Thursday, January 31, 2019


Yesterday I finished reading the January-February issue of Smithsonian called America at War.  Its focus was on the War on Terror, which we have been fighting since the 9/11 attacks.  But within it were articles which touched on the bigger concepts which are encapsulated within "war".  As you know, I am a huge fan of the Smithsonian magazine, so it is with full seriousness that I say that it was one of the best series of articles ever published by this august periodical, and well worth reading should you have the opportunity.

There are articles concerning: a permanently injured veteran, a priest who spent time as an interrogator at Abu Ghraib, a graphic detailing the geographic extent of our military presence, a pictorial of a few of the thousands of non-citizen immigrants currently serving in our military, a review of the disastrous incursion into Somalia which inspired the movie "Black Hawk Down", a story about a war dog back home and the process of his adjustment to civilian life as told by his adopter, an interesting article about what we (physically) leave behind after we occupy a country for a period of time, a brief discussion of transgender individuals currently serving in our military, and finally, a very intriguing article about remembering war through monuments, and the ongoing creation of monuments to those who have served in the War on Terror, which, since it is ongoing, needed a Congressional Act to fund monuments since by definition a war monument could only be erected after a war's end. 

I especially liked the article about the priest at Abu Ghraib.

I also thought it best to read some of the posts I have previously written on the topic of war, before adding a new one to the list.  Of course, I don't mind repeating salient points about a topic every once in a while, but I would prefer a new angle if possible.  After reading the few posts I have already written, and this amazing edition of Smithsonian, I feel confident that there are areas for new comment.

For me, this edition further crystallized my opinion of war by showing its effect on real life people who write about war by living (and sometimes dying) with soldiers, who believe in giving their time (and lives, if necessary) for their country, who are trained to dehumanize the enemy so as to kill more easily, and then be untrained to see people as humans once they are discharged, and who are severely injured while serving their country, not just by enemy devices, but by poorly designed living quarters, and "acceptable loss ratios".

I have often questioned my reluctance to embrace war as a solution for our national differences.  I am always amazed when I read about young men and women who are willing to die for America, as I do not share that feeling.  Is it just cowardice?  As a child I was more frequently a victim of bullying than a bully; do those experience make one more likely to embrace pacifism, and to espouse the teachings of non-violence as given to us by Jesus of Nazareth?  Does being physically strong make one more likely to see physical force as a solution to conflict, knowing success is more likely?  And, if combined with the belief that one is "right", or blessed by god to emerge victorious, does that make war a more palatable solution?

America is the strongest country on earth today.  We have the greatest nuclear capability, most technologically advanced military might, and the ability for precision strikes, with or without boots on the ground, to take out an objective.  It is inconceivable to imagine World War 2 ending as it did without our intervention.  It is a non-starter to think of a world where the Soviet bloc would have triumphed, rather than the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the Communist experiment. 

But do these victories guarantee future wins, or even that future efforts will be moral? 

When I read that America is conducting some kind of military intervention, whether it be actual combat troops or advisers or the maintenance of military bases, in approximately 40% of the countries on Earth, it makes we wonder if we have equated might with right.  Or that we do it just because, like the physically strong, we can.

What is truly fascinating is that most people say they don't like bullies.  We do not want them in our schoolyards, in our workplace, in our homes.  We believe in democracy yet so often support rules and laws that equate to bullying those who are different; who dress, worship, love, appear, differently.  We tear up and salute when we see those military caskets at the airport, but we are seemingly at war with each other over political differences, and love it when our side gets to bully the other, in the halls of Congress or at the White House.

War is a mental state.  When it is the go-to solution for all our ills, whether it be by barring those born to our south from the opportunities of our country, or bombing our enemies from above accepting whatever collateral damage to family and innocents that might occur, or screaming at the driver of a car who maneuvered too close to our vehicle, or defending one's home with gunshots before discovering if the intruder is friend or foe, or assuming the young kids of color who just entered your store are there to steal, or by replacing mercy for those in need with condemnation that they must deserve their plight, or by all the everyday incidents where we react with anger and clenched fists as opposed to understanding and an open hand, we are at war. 

Some might say that conflict is ingrained in our DNA.  Fight or flight instinct.  Clearly, that instinct enabled humanity to evolve to this point in time.  But we have progressed from mere tribal beings to more social animals.  We seek inclusion, gain some of our status and self esteem from the associations we forge.  We stop and help those in need to cross a street or pick-up spilled groceries.  We provide care for those born with physical or mental challenges rather than jettisoning them as weak links in the chain of man.  And we sometimes even do these acts of charity for those not like us, those suffering from natural disasters, or debilitating accidents not of their fault.

But when push comes to shove, we so very easily resort to circling the wagons while emphasizing our differences rather than our similarities. 

War is not just combat with bombs and bullets.  War is the reflex which emboldens us to treat others as less than human, exactly the opposite of treating others as you would want to be treated. 

Perhaps it is time to begin, or maybe restart is the better word, the process of choosing peace rather than war as our go-to solution.  To tweet love rather than hatred.  To build mutually profitable relationships rather than walls. 

