Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why drug-induced spirituality is inadequate

I came across a rare sight the other day-- a harmonious and constructive Internet discussion between a skeptic and a very mixed group of religious and spiritual-but-not-religious individuals.

At one point two of the spiritual-but-not religious persons spoke of how drugs, many years before, had brought them to an understanding of the oneness of existence, an understanding which has stayed with them throughout the years. It would be impossible, reading their words, to doubt the power of what they had experienced.

Yet, their experiences were as a peck on the cheek, compared with the profundity of true consummation brought about through disciplined, drug-free, practice. Let's see how this is so.

You can't forget truth. Whether it's the truth of how to ride a bicycle or the Truth of a glimpse into the Ultimate, one is changed forever by one's experience of the truth, and forever it will be with you, sometimes in an attenuated firm, but it will be there. The two persons who discussed their drug-related experiences spoke of this transformation.

But yet, that was what they spoke of. They spoke of an experience,  of a singular event which came about largely by happenstance, an experience which they could not further expand upon because, while a drug may impart an experience, it cannot impart tools, discipline, continuity, or development. And in their voices, even as they spoke of the profundity of the change they both experienced, was sadness. What they had was a memory, a powerful memory of a place they longed to return to but could not, and did not believe they ever could. And so they comforted themselves with their memories.

Something I must add here: memory, of such an experience, is more nearly like motor memory than the recollection of your aunt's telephone number. It is a much more powerful and intimate state, this soul memory, than is ordinary mental memory. Nonetheless, it is not presence itself.

Spiritual discipline lacks any of the ease and charisma of drugs. It lacks even the sex appeal of isolated techniques like meditation (chiefly because meditation, these days, is used as an artificially induced drug substitute, rather than as something that arises naturally in its own due time). There's zero glamor accrued to the art of digging the crap out of one's head and refusing idle thoughts their play. But while the purpose of the effort and the risk and the disruption is often out of mind, that one has tools and is self-propelled somewhere is never in doubt for the practitioner of spiritual discipline. And hidden in its debris field of its austere recklessness, is the development of presence, that which cannot be longed for, and which is not even oneness.

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