying “you are looking for the pillow in the dark,” or “you’re looking for the soap in the bathtub when all the water’s cloudy,”—the mind is all in the hands.


Now, beyond that, you can very simply get into a state of consciousness where your mind seems to be all over you. Where, instead of feeling that you are looking at things, you feel rather that you are becoming them. And the whole external world comes on, one could only say, in a very different way from the usual. The reason why this can happen is, of course, that all that we feel about the external world is in fact a state of our own bodies. What you are seeing now in front of you is how it feels inside your head in the optical nervous centers. Your brain, and all that goes with it, is translating whatever there is in the outside world into states of itself—called color, shape, weight, texture, and so on. So all that you see is you—really, physically. But also, one must add to this that one of the things in the external world is you. So you are both outside and inside. You are something in nature, but all that you know of nature is you. And you would have to take these two things into consideration simultaneously. So sometimes it might feel as if everything you see is inside your skull. And the next moment, it might feel that your skull was in the middle of everything. And then, the next moment, everything is inside you, and then you are in the middle of everything, you see? A sort of capping process, like this.


So, in this state you find that you less and less discriminate between what is important to be looked at and what is not important to be looked at. In order to enter this state, the first thing that is necessary is to slow down. To suspend judgment on what you ought or ought not to be doing. And here I would say, then, that I’m describing the initial stage of a process of meditation. And in talking in general about meditation, it is absolutely essential to understand that one cannot meditate correctly if you do it as a preparatory exercise for something else. Meditation is not self-improvement. Do not enter into it under any such delusions. There is no one to be improved. Meditation is a form of enjoyment. It’s a way of digging the universe, if I may put it so slangly. Meditation is not meditating on anything. This always bothers Orientals. When somebody says, “Well, while we do this or that, we meditate.” Well, a Westerner always says, “What do you meditate on?” An Oriental can’t understand that. You don’t meditate on anything! Meditation isn’t about anything. It isn’t like thinking about. It’s simply a clarification of consciousness, and can be about anything or nothing.


And so to enter the state of mind—which is called dhyāna; which, when translated into Japanese, becomes Zen (Dhyāna is a yoga word.)—the first thing that’s necessary is, then, to slow down and to abandon notions of what it is important to do and what it’s not important to do. And instead of closing your eyes, keep them open. Keep your ears open. Keep all senses open. But don’t program them. That is to say: don’t tell them what they’re supposed to look at. Let them simply fall upon, or let everything that is there to be heard or seen arrive, by itself. And let the senses work by themselves. That is to say, let your eyes see whatever they want to see, let your ears hear whatever they want to hear, let your nose smell whatever it wants to smell, and let your sense of touch feel whatever it wants to touch. And, in general, let your mind do whatever it wants to do.


Of course, as a matter of habit, the mind tends to be incessantly chattering. Words set up constant circuits, and one’s skull is full of voices. They’re not always your voice. Your mother’s voice, your father’s voice, your aunt Matilda’s voice, your teacher’s voice is still talking to you when you think. And if you listen very carefully to your thoughts, you will hear other people in your head—because, you see, you are not you. You are an amazing collection of what George Herbert Mead called the interiorized others. And all this chorus of voices is constantly directing your life and propagandizing you. You have now to tell them to shut up, and try to let thinking—that is to say, interior talking—stop.


Now, you can’t force it to shut up. And that is why one of the classical aids to meditation is concentration: to find something to focus the attention on so that the chattering will cease. And it should be something interesting. Something that is not interesting in the sense that you can think a lot of ideas about it, but something which is enormously fascinating for its purely sensuous aspects. The female form is not too appropriate for this purpose, nor the male form for women, if they find that very fascinating, because it has so much social junk attached to it. So many associations. So one inclines to choose something like jewelry, or a crystal, or a flower, or a purely abstract play of light patterns, or something like that, as what is called a support for contemplation. Something which you don’t need to think about, but which you can look at enrapt.


And as you acquire this way of becoming wordlessly interested and fascinated with any focal point of consciousness, you will begin to see (as your eyes move) that the whole world is like that. That, for example, you become aware of the myriads of colors playing around on the floor. This isn’t a question of trying to see how many things you can notice. You know, a game that children play is that a tray of assorted objects is displayed before them for one minute, and then covered. And you write down how many things you saw on the tray. It’s not like that at all. Because on any given tray there are infinitely many things, and you could never count them all out. It isn’t the point of how many things can you see. The point is like having a clear window to look through instead of a dirty one.


So that the whole of the sensorium—that is to say, everything seen, heard, tasted, touched, and smelled—becomes much clearer. And as you learn not to think about it, it becomes much richer than it is when you think about it. And so everything starts to be more real, more alive, more glowing, and you suspend also judgments about things—what is good or what is bad—and in doing this, you introduce yourself to a fascinating world. That is why some Indian yogis practice what is called mauna, which is silence. They may be silent (some have) for ten years. Some or all their lives. Because after you have practiced silence for a month, you get silence in your head as well.


Now, there are dangers to being a mauni. When you see the clouds, you become the cloud. And if you are wandering down a street where there’s a riot going on, you’re liable to join the riot. Because that’s what’s happening. See, you just go with it. So one doesn’t enter into mauna without a guru and without some kind of a discipline which protects you; as it were, builds a protective wall around your experiment just in the same way as a bird builds a protective wall, the shell, ’round the young chick before it’s ready to hatch. So, in the ordinary way, therefore, you can’t expect a Western person negotiating a high civilization to be a mauni, or to be silent all the time. But for the sanity of any Western person involved in this kind of civilization, it is very important for him indeed to be silent some of the time. And I mean silent inside the head. Just as you must stop talking occasionally if you want to hear what anybody else has to say. So you must stop thinking in order to find out what there is to think about. If you talk all the time, you will have nothing to talk about except talking. If you think all the time, you will have nothing to think about except thinking. And so you will exhaust yourself and come to a dead end, which is called psychosis. So, for health, it is very important to stop thinking—not always—so that you find that you get a non-thinking state as background to the thinking state. And this corresponds to floodlight awareness as background, or spotlight awareness.


In Zen Buddhism the non-thinking state is called munen. This is Japanese. Munen. Mu: “no.” Nen: “thought.” It means “thought” and it also means “blocking.” Having a jerky mind, let’s call it that. So this state I’m describing is the state of munen, of no thought. But it doesn’t mean a kind of anti-intellectual attitude. Hakuin, the 17th century master, writes in one of his poems—he uses the phrase “taking hold of the no-thought in the midst of thoughts.” So that means having a mind that is, in a way, like a mirror. Zhuang Zhou, the Chinese taoist, said, “The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing, it refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep.” And so the poem says, “The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection. The water has no mind to retain the image.” So it’s a mind that has no attachments.