To stop using the excuse that "they"are not ready for such a Utopian world of peace, that "they" only understand violence, that "they" do not share our love of life, and realize that "they" see us as we see them, and that all of us are "they" to someone else. 

If not now, when? #IFNNW

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


So, I finished reading my Secret Santa gift for this year, a book by Michael Pollan called "How to Change Your Mind", subtitled "What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence".

It would do the book great injustice to attempt to summarize it, as I would be unable to succinctly communicate the breadth and depth of the research done by Pollan.  Suffice it to say that, in addition to his own guided "trips", he spoke with virtually all the researchers involved in studying this topic, both from its glorious beginning then ignominious ending in the late 60's/early 70's, to its resurgence in the 90's, quiet and secretive as it was, to today's mainstream acceptance that there is something to the concept of using psychedelics to treat a variety of illnesses.  His research did not just include therapists and researchers, but also neurologists and pharmacologists as he attempted to detail the effects of psychedelics as seen from brain imaging technology. 

In short, a fascinating book, which, via his experiences, the experiences he recounts from those he interviewed, and the similarity of the more vivid and expansive stories to each other, to the epiphanies that occur by those using deep meditation exercises, and to the rebirth stories often told by those who have strong religious and/or spiritual revelations, remind me of similarities and differences concerning my perceptions of LSD trips which were part of my life as a young adult.

I can recall a number of events in my childhood which alerted me to the difficulty in believing in the basics of the Catholic religion, in which I was raised.  My rational brain (ego, one might say) could not wrap itself around the concept of a force so powerful as to fashion the universe and everything in it, from time immemorial to today to an endless future, but who, after allowing us to fall prey to Satan in the Garden of Eden, an inevitable occurrence if we assume man was created flawed, and given the choice to be good or bad, then would send us His Son, after hundreds of thousands of years (what about all those born before that?) to give us the Good News and a new path to eternal life. 

This is not to say that I did not believe in God, or did not wish to be "good".  But in the course of reading about all the great religions of our time, each convinced that theirs was the one true path, and after countless hours of discussion with friends about life's meaning, it seemed pretty clear to my mind that faith was a string of assumptions, generally learned, and based on where you were born, that allowed one to move through life with a framework that provided just  enough assurance that it was better to try to do the right thing, treat others as you would want to be treated, and hope that you might do more good than bad and so be rewarded with a positive afterlife. 

In the meantime, strangely to me, given this foundation, go to a "good" school, seek the perfect mate, get a good job with good pay and benefits, live in a single family home with 2 kids and a pet, and float downstream by following all the rules of society, avoiding taboo subjects, behavior out of the ordinary and people unlike your self. 

Drugs, of course, offered all kinds of possibilities to counter-dict those commands so it is not surprising that I might engage in some unsupervised trips even as I was dropping out of college, hitch-hiking across the country, taking job after job which held no future or satisfaction, and, basically, living day to day.  I could see the path that was set aside for me, the life that most of my generation sought and attained, and it sure seemed parochial at best, strangling and soul killing at worst.

Of course, in retrospect, I was just immature.  I eventually did "settle down", find a wonderful mate, have two amazing children, and a dog, (and a bunch of cats), graduate from college, get a job (two jobs, actually, for much of my working life), buy a home, and float downstream. 

Well, mostly.  Because not far from the surface, there still lingered the anti-authority tendency, the questioning of how rampant materialism was good for anyone's soul, let alone mankind's future, the belief that so many of society's rules kept us from truly "living", instead placing us on a path that would more often than not, lead us to delaying our self reflection and search for meaning until the last days of our lives when it would be more a scramble to find meaning in all the wasted years, or find hope that we might be forgiven for spending too much time with blindfolds on our eyes and a suffocating chain of rationalizations around our heart.  Yikes!

For so many of those who have been involved in research or guided trips with a psychedelic drug, finding the words to describe their experience, especially those for whom the experience approached or went beyond the transcendental, is a hapless adventure. 

Oneness with the universe
The knowledge that Love is all around us
A connectivity with all life, plant and animal as well as human
The realization that we all come from and will return to the source of all energy and existence
True bliss

More than a few of the astronauts, those lucky people who saw the Earth from space, saw it hanging in a black sky with all the immensity of the universe surrounding it, realized a better understanding and connection with their fellow Earthlings.  Felt, many for the first time in their lives, how minuscule and special, we all are, regardless of whether they believed Earth was the only planet with life in the universe or just one of millions.

I learned, through personal experience, the importance of set and setting when I used LSD.  It is one of the bedrock facets of psychedelic research and therapy, clearly understood by those who used the drug on their own, and now administer it to their patients.  I know I had a few bad trips; most likely I stopped using after one of them.

But I don't recall any of them.  Instead, I recall those that provided a glimpse into something bigger than myself, those that allowed me to roam free in my mind without the rules that restrict us to what we can and can't think about, and, most importantly, without the fears of what we might find hidden within our psyche. 

One of my best recollections occurred while attending a pool party.  I was smitten with a certain young lady who did not return the feeling.  When I saw her with another guy, it became clear that I could not stay in that setting, especially since I had dropped a tab of acid earlier that night.  At the time, I did not own a car, instead I rode my bicycle everywhere, winter and summer, so i was in the best shape of my life. 

