Altered Traits, and States

Two recent books document the potential of altered traits, and states:

My experiences of psychedelically altered states included dozens of weekend LSD "trips", from 1970 through 1980. What I remember of my experiences were feelings like: WOW! This in incredible! These feelings were frequently accompanied by great clarity of mind, greatly enhanced sensual perceptions, diminution of habitual egocentric thinking, etc. In those states I was aware that my "rational" consciousness was inferior and subject to all sorts of inherited emotional problems, and that all of humanity was similarly afflicted. (Conversely, my experiments were covert -- it was dramatically obvious that I would damage my normal relationships if my experiments were disclosed. I could not relate to most people within their rational consciousness, and I probably could not handle normal responsibilities including thinking. I might for example preach or giggle hopelessly during conversations and business meetings.) Toward the end of my experimentation with psychedelics, I wrote letters to myself from my altered state -- trying to express the enormity of the experiences and how important it was to address the difference between normal and altered states of consciousness.

I had earlier read into philosophy and then investigated psychologies that might help with my marriage problems (circa late 1960s); thereby seeing, in contrast to ideals of freedom and equal opportunity for all, or liberty, equality and fraternity, how profoundly we humans had been afflicted throughout history, as demonstrated by wars, depressions, poverty, inequities, slavery, riots, and business, societal and political competition and conflicts. My later psychedelic experiences simply and intimately dramatized those conflicts in personal terms.

The end of my experiementation came after touching on similar altered states during zen sesshins beginning in mid 1970s. Both the meditational and the psychelic experiences were brief, unsustainable and difficult. Zen practice however seemed to offered a progressive path. (Before Zen I had briefly tried encounter groups, Transcendent Meditation, Silva Mind Control, Tibetan Buddhism, etc.; all seemed to promise less and require more than Zen.)

Zen is described as a "religion before religion"; many people who practice other religions also practice Zazen. Nevertheless one is invited at some later stage in practice to have a "general housekeeping of your mind", to take everthing out, examine it, and put helpful things back. Believing in a particular theology and practicing certain rituals are not necessary. Zazen is instead objectless meditation, yet it reaches to all aspects of one's life, possibly through transcendental glimpses of Truth or Source that are typically brief experiences that deeply affect one's subsequent life. Or it can be rationalized as simply seeing beyond normal rational consciousnes and the delusion of Self (ego).

Buddhism identifies three "marks of human existance", i.e., change, suffering, and no-self. Careful reflection can free you from the delusion of a permanent, abiding Self; nevertheless most of us still live within that delusion. The permanent Self delusion is well understood and documented, an ancient heritage stemming from evolution. Kahneman's book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow", documents myriad similar delusions and related irrational tendencies in our "rational" consciousness.

My practice of zazen has continued since the early 1970s for almost 50 years, including daily meditations and seasonal week-long retreats (sesshins), for perhaps a cummulative total of between 20,000 and 30,000 hours of zazen. I am aware of many improvements in my "traits", hopefully reflecting Buddhism's "four immeasurable minds", i.e., kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. I see these mostly in my changing attitudes toward my past (abysmal) aspirations, views and behaviour, and also in my awareness of the many hisorical, emotional and physical influences on behavior and reasoning, both in myself and in others. Within Zen our objective is just to "see things as they are, and let them go as they go" moment by moment, maintaining our practice forever. And to live fully, responding appropriately to each situation in each moment.