Now, “attachment” is a word that has associations in English which doesn’t quite give the Buddhist feeling for the meaning of the word. But the slang term that we now use, a “hang-up,” is the right translation for “attachment.” When you say a person’s all hung-up, or he has a particular hang-up, that is the Buddhist meaning of “attachment.” It means a mental fixation, or an emotional fixation, on some particular pattern of life. So to get rid of hang-ups one must first get rid of thinking. After you’ve got rid of it completely, and have thereby revived the background—the mirror, as it were; the mirror-mind—then you can go back to thinking, and you can think against the background perfectly comfortably and not get hung-up on thinking.


And so, in this way, you get an extraordinary feeling of life going on as a single process all the time, which doesn’t stick. You and it are all one, and it’s got all kinds of differentiations within it. So that it doesn’t become some sort of a formless blur, but it sort of flows like water. As water has all the patterns in it—the network of sunlight, the ripples, so on—so, in the same way, the world has all this. But it constantly flows because there are no hang-ups.


So then, the royal road to this state is giving up the sense of urgency that you ought to do something—something is required of you—and understand, for example, that looking at a rubber band on your fingers can be quite as important as anything else you can do. In other words, being here at this moment and listening to the sound of my voice without paying the slightest attention to what it means can be as important as anything there is in the universe. Why not? Is the tree outside important? It’s beautiful. Is it worth looking at? Why, certainly. But it’s not achieving any great mission in life. It’s just being a tree. As Emerson said in his essay, I think, On Compensation: “These roses under my window are not concerned whether they are better than last year’s roses, or whether next year’s roses will be better than they. There is simply the rose. It lives for today.” And that’s the point. When you learn the art of meditation in this way, you will see other people rushing around wildly like chickens with their heads cut off. And they think they’re going somewhere, and they’re completely deluded. They’re there, and they don’t know it. That’s why they’re rushing around so wildly. But you, by this means, can begin to learn that you are there, now. And the extraordinary thing, as you see the world in this way—especially as you see people in this way and from this point of view—you realize that people are valid natural processes. Just like trees and birds and clouds. Now, do you ever criticize a cloud for being badly shaped? Did you ever see patterns in foam make an aesthetic mistake? Well, no, one just doesn’t.


There was once an 18th century classicist, one of those people who enjoyed formal gardens and Greek palaces, who criticized the stars for not being symmetrically arranged. But that would never occur to us today. We don’t want to see our stars in wretched geometrical patterns. We love to see the scatter of them and the curious groupings through sky in a marvelous, irregular order. A marvelous, orderless order, you might call it. The funny thing about clouds and stars and mountains and all natural outlines is that they are beautiful, and we know that they have a quality which distinguishes them from being messes. You know a mess when you see it. But these things don’t apparently make messes. So in a way, human beings don’t, either. And when you see human life as something that is just the same kind of thing as the shape of a tree or a cloud or like that, you stop judging it. And you have to know that about yourself. And this is the beginning of everything. This is the beginning of every kind of wisdom: to see that you really don’t have to go anywhere. You don’t have to get any better than you are, because with all your defects, your selfishness, your neuroses, your sicknesses, and everything—well, fish have neuroses and sicknesses and so on, and so do plants. You often see it in plants that have got bumps on them or some queer little diseases and so on. And they all have those sort of troubles. That’s life. But when you realize that you’re an authentic projection of the universe, just as you are at this moment, then there’s nowhere to go. There’s no need to do anything. And out of that peace comes energy. Real energy instead of phony energy, which is trying to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps—the usual kind of human energy, which gets progressively nowhere with more and more busyness.


Now, beyond this state there is going to follow another, which I have numbered five. I called it cellular awareness. And I must repeat the fact that I use this word, “cellular,” not in a strictly scientific way, but as a good way of describing the kind of awareness that it is: how it feels from the inside. Because it is as if every cell in your body became alive. Now, you know your cells don’t talk English. But they are very, very subtly and highly organized things. If you’ve ever seen a model of a living cell, you’ve seen the most fantastic object. And those cells are engaged in all sorts of activities. But they don’t structure the world the way you structure it, because they don’t use that language. And so, as you get into cellular awareness, you begin to feel rather like the artist who paints in a pointillist fashion—that everything is dots; little tiny vortices. You become aware of the texture of things to an extraordinary degree. It’s almost as if the world had been photographed through a screen which put into the senses a feeling of intense detail; as if every one of your nerve ends was now detected in sending its separate message to the brain. And so this makes the world look highly textured. There are no more such things as blank green or blank white spaces. All space is rich. And that is what those painters are representing in doing spaces with dit, dit, dit, dit, dit, dit, dit of the brush, like this.


And also, you will notice that certain kinds of painting—particularly, say, Persian miniatures—if you look at them, you will see the artist is painting the world as the Arabian Nights describe the secret garden into which Aladdin went, where all the trees were made of jewels, and where everything looked as precious as if it had been carved by a master carver. And they try with their art to give the impression that, the more you look into the background, you see, suddenly, that the background of a pillar—the painter hasn’t made it white, he’s put a design into it. In white, but just a slightly different shade of white. Complex design. And you feel that within the design there is still another design. And it has an infinitely carved, rich texture. This is why Oriental art, in general—you find this among the Chinese at a certain period. You find it constantly in India. You find it in Persia. You find it in the Moorish work. And you find it, too, in early Celtic manuscripts, like the Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and so on. This fascination with what seems to be a world of infinite detail. And this, of course, is the world of paradise. This is what all those angels and whatnot are about.


Now, from cellular consciousness, you can pass to what I would call—again, symbolically—molecular consciousness. Not that you are going to be aware of molecules; no. But it is as if, suddenly—this is the state which Buddhists (or part of the state) which the Buddhists call suchness. It’s as if… it can be rather frightening, because everything becomes perfectly meaningless. People, everything that’s going on, is just jazz. Almost electronic jazz. It is a dancing process of energy. And you feel sort of lost in it. Well, what’s supposed to happen? I mean, well, what’s it all about? It’s just dancing energy. And you have to be careful here, because this is the danger point in the meditative process. Because here you can suddenly get the vision of hell. And the vision of hell is that this world is a monstrous mockery, that it is meaningless in the worst sense of that word. It is just a gyration, a pointless gyration of particles—or of wavicles, or whatever—which is tormenting itself. It keeps itself going on with a certain kind of hope in order that it may eventually destroy things. And then you see the horror of biology as the mutual eating society. What a ghastly conception it all is. And everything is phony. People say they’re people, but they’re not. They’re just robots. Everything is made of plastic or enamel tin. Everything is just buzz. That’s a danger, you see, here.


But if this happens to you and you get the feeling that everything is pointless, everything is just mechanical buzz, what you do is what an Arab does in a sandstorm: he knows there is no possibility of conquering the sandstorm, so he kneels down—sort of in a fetal position—and takes his [???] and covers himself completely, and waits until the storm is over. If he gets covered by sand, it is usually porous enough to admit some air for breathing. Or in the same way as an ocean liner in a typhoon—they just turn off the engines and drift. It’s the only thing to do. So, in the same way, if you ever get into this particular kind of psychic horrors, drift. Just let it be. And it will resolve itself.