I often was amazed during this time, how I could ride my bike without remembering crossing certain streets or making certain turns, not unlike how we frequently get to work in our cars but don't remember the drive.  On this particular night, once I was fully involved in the ride, I imagined my bike was a horse, completely disassociated I was from my legs.  I heard sounds akin to the horse and buggy decades.  Clip-clop, clip-clop.  I rode for quite a long time, hours, in fact.  While I completely violated the rules of set and setting, after all, I was riding my bike in areas where bike lanes did not exist, traffic laws were the rule of the day, and most of the drivers I encountered were no where near my plane of existence, I recall it as one of the more in-the-moment times of my life.  Disappointment at my unrequited love no longer mattered, only the clip-clop of my transportation, the sounds of the night, the neighborhoods I rode through, the lawns, the trees, the people. 

It was like looking at a mosaic of nature and life and humanity yet also being a part of that mosaic, riding through it and within it.  Being a part of something as large and unfathomable as our existence within this universe, and at that same time watching yourself as you move through that universe. 

A true connection, yet a separateness as well.  It is that aspect of the psychedelic journey that can allow a terminal patient to face her death, without fear, knowing that death is just another phase of existence, yet not just knowing this, intellectually, which we all know, but feeling it to be true, without the mind interrupting with its mortality phobia. 

Unfortunately, for most psychonauts, the intensity of any revelation or epiphany fades over time.  We are dragged back to the ruts of thinking that we need to navigate through the world, so as to continue to present to our family, friends and co-workers the person they depend on, seek guidance from, love.

Yet perhaps it is enough to know that there are other states of consciousness that we can access, occasionally, to help us re-boot our awareness or our thinking strategies.  It is that aspect of psychedelic therapy that holds promise for addictions; providing the addict with a way to break out of the cycle of thinking that brings them back to the drug of their choice.  We have all experienced times when we focus on one thing, too often and for too long, and all wished we could just push a reset button on the side of our head to break out of this endless cycle of thinking.  In effect, alter our state of consciousness, for just that moment so we can sleep, or get on to some more important aspect of our day. 

Only time will tell if psychedelic therapy becomes part of the mainstream health industry, coded and paid for like any other medicine or intervention.  What is more interesting, or divisive, is the idea that psychedelic therapy might be good for the well, not just for those with mental health issues.  That a reboot for the brain, might do us all some good, every once in a while.  That, like a yearly physical check-up, or other such preventive health measures, a few molecules of a psychedelic drug, administered in the proper setting, with a trained therapist who helps with the journey, as well as its interpretations, might become the norm.

Of course, I have yet to see that on a science fiction show yet, (Spock on acid might be a bit overwhelming).  And, it may not bode well for our consumption based economy if more people realized that the accumulation of things does not provide happiness.  Even worse, most of the power that our institutions have over us, especially those which deal in the soul, are based on accessing the path to eternity through their methodology. 

Imagine a world without religion, yet occupied by realized individuals who rejoice in their opportunity at life, who live with eyes open to the amazing diversity of existence, and yet do not fear for their immortality, knowing, truly, that it is just another phase, and that fearing death is as much a function of not living and appreciating "life" as it is of dying.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

New Year, New Perspective

Happy New Year!

I know I am 17 days late for that statement, and that I haven't posted in more than 40 days.  Probably the most time between posts in years.  Strangely, I did not "miss" my blog, although I did check in at least once a week to note traffic.  (Along that line, I started 2018 with the thought of recording how many different countries were represented by my "audience".  Seventy-two is the answer for 2018).

As I reflect on why I did not miss my blog, why I did not pressure myself to find the time to post something, especially considering how much material there is to comment upon, I settled on three
answers, all being correct in some way.

First, as 2018 came to a close, there were times that my opinion seemed to matter less and less.  Not that I will stop offering it, but that the forces at work which are changing our world, seem far beyond being effected by the voice of one person.  Call it the "throw-ones-hands-into-the-air" philosophy, it just seems that there is little one person can do to alter the course of our national and planetary paths.

Second, I was busy, very busy at work.  I am the manager of a retail store which, of course, means massive business during the holiday season, but in addition to the normal chaos, it was decided that we
would open a new location for that store, about 6 doors down in the same complex, and that we would close the old store January 6th, and open the new store January 7th.  This required my presence in both locations, a reduction of inventory at the precise time that our sales would be at their highest, stocking the new store in anticipation of the opening without the use of electronic receiving technology, coordinating the move with multiple people from multiple departments, each with their own view of what needed to be done, and a host of "little" issues that in aggregate created a big pile.

But third, and perhaps most critical, I began reading a book I received from my Secret Santa called
"How to Change Your Mind", subtitled, "What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence", by Michael Pollan.

I know, the title and subtitle are a mouthful, and the topic both alarming and provocative.  At this point I am about to begin the 6th and final chapter.  To say the least, it is an eye-opening read, but more importantly, mind expanding, if I may use a sixties sounding phrase.

I will comment further on this book in my next post.

In the meantime, I wish you and your families, a happy and healthy New Year.