..listening to the angelic music from the choir being piped down into the basement room, and having his consciousness greatly expanded by the chemicals in the mushrooms, Huston experienced a homecoming he’d longed for all his life: a direct, personal encounter with God.
Psychedelics: An important tool for creativity and innovation
As a creativity expert, my life purpose is to bring a felt sense of magic, wonder, and possibility back into people’s lives by empowering them as creators.
Each and every one of you have something amazing within you, a song, a poem, a way of detailing a car door, or spicing up the corner of a living room. Don’t be fooled or overwhelmed by the other billions and billions of other people on this planet. In a universe that is mostly black empty space and inhospitable to life, and among all the life forms you could have taken–algae, lichen, or the ill-fated Koala bear (see my post Creativity and Evolution: Learning from the Koala Bear) on this special planet, humans and humans alone are endowed with the consciously self-aware capability to create.
And since you are human, too, you have have something amazing to offer the world.
I also look at the importance of creativity from as many angles as I can including its expression in art, science, and religion, in childhood development and adult maturation, in business and the economy, in relationships, and, today, in psychoactive substances, often known as psychedelics.
A brief history of psychedelics
While psychoactive substances have been criminalized in recent years, they have, in fact, played a critical role in the progression of human culture since our mysterious beginnings. From wandering animals-skinned hunter-gatherers to latte-sipping, smartphone using digital wizards navigating both the virtual and brick and mortar worlds, we’ve had a remarkable journey. Some even argue that it was the ingestion of psychoactive substances by primates that were one of the factors catalyzing the development of the human brain over millions of years.
Today, I would like to talk about a remarkable story of creativity involving the religious scholar Huston Smith, the renegade Harvard psychologist, Timothy Leary, and a handful of others. This was originally going to appear in my book, The Shoreline of Wonder: On Being Creative, but I’ve saved it for another book in the future.
Can psychedelics lead to genuine “religious experiences”?
In 1962, Huston Smith, along with renegade Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary, participated in one of the most legendary psychological experiments of all time. Known as the Good Friday Experiment, for its planned occurrence in the basement of a church during the religious holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus, the goal was to examine the link between psychoactive compounds, in this case psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, and religious experiences. With Timothy Leary serving as adviser, the experiment was designed by Harvard Graduate student Walter Pahnke, a licensed medical doctor who was on his way to getting his second PhD in Religion and Society. Using the a double-blind technique, where neither the researcher nor the participants knew who received what in advance, half of the participants received the 30 milligrams of psilocybin, and the other half a placebo. Once the chemical took effect, though, there was no doubt who was under the spell of psilocybin. Among them was Huston Smith.
At that point, Huston has already had some experience with psychoactive compounds during his travels and with early meetings with Timothy Leary, meetings that had been encouraged by Huston’s friend and mentor, Aldous Huxley. But in the familiar setting of his beloved Christian Roots, listening to the angelic music from the choir being piped down into the basement room, and having his consciousness greatly expanded by the chemicals in the mushrooms, Huston experienced a homecoming he’d longed for all his life: a direct, personal encounter with God.
Psychedelics and their link to non-ordinary states
I have already outlined the links between religion and creativity. Here, too, I wish to underscore another link between creativity and non-ordinary states. What set the experience of creativity apart from our everyday ordinary experiences is that we have a sense of either 1) profound connection 2) the felt sense of us affecting the world in a meaningful way or 3) profound connection and affecting the world happening simultaneously. As such, and when used appropriately, I believe there is great potential for creativity that comes from chemical induced non-ordinary states. It doesn’t mean that the dangers of abuse aren’t still there. But with the education on proper use and the establishment of safe containers, such compounds can be used in a way to activate the innate creativity in stuck individuals and keep the already creative fresh in their pursuits.
And in the words of Huston himself, “Temporary states don’t always lead to lasting traits.” A religious experience doesn’t necessarily translate into a religious or particularly creative life, that is a life where one’s sense of connectedness to something larger than themselves and one’s ability to affect the world in a meaningful way is the norm and not simply a series of disjointed peak experiences. To lead a truly creative life takes determination and hard work.
An opportunity of a lifetime…
If you want to experience the links between non-ordinary states of consciousness, healing, and Self-expression, we have a plant medicine retreat planned for June 19-29 in Peru. It’s going to be unforgettable. Go here go get more details.