And it’s important to go through that state, in a way; important to realize that you don’t know anything. You don’t know what it’s all about. You don’t understand the universe. It’s all incomprehensible. Words and systems were just a way of whistling in the dark. We all whistled in the dark together and agreed that we had the same whistle, and that was great, but we really don’t know anything. Anybody who poses as an authority about anything at all is just making an authoritative noise. And he may be able to make some remarkable demonstrations—for example, by interfering with diseases in various ways we can make people healthy for a time, until we can’t make them healthy anymore. This may be a good thing. It may not be a good thing. It might be best not to interfere with nature, but simply to let human beings alone and regulate by a kind of inner, natural homeostasis their own population level, and just let it happen. There is no way of proving conclusively that our way of dealing with these things is better than doing nothing. But life is, in a way, an experiment all the time. One’s whole existence, the very shape of one’s body, is just coming on. You see? You’ve got to come on somehow. And so one way is this. We all come on together, looking like each other and having certain common characteristics. Well, look at a snake’s skin. Every scale is rather like the other, and it’s all coming on together.


So you suddenly see that there is no particular reason why you should be this way rather than that; that everybody is putting on a good show, a big act. And if you’re not ready for that, if you’re not educated to the point where you can understand that situation, you may get very nervous. You say, “Well, everybody always wants to know: what am I supposed to do?” See, this is a common question: what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to feel? I want an authority. I want someone to convince me that the way I’m doing it is the right way. But don’t you realize: whenever you accept authority, you accept it on your authority! You say, “I believe the Bible.” Why do you believe the Bible? Because it says Jesus says in the Bible that we should believe the Bible. Yeah, but it’s your opinion that that is an opinion to be accepted. It’s on your own authority. You create the power of your own teacher. And you create the power of your own government. That’s the saying: the people get what the government deserves. And if you don’t like it and you don’t overthrow it, well, then that’s your problem. But always, you see, authority springs from you. So, also, does the way you define yourself. You accepted society and its suggestions—always rather tacitly, but you did.


So here, in this amazing moment of seeing the world as a big act, as a big buzz, as jazz, doing zzzuh-zzzuh-zzzuh-zzzuh; all vibration. And you see absolutely no compelling reason why it should be that way rather than any other way. Well, if you don’t panic, you see, then you get into the domain that Buddhists call suchness. It is just as it is. Now, if it’s a big act, who’s doing it? Who is the actor? What lies behind all this jazz? That’s the big question. And it is through asking that question that we move from six to seven: into the state that I called light. Because when you become aware of energy jazzing this way and that way—and on top of this you have already, don’t forget, become aware that you and the outside world are a single energy system—then what is it?


Do you realize, for example: I do not exist as “I” at all, unless there’s something else that’s “other.” And that immediately is the clue to the fact that “self” and “other” are polar. They go together. Well, how did they go together? Alright, put it the other way around: what would you do if you were God? If you were the works, in other words? If you were this whole capacity for patterning energy, what would you do? Well, you’d first of all have to draw the line somewhere and then proceed. You have to make a difference. Because if something doesn’t make a difference, it doesn’t matter, does it? So if you want to make matter, you’ve got to make a difference. Well, if you take that along, and you try all the amazing differences that can be tried, and you differentiate this from that and so on and so forth, among all the possibilities of being God you will eventually arrive at what you’re doing now: to be just this sort of circumstance. Because this will be one of the infinitely many things to do. With certain restrictions on you. Which, of course, you tacitly originated, because you wouldn’t know where you were without them.


And then you suddenly see with this astounding clarity that the energy may symbolize itself to you as a sensation of intense light. You see, understandings have a way of representing themselves to us in sensuous imagery. We say, when very happy, “I was walking on air.” “You could have knocked me down with a feather.” “He saw the light.” “Everything became clear.” “Are you transparent?” Now, these are not necessarily meant literally, but in intense cases of insight there is a literal sensory feeling corresponding to the insight. And when something becomes utterly clear in a way that is emotionally and intellectually overwhelming, you are liable to have the feeling of intense light inside your head—or sometimes a feeling that everything looks transparent, as if it were glass, but it’s still there. You don’t actually see through it. You don’t see the pattern on the chair behind somebody’s head, but they look transparent because things have become clear. And it has become, at this point, the light, shatteringly clear that everything is it—the light, the energy—coming on at you in different ways, and you are coming on at it, and it’s all one coming on. You can see that light is the basic component of black things. There is nowhere that isn’t light. And if you can’t see it, you can hear it. It comes on at you in all kinds of disguises. So here, you see, it’s tabling, here it’s handing, here it’s revolving, it’s dancing. All sorts of patterns. And you’re it.


Now, as I said, this may clothe itself—this comprehension in the sensation of vivid light—as being the ultimate component of the… you might say the very inside stream of the nerve. Reduce it all down to what it is fundamentally. That’s why, when you blow up the atom, you get this light: because it’s all locked in it. But then, simultaneously—you remember how I described yesterday the fellow who gets to the hub of the wheel and gets his peace there, then he gets energy, and then he goes out to the circumference again? Well, then you see that there really is no difference (not fundamentally) between this state of illumination and what we call number three, or ordinary everyday consciousness. You suddenly realize that the way things are now, in the perfectly ordinary life, are the same thing as the light, which is sort of undifferentiated and overwhelmingly brilliant. The same energy that seems to you light, in that state—pure light—then you understand is just what you’re looking at. That, sitting in this room, you are sitting bang in the middle of the beatific vision. Only, we were taught before then to sort of put down the world by saying, “Well, this is prosaic, ordinary, everyday life. And we’re sitting in a lecture room, and on these sort of funny chairs, which act as perches for the human body.” And, you know, having a lecture, so on. on very ordinary. Matter of fact. And you see, from this point of view, there’s nothing ordinary about it at all. Wowee! So the Zen poem:

Supernatural power,

A marvelous activity.

Drawing water,

Carrying wood.

Part 4

Chemistry of Consciousness


Well, now, I want a deal, this afternoon, with a troublesome aspect of the whole problem of the transformation of consciousness, which has received (during the past few years, and even more during the past few months) an enormous amount of publicity. And that is, of course, the connection between alterations of consciousness and development of mystical states of awareness with drugs. And the first thing we have to do in considering a question of this kind is to clean up our semantics.


First of all, I want to say a little bit about artificial and natural. Because there are certain contexts in which the word “natural” means “good,” and “artificial” means “bad.” And I, for the life of me, cannot get to the bottom of this. Because nothing is more artificial than the distinction between the artificial and the natural. A bird’s nest is as artificial as a house. So is a bee’s nest. Everything done by artifice is artificial, I suppose. And yet, if you look (as the Chinese do) at art as a work of nature, you wonder what all this means. Artificiality, in one sense, is acting with skill or with art. It means in Latin… “-ficial” is from the root facere: “to make.” Artis: “artifact,” “what is made by art.” So a sculpture, a painting—in fact, anything well and skillfully made—is an artifact or a work of art. Doesn’t have to be fine art. It can be a shoe, a dress, a cooking pot, anything. In fact, our museums are stocked with the everyday objects of the ancients which we consider works of art. I don’t know whether in the future they will stock museums with aluminum saucepans and things like that. It remains to be seen.


But then, “artificial” also has a secondary sense of something that looks too much as if it were a work of art: what we call affected, studied, or contrived. When you get what looks like a drinking glass made of glass, and you suddenly find out it’s made of plastic, you get a feeling of the artificial in its second sense. Something pretending to be what it isn’t. Something that lacks what you expected. The cool, heavy quality of a glass—suddenly it’s featherweight and has no substance to it. Or when a person behaves in an artificial way, you feel they are awkward about it. They are putting it on. And what they are putting on at you is entirely different from what they feel underneath. Then you say their behavior is contrived or artificial. And I suppose we could use the word “artificial” this way to mean to have a kind of a bad sense.


So, then there arises the troublesome question: is there any difference between natural and artificial ways of attaining transformations of consciousness which lead you to great insights and understandings? And this is, of course, comparable to the problem of travel. It’s natural to walk. You are endowed with legs. Is it unnatural to ride a horse, to take a carriage, to drive an automobile, to take a jet plane? Is that artificial? Or is it an extension of human capacity in the same way as a bird’s nest? That’s a very difficult question to decide. If you’ve time, of course, it’s fun to drive to the east coast. Practically no one bothers to walk. Nowadays, that would be very abnormal. But, of course, if you drive—or even take a bicycle—you do see the country and you are aware of the great transition that you’re making from one coast to another. But you sure can’t swim to Tokyo. If you’re going to go there at all, you require at least the artificiality of a boat. And the Pacific is a big, big, empty bunch of water, and one bit’s as much like another unless you land at an island. So you may as well take the plane. And there you are in 13 hours. What a difference from the day when they drifted across by the currents, took sailing boats. Well, you could say when they got there, they really knew they were there. Nowadays, traveling by jet is simply like going inside an elevator. You get this thing where, as the elevator, if it goes too fast, goes down from the tenth floor to the first, and you feel your stomach has been left on the tenth. Traveling by jet, you are apt to feel that your psyche hasn’t caught up with you. You left it back in New York, and here you are in La Jolla, and the time’s all different, and it’s earlier in the day than practically when you started. And you feel sort of disarranged. But all the same, would it be reasonable to argue that you ought not to travel by jet planes, that you should leave and proceed in a proper, slow manner? Of course, the people who can’t afford to travel by jet will tell you so: that their way is obviously more natural than yours, and that you’re cheating when you take the jet. You’re a wretched capitalist or something.


But, you see, this is an eternal debate. It goes on and on and on. And it’s a kind of oneupmanship. The real question is, of course: if you take a jet plane to the Orient, what are you going to do when you get there? That’s the real question. Are you going to go to all the best European-style or American-style hotels, and visit Japan as if you were inside a glass case? That would be pretty artificial. Because, after all, you could just sit home and see color movies for all that goes. And I do take people to Japan on and off, and some of them like to get mixed up in the life of the country, but some of them absolutely want to be wrapped in cellophane and hygienized. They can’t stand the idea of eating Japanese food. A Japanese bathtub is deplorable. As for a Japanese toilet, it is unspeakable. Because they are so rigid and unadaptable that they won’t learn new ways of doing things.


So it does make a difference whether, even if everybody goes by Jet, how they relate themselves to the new environment when they get there. That’s the important question. And that depends on whether they’re adaptable personalities or rigid personalities; how stuck they are, how how their identity is glued to certain ways of behaving. There are some people who, unless they have a certain same kind of breakfast every day, are just not themselves. I remember I used to eat at the lunch counter in England, where an extremely square young man was often there at the same time I was, and he would invariably order three small beef sandwiches. This place specialized in rather small sandwiches. And he ordered, every day, three beef and a glass of beer. And if it had ever changed, he would have had a complete psychic upheaval.


Well, now, the question of the jet plane—that is to say, the technical means of arriving somewhere—is, in a way, parallel to the question: will you travel in these states of consciousness by… there are many ways of doing it, you see. There are the methods of meditation, some of which are quite difficult and take a very long time. They are like walking. Or do what want to have technical help—that is to say, what about the chemistry of the matter? Do these states of consciousness correspond to various states of chemistry? Now, traditionally spiritual people in our culture are horrified at this idea, because everything to do with chemistry is labeled artificial—in the bad sense. As if, somehow or other, anything achieved by chemical change isn’t real, but it is somehow synthetic. Like a plastic glass instead of real glass, or like synthetic vitamin C instead of vitamin C derived from rose hips, or wonder bread instead of real bread. But this isn’t so easily solved.


The word “drug,” to begin with, is an alarm word—except in certain contexts. Nobody is alarmed when they see the notice “drugstore.” That’s folksy and natural and belongs as part of our life. “Pharmacy” is a little more threatening, actually. But “drugstore” is okay. But when you say, about somebody, “He takes drugs.” Oh, wowee! That’s pretty dreadful. That sounds… it’s got the idea of drug = dope. And as everybody knows, a dope fiend is a character with circles under his eyes, who lies around all day in a kind of stupor, experiencing inner fantasies and bliss (probably sexual) and all sorts of weird things going on, and he is in a frightful state where he depends on taking more and more of this stuff, and he gets increasingly dependent on it, and oh my! That’s terrible. Of course, some of one’s best friends are alcoholics. There is a little difference in status from being a dope fiend. Although an alcoholic, of course, can lie around and do nothing for hours and hours and just drink and get more and more dependent on it, and have to drink more and more in order to keep going. And when he gets to feeling guilty about it, he has to drink more in order to stop his sense of guilt hurting. Of course, he finds out he can’t stop. So he has to go on. But there’s some kind of a status symbol in being alcoholic. It goes with the culture. It’s a mildly approved sin. People can boast about alcohol, how much they can drink, what fun it was the drunk we had the other night. And you can get away with it.


The Chinese and the Japanese have absolutely no sense of guilt whatsoever in connection with imbibing alcohol. They are known (among people who use other chemicals) as juicers, and they are amazing. You see a party of Japanese businessmen going down the street at night, all with their arms ’round each other’s necks and swaying across the street and singing. And nobody bothers. They’re quite harmless. They’re not going to fight anybody. The police don’t care. There they are. Everyone says it’s all right. They’re happy. The great Chinese poets are full of references to the joys of getting gloriously drunk and then writing poetry. There was one famous Zen monk who used to get very drunk, and then he’d soak his hair in Sumi ink and splosh it all over a piece of paper, and then he’d wash it out and look at this thing that he had done, and he would do a Rorschach blot on it until this thing became a landscape. Then all he’d have to do was to touch his brush to certain points, and whoops! This land magnificent landscape would appear. But he had to get to just the right degree of drunkenness to let go and slosh this paper with his inky hair.


I was one day talking with a Zen priest who was a student of mine several years ago, and he said, “I had a letter from my teacher this morning.” “Oh,” I said, “that’s interesting. How is he?” “Oh, he’s fine. But he said he’s very drunk. He drink too much.” I said, “This is your teacher? Your Zen teacher?” He said, “Yes my Zen teacher.” He said, “He live in mountain where very cold. Only way to keep warm—drink sake.” And so nobody has any feeling about it; that it’s bad. But it is a drug, and it is a narcotic—in the strict sense of the word of one that, in quantity, will induce narcosis or torpor; even sleep.


So, you see, the word “drug,” though, isn’t normally applied to alcohol. If the doctor says to a patient, “Are you taking any drugs at this time?” The patient thinks, “Let’s see, penicillin,” or whatever, you know, sleeping pills, barbiturates, and so on. And he says, “No. No, I’m not taking any drugs.” Forgot to mention alcohol. Because that doesn’t count; it’s not recognized as a drug. So, you see how loaded the word “drug” is? So if we want to keep our conversation clean, we don’t use it. There’s too many double takes and funny associations. We say instead, chemical. Nice, neutral word. So you see, then, there are states of consciousness that correspond to chemistry.


Here we get another difficulty. There is a certain prejudice going with the word “chemical.” To say that life, to talk about biochemistry, as if life were explainable entirely in terms of chemistry or controllable in terms of chemistry seems to be a put-down to life. There are many—it’s much within the culture that we live in that mind should always triumph of the matter. This is why Christian science is so popular in the United States, and all kinds of so-called metaphysical things (divine science, religious science, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera) all concentrate over “think positively and all will be well.” Keep your thoughts pure and clean and strong, and always look on the better side of things, and then the physical world—money and all that sort of thing—will take care of itself. And if it doesn’t… well, be happy just the same. Mind over matter.


This is a great thing in America, but it’s impossible to practice because one is also material. If you could perfectly practice mind over matter, of course you should abstain from eating, and not be dependent on this murdering business that we all have to do in order to stay alive. You should certainly renounce aspirin. You shouldn’t take vitamins—they are chemicals and, in a sense, drugs. Coffee, tea, all that that’s very wicked. And, of course, don’t drink wine. When Italian people are asked to specify what they spend on liquor, food, et cetera, they always list the wine under food. Liquor means strong drink. Because they consider wine as healthy, normal, everyday drink that everybody naturally has. And the French would think of it the same way. You see how culturally relative these ideas are? Depending on what you’re used to and how you’re used to classifying things.


But, you see, the chemistry of things is simply a certain way of describing what happens. You can describe anything from a chemical point of view. In other words, you take an oil painting by a great master, and there is a chemical description of it possible. A musical composition can be described in terms of the physics of sound and accurately measured in those terms. But the only thing is that the language of chemistry is rather clumsy when you’re trying to explain what the artist was attempting to convey through his painting. And the language of the physics of sound is rather clumsy when you’re trying to explain the intentions of Mozart. And from some points of view, also, the language of biochemistry is clumsy when you are attempting to discuss the nature of various intellectual or spiritual insights. But nevertheless, there is a chemical aspect to all spiritual things. Just as, for every photograph—whether it be a photograph of a great saint or a striptease artist in the newspaper—there is at the basis of all of them that grid which is necessary for reproducing a photograph at all. So let’s not be too snobbish about our relationship to processes that have chemical and physical descriptions attachable to them.


Even the Catholic Church admits there are such things as sacraments. And that, through the physical agency of water, a person may be given the grace of baptism, and through the physical agencies of bread and wine he may partake of the body and blood of Christ. Using physical means to a spiritual end. And I always detect in people who want to make mind entirely superior to matter—matters completely subordinate to mind—a certain kind of spiritual pride. Which, in Christianity, is the most insufferable of sins. G. K. Chesterton used to recommend, as a spiritual exercise, putting your head on the ground and looking between your legs so that you could see everything as if it were hanging from the earth. Everything dependent on the earth. Dependent means, in Latin, hanging down, hanging from. And this is a good point of view.


Because, you see, as I may have indicated in the seminar (I think it is in this), people who are too spiritual are like wine or drink which is pure alcohol: it has no body. And people who are too material are like grenadine. It’s a soft, sweet drink with no bite, no spirit. And we have to follow the middle way. So therefore, there are chemicals which bring about changes of consciousness which can be, in my opinion, aids to the meditation process. I remember a Chinese taoist philosopher once said to me, “When you start meditating, you should have a few drinks. It will increase your progress by about six months.” That’s a taoist attitude, and it’s a very Chinese attitude. That may be true for Chinese people. I don’t like to work that way myself.


But when it comes to what can be done with the type of chemicals that have been called psychedelic—that is a very meaningless word. That means nothing at all in Greek, except perhaps “soul-destroying”—but it’s meant to mean “mind-manifesting.” I call them psychotropic, which, although it is a very vague term, just means consciousness- or mind-changing. Of course, all the narcotics are psychotropic. They change the mind. It’s very difficult to find a word for those chemicals that have to do with these states. But there are, in a way, these certain ones to be considered. And we can say they are roughly form into three types. There’s the cannabis or Indian hemp, there is mescaline, and psilocybin, and there is LSD. These are the principal ones that are under discussion today. And over here, of course, you see, in this domain we have alcohol, opiates, and I suppose barbiturates. In other words, the true narcotics.


Well, now, in the use of any of these substances there are three factors to be considered—or what is called more strictly three variables. One is the chemical itself. Two is the setting in which it is used: the surrounding circumstances, both physical and social. And three, the set. And the set means the attitude and character of the person using them, his background, what he brings to it. And because there are three variables, it’s impossible to say of any one of these chemicals that they are specific in what they do. And so, in a way, everybody has to speak for himself, because he speaks of what happens in the set and setting in which he used them. But some generalizations can be made, all things being more or less equal. But you always have to take it with a certain grain of salt and with certain reservations. So what we’re talking about, then, is the alteration of consciousness, which these things will do pretty much of themselves. And then, over and above that, what they will do given the optimal set and setting.


Now, from my point of view, I do not know (and nobody really knows) whether any of these chemicals are specifically therapeutic. There have been, in the past, therapeutic uses of cannabis or Indian hemp. I looked at a British materia medica dated 1918, and there were all sorts of ways in which this was then prescribed. But there is no conclusive evidence that these are specific chemicals to be given for specific ailments. And normally, you see, when a physician prescribes a drug of a chemical of any kind, he feels that he is only justified in introducing the subject into the human system for purposes of healing a specific disease. With the exception, perhaps, of vitamins, which he feels our health builders and could, as a matter of cost, be taken as dietary supplements. In that case, he is using these chemicals as diet rather than medicine.


There is an important difference, you see, between medicine and diet. Medicine is for a specific occasion, diet for a regular occasion. And if it’s medicine, it is important, too, that you do not become hooked on medicine. One of the most important differences between the practice of a physician and the practice of a clergyman is that a physician is trying to get rid of his patients as fast as possible. He wants to cure them and send them away, so that the medicine can be stopped and they don’t have to come to his office or hospital anymore. Whereas a clergyman is trying to get you hooked on the medicine. He wants you to continue to come to church, to pay your pledge, to be there every Sunday, and become a regular member or disciple of the congregation. It’s rather funny.


So, many, many centuries ago, the physician and the priest were the same person. They had an argument at one point, and they split. Because the physicians became more and more empirical in their approach, and the priests became more scholastic. The difference between a scholastic and an empiricist is that the scholastic knows everything that’s written in the book, and he takes his idea of truth from the books, and serves as a very ancient and venerable book like the Bible or the Vedas or the Confucian classics. The Scholastic looks for all truth in their pages. He does not look outside for just the same reason that the theologians would not look through Galileo’s telescope. Because they said, “Well, if it agrees with what is in the Bible, we do not need to look through it. If it does doesn’t agree with what’s in the Bible, it must be the work of the devil.” But increasingly, physicians began to take an empirical point of view, which was opposed to the scholastic and the theological. And therefore, priest and physician could not be the same person.


But this has had unfortunate results, in that it has impoverished both professions. If somebody is seriously disturbed in mind today, and he goes to a clergyman, the clergyman will immediately send him to a psychiatrist. Because no clergyman today feels (except perhaps a few Catholic priests) that he has the power to cast out demons. When did you last year of somebody being exorcised? So, in other words, most clergy do not believe in their religion. They do not have any sense that they possess any true power anymore. And so, instead, they send you to some psychiatrist. Now, this is not true by any means of all psychiatrists, but, as I find, it is true of most psychiatrists, and especially those who are the residents and the permanent staff of mental hospitals. The moment a patient there begins to talk about religion, they know he’s crazy. Because religion, from the point of view of the philosophy of science at the end of the nineteenth century—which was the birth time of psychoanalysis and of a great deal of modern psychiatry—it was the fashion then to regard all religious beliefs as purely superstitious. And that philosophy has carried down to the present day. There are some awkward alliances between psychiatrists and clergymen. And there is a thing called pastoral psychology, or pastoral psychotherapy: there are psychiatrists teaching in theological schools. But the arrangement between them is unhappy—or has been, because especially when you say, well, a lot of people’s troubles are due to their sexual repressions (if you take a Freudian standpoint about that). Well, the church can’t agree with you, because the church is a sexual regulation society above all else. Whatever otherwise it pretends, sexual irregularity is about the only thing you can get kicked out of the church for.


So then, the doctor, the physician, feels out of role when he prescribes medicine—there being no disease. He doesn’t like to do that. In the same way, the doctor is shoved out of role when a patient is certainly dying and nothing will help. He is not allowed by his ethic to administer some painless death pill to the patient. But instead, it’s much worse than that. He often feels obliged to keep the patient alive as long as possible, in a state of suspended animation on the ends of all sorts of tubes, feeling very uncomfortable and miserable. Because however he may be doped up against actual physical pain, all the family’s savings are going away, and there’s a great difficulty. It drags on and on and on. And furthermore, the general hospital attitude to a dying patient is one of absolute falsehood: to say “You’re coming on. You’ll be all right.” Maybe a couple of weeks from now and all the friends come and say, “Cheer up, old boy! The things are not so bad as they seem.” They don’t add, probably, they’re much worse. But there there’s a complete failure to face death as an important event. And that isn’t the physician’s fault. It is a very complex thing. His role has been socially defined in such a way that he is out of role in these emergencies, as he is out of role when it comes to using chemicals for something other than the curing of disease.


Now, in my own opinion, these particular chemicals look as if they are not going to be therapeutic agents, but research tools, just as you magnify your senses with a telephone (which enables you to hear for thousands of miles), with television (which enables you to see for thousands of miles), or with the telescope, or with a microscope (which enables you to see things totally invisible to the naked eye). May I ask whether these things are bad artificialities? Whether it’s really wrong to use telephones, television, microscopes, telescopes? Is that bad? Well, if it’s alright to use a microscope outside your skin—here it is, a brass gadget with lenses in it—it’s alright if it’s outside your skin. Couldn’t it be alright to use an instrument inside your skin, which would do a kind of magnification process from within the nervous system, provided that this does not seriously damage you? (I suppose you can ruin your eyesight by using microscopes.) But if it’s not damaging and if you handle it expertly, anybody can have fun looking through a microscope and see all the little things go wiggle, wiggle, and see the jazz go by. But if you happen to have biological or chemical knowledge, then a microscope is an extremely useful tool, as is the telescope to an astronomer or to a navigator.


So I regard these substances as instruments for investigation of the nature of consciousness—which require careful use, because like all things that take you into unfamiliar realms, all exploring is dangerous. It’s dangerous to explore outer space. It was dangerous to settle the West, because there you encountered wild Indians. In this sort of situation, you don’t encounter wild Indians, but you encounter psychoses. And that’s always dangerous, of course. And you might get into a psychosis, especially if you were predisposed to do so in the first place. But just because something is dangerous doesn’t mean at all that we shouldn’t do it. It’s dangerous to practice yoga. You can go crazy with that. Lots of people have. It’s probably less dangerous to practice yoga than to drive on the freeway. It’s probably safer to take a ride by plane than to practice yoga or to take LSD. But certainly, LSD is not so unsafe as to drive your car on the freeway, or even around town. So, assuming the responsible use of these substances, really, things can be done with them.


So let’s consider the possibilities of each of these three groups that I’ve put up here. I’m going to show that, normally speaking, what they will do and how far they will go of themselves. This one, cannabis, will of itself go about this far. In other words, it will add the dimension of the sensory consciousness to the symbolic, pretty much of itself. Cannabis, incidentally, is commonly known as marijuana, and it is a non-habit-forming chemical which has a usually calming but sensory alerting and intensifying effect, which is perfectly harmless if not used in very large quantities. And practically every medical authority who’s ever published anything on it agrees with this position. It does not lead to anything except itself, unless it so happens that somebody is selling it to you who really wants to sell you heroin. Then he will try to tempt you and say, “Oh, sissy. Come on, try some real good stuff.” You see? And dare a kid, say, to take heroin. But heroin belongs over here and moves in this direction. It’s a narcotic. Cannabis belongs on this side of symbolic consciousness, and moves in this direction.


These two, mescaline and psilocybin, will of themselves take you about that far—into what I described in this morning’s session; various characteristics of what I call the cellular consciousness. Both of them are curious in respect that, of course, you know, that masculine is the same as peyote. It is a distilled synthetic which corresponds to the main active principles in the peyote cactus, and is used by the Indians of the southwest for a religious sacrament. That is the Native American Church, which is a Christian Indian church, which has a very good reputation as a kind of a law-abiding, pleasant people. The characteristic symptomatology of both these substances—this, incidentally, psilocybin is also from the southwest. That is a synthetic of the active principle of certain mushrooms that are to be found principally in the state of Oaxaca, but actually along the whole west coast of America as far north as Vancouver. The mushroom psilocybe mexicana heim is the principal one so used. And likewise, here again, this mushroom which is called teonanacatl, or the flesh of God, is taken for religious purposes in a sacramental way. Both of these, as I would say, have a general atmosphere about them which is rather earthy. They go extraordinarily well with the vegetative world. They bring to life one’s vision of nature and water and plants and sky in an extraordinary way.


On the other hand, LSD has a more… I can only call it electronic feel about it. I don’t know why. But the possibility of LSD by itself is to get to about here, and all that I described as the molecular kind of consciousness. LSD is produced from wheat ergot—from, first of all, lysergic acid, which is derived from wheat ergot, and then refined into a very complex molecule: diethylamide of lysergic acid. And the diethylamide in particular is number 25. So it’s LSD 25 is the normal correct initials for it. The peculiarity of this substance is that a lot will be done by a little. It is given in microgram doses. Now, a microgram is a millionth—isn’t it a millionth of a gram? A Thousandth. A milligram is a thousandth of a gram. A millionth of a gram. And that you can’t see. Vitamin B 12 is also given in my micrograms. And as little as 75 or even 50 micrograms will produce the characteristic effects of LSD in most human subjects. 100 will certainly do it. I would say any dosage over 200 involves risks. And so when irresponsible experimentation involves people vying with each other as to how much they’ve taken, and they start to go up towards a thousand, they’ve being just plain stupid. You know, it’s like sitting around on a great drunk and betting on whether you could demolish a whole quart of whiskey in an hour. Well, what a ridiculous thing to do! I mean, that’s like trying to land a jet aircraft on the freeway. It’s just stupid.


And so one always feels that, in the use of these things, that they have the same sort of dangers that high-powered things of any kind have—rifles or automobiles or planes—and therefore that the use of them should be licensed. The question is: we don’t know quite how to license them, because we don’t know who is really qualified to decide. This is one of the most problematic things of the whole of our technological advance: who is to decide? Because, you see, to be a qualified expert on any of these subjects it isn’t enough to be a psychiatrist alone. It isn’t enough to be a psychopharmacologist—that is to say, one who specifically studies the biochemistry or the neurology of these substances. The psychiatrist should also have some knowledge of religion, of sociology, of mythology, of, you might say, mythology including symbols and all that sort of thing. That should go along with it. And, you see, we don’t yet train a class of person who has all these disciplines at his disposal.


And so every trained class of person who belongs in a particular category—minister, psychiatrist, pharmacologist—all feel at a bit of a disadvantage, and therefore reluctant to assume responsibility for this kind of investigation. But, you see, the trouble is, it’s one of those things you can’t get out of. Somebody has got to assume responsibility for it, because it’s happening. All these things are being used and nothing is going to stop their use. You can’t prohibit LSD—at least you can write it down in the books that it is prohibited and you could tell the police to stop it. But why? The police are harassed enough with enough jobs as it is. Why send them on a task considerably more difficult than looking for needles in a haystack? LSD can be disguised so as to appear like almost anything. It can be made into gum for envelopes. It can be disguised as Kleenex or blotting paper or peanut butter or honey or just anything you choose. And it is so minute, it is tasteless, it has no odor. So there is no way whatsoever of concealing this. It is the perfect secret weapon. It is the perfect elixir. You know, the thing that is the mystery. And therefore, it can induce fantastic paranoia.


Not only—it’s so funny when you read some of the alarmist notices written about LSD from people who’ve never taken it. They read just as if they had taken it and then had a bad trip, because they’ve got paranoia. They see it on all sides, everywhere: this menace creeping in, in the marmalade, you know? In the drinking water. You know, just drop a pound of it in the local reservoir and the whole town’s turned on! Argh! So, like the general in Dr. Strangelove who is objecting to the communist plot to put fluoride into the water and destroy our natural juices, similar personalities are terrified that there’s a big communist plot of something or other to circulate LSD to undermine the youth of America and make them all peaceable so that they won’t fight.


Well, that’s not the way to handle things. All these things are best when they’re out in the open. And then, when we can have no paranoia about it, no hiding things as it is. Supposing a group of students who are not out for kicks—incidentally, kicks as a way of putting down young people. It’s not taking them seriously. If you want to put down the young people and say they’re only out for kicks, you’ve no business sending them to fight wars in Vietnam, which is a very responsible undertaking. So if a group of kids in college decide that they, for serious reasons of religious or personal investigation, want to take LSD, it would be very sensible of them to ask a psychiatrist to come over and sit with them for the day. And they would each put up enough money to pay him for his time. But they’re not allowed to do so. That would be illegal. It would be illegal for the psychiatrist to take part in such a thing. That’s the kind of nonsense you get to. So that what happens instead is that crime takes over. And organized crime hasn’t really moved into LSD yet, because there haven’t been enough enthusiastic graduate chemistry students who would manufacture it. And they’re idealists and they only want to make a relatively small amount of money on it. And they want to turn everybody on. They want to turn on the president of the United States, the president of the Russian republic, and everybody they want to get high on LSD so as to make them see things.


And here lie the dangers. The only way of getting LSD at the moment is on the black market. Genuine researchers cannot get it right now. Now, black market LSD is liable to be loaded with many other things. Especially if it comes from the syndicate, it is apt to be spiked with heroin so as to get you hooked. Other people mix it with amphetamines to soup up the effects. Then, also, the idealistic graduate student may give you a larger dose than you thought you were buying. And so it’s twice what it says on the bottle. And since there is no control over the quality of manufacture, it is as bad as the state of affairs in prohibition when people were drinking highly deleterious bathtub gin. Nobody in his senses will take black market LSD. You don’t know what you’re getting. So, by comparison with black market LSD, these other materials are not nearly so dangerous if taken in moderation. This really isn’t dangerous at all. It’s just that probably, if people smoked it, it would give the liquor industry a bit too much competition for comfort.


So now, for each of these I’ve drawn a characteristic limit point where I said it will take you of itself. But then, with a little push—if you’ve got the background and the initiative and the what have you, the training—you can take each one of them further. In fact, you can take even this one right the way through to here. And this, likewise. But, you see, there’s a corresponding effort, or whatever you want to call it, involved in each case. And, you see, generally speaking, their effects are everything that I described under the terms of sensory consciousness: the sense of time slowed down, being at one with the full physical environment, finding enormous delight and significance in what would ordinarily be called insignificant or unimportant patterns. The tones of people’s voice, the fantastic vibrations of musical instrument, the different qualities of texture and so on, is very much emphasized here, which is why this is a favorite chemical among musicians. Here, one goes into this very much. The utter fascination of the microscopic world: of texture, of the splendor of nature.


I picked up, with using mescaline, a rotten log about so long, so thick, with fungus on it. You know, that kind of shelf-like fungus that grows? And in the state of mescaline, this looked like a piece of jewelry. A great big thing made of ebony and ivory, and heaven only knows what. All of it looked as if it had been my minutely carved by a man like Cellini. It looked like a superb work of art instead of just a rotten old log.


With LSD, the same initial sort of effects. But with it is apt to go, for a while, a kind of a strange sensory jazz. Walls start to breathe; to waver, ripple. Supposing you see something like—let’s take a sea urchin’s shell. You can look at it and all the nipples on it start to wiggle. Not only to your eyes, but also to your sense of touch. Meanwhile, the shell breathes in and out with the nipples wiggling on it. And you wonder, “Now, what’s the reason for that? Is this a hallucination? What’s going on?” You know it’s obviously the effect of the chemical. But I begin to wonder about this, because I have tried to establish why they wiggle, and I find if I hold my eyes quite still on a certain point, they stop wiggling. But if I, in the normal way, let my eyes drift hither and yon over the thing, it wiggles. So I begin to think, “Well, after all, my eyes are gelatinous. And my brain is a pretty gooey mass of stuff. Maybe that thing is seen in the eye and on the soft surface of the retina actually do wiggle a bit.” Only, we learn not to see that. After all, when birds walk—have you ever watched When a bird walks, its head goes like this. Now, if you do that, you get your landscape going, you see? But obviously, surely, birds don’t permanently live in a landscape that goes like this when they walk. In other words, they screen that out and they make a constant. So likewise, we’ve learned, socially, that all these lines in this room are straight. See? They’re not wiggly, they’re made of a solid substance and they don’t wiggle. Well, maybe they do in our eyes. Only, we’ve learned to ignore that. Just as we can—see, I don’t have binocular vision. And so if I look at something, I should be seeing it double. But I don’t, because I repress, psychologically, one of the eyes. I can be either. But I’ve simply repressed that information so that I see like anybody else.


So these changes are rather strange. And not only do colors become intensely vivid, but sounds boom through you. And then you get to a point where you can see light in terms of sound, in terms of shape. All the senses seem to be one sense, fundamentally. A kind of fundamental sense of touch. But you touch light with your eyes, you touch sound with your ears, you touch wood with your fingers, you touch gas with your nose, and you touch taste essences with your tongue. But it’s all one touch. And then, beyond that, you get into something else.


When the sensory jazz wears off, the effect seems to go to deeper levels of one’s mind. And I would say, for me, the most startling property of all these three chemicals in their varying ways is that they substitute for either-or (thinking and feeling) both-and. That is to say, they facilitate polar feeling and thinking. You see, according to Gestalt psychology, our normal attentive consciousness is captured by the figure rather than the background, by the moving rather than the stationary. Enclosed figures with clear outline against a background win your attention in such a way that you see the figure and ignore the background. If, on an empty blackboard, I draw this figure and say to an audience, “What is it?” Most people will say, “It is a circle.” “It is a ball.” “It is a disk.” Very few people will suggest that I have drawn a hole in a wall. You see? Because attention goes here. But you realize: obviously you couldn’t see the figure without any background.


Now, you find you can reverse the tension between figure and ground fairly easily. You see this either as a ball or as a hole in the wall. But it’s difficult to see it as both. In the same way—you know that figure of two faces in profile which are about to kiss each other? And they are a black silhouette. But the area between the profiles forms a white chalice. Now, it’s very difficult to see simultaneously kissing faces and white chalice. You tend to see one or the other, because the two images are incompatible. Unless, perhaps, you form the concept of it as a loving cup. Then you may be able to see both. Because what you see depends to a large extent on the concept that you’re using. If, for example, you have a concept of number which goes 1, 2, 3, many, then you can never know that a table has four corners. You haven’t got the number four. It has “many” corners. Because it’s one above three. Anything above three is “many.” So there’s no difference in concept between a table with four corners or a table with twenty. For those primitive kind of arithmeticians.


So, then, polar thinking becomes characteristic of all of these, in here, and increasingly felt that the inside goes with the outside. In the same way that the back goes with the front, that you go with your circumstances. It isn’t that you are pushed around by them, as a puppet, but that you and your circumstances, you and your environment, are all the real you. That’s what you are doing. And so you experience—even though the circumstances may not be what would ordinarily be called harmonious (that is to say, pleasant circumstances), you realize that there is an unbreakable harmony between your behavior and the behavior of the external world. And so this polarity becomes very important, but it can scare the wits out of you. And this is a danger point.


If you say now, then, alright, if inside goes without side, likewise good goes with bad. As I said before, you wouldn’t know you were law-abiding people unless there were some criminals around to compare yourselves with. By comparison you know that you’re law-abiding. Well, now you begin to worry. If good goes with bad, who’s in charge around here? Who’s to say what’s right? If, after all, everything works out in the end, anything goes. And therefore, you can start to get worried. How will I know? What will I depend on in myself that I will behave in what is considered a sane way at the next moment? Will I suddenly be overcome with a passion to kill somebody? And, in this way, not knowing which end is up because everything is so relative, it feels as if, when you put your foot (your psychic foot) upon what you hope to be firm ground, the ground immediately collapses and you find yourself freely falling in space. And this is terrifying. You are afloat. You are in the floating world. You are in the relative universe in which there is nothing to hang on to, because the only thing that might be hangable-onto is you. In other words, suddenly the eternal rock, the firm foundation upon which the saints of the Lord are supposed to build, the rock of ages in which you’re supposed to be able to hide yourself—all that has gone. And it seems at first that there is nothing, nothing, nothing to cling to. And so the sweat can fall from you.


Until you say, “Well, that’s really the way it always was. When I was born I was kicked off the edge of a precipice. And I’ve been consoling myself all this time by hugging to a big chunk of rock that fell off with me.” But, you know, there is no security. And if you go with it, you see, and you don’t try to fight and to find something to cling to, it’s alright. Then you discover that the void that you were so frightened of is the clear light. This thing. That it isn’t empty in the ordinary sense of the word at all. But once you let go of your clinging, that’s all you let go of. There’s no you to let go of, really. All the thing to do is stop clinging. Because what that does is bunch you all up. It’s like going around like this. Sort of totally paranoid. Clinging. What’s gonna to happen to me? Oh, come on. Loosen up! You can’t do anything if your hands are tied up here all the time holding onto yourself. You know, you’re trying to get on by pulling up your own belt, and try and lift yourself off the ground this way. You never get anywhere. But when you let go, then there’s the possibility of doing something.


Well, I hope that people will get some sense about these things, and that those of us who are interested in their responsible use will be able to use them responsibly, and through that be able to educate the public into a sane behavior with these things—just as we are able, to some extent, to educate the public to behave sensibly with automobiles and whiskey. We haven’t done too good a job, but at any rate, we do make a try at it.

Transformation of Consciousness

Alan Watts

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