If there is anyone to blame, lets blame Judy Wise. Shortly after I came to town, she turned up on my doorstep from Palo Alto, a friend of a friend
She'd been staying with Ken Kesey. They'd been experimenting with something called peyote, a foul-looking, foul-tasting desert plant from the southwest. Yes, in those days, it was perfectly legal. All you had to do was cook it up and swallow it down. It would taste a little bitter, she said. And nothing would happen for awhile. After that: the meaning of life would be revealed to me. Who was I to deny such an opportunity, back in 1962, when I was in my salad days?
So we cooked it , there in the houseboat on Lake Union, in the late fall, back then in 1962 when we were so young, so willing to try anything. What a dull, transparent world we had grown up in. How bored we were with it. We looked everywhere for something to pull us out of the mud of 1960s America.
Judy baked it in the oven. It made the house smell like old, very old gym shoes. Once cooked, she ground it all to a powder, scooped the powder into double-ought gelatine capsules, and offered four to me, four to our friend Wesley, and took four herself. It was then evening, sun now gone from the November sky. It was to stay evening for several years. Wesley was the first to barf.
Judy had some Pepto-Bismol which helped some. "Lay down on the floor," she told us. "That will help some, too." She turned off the lights. The dock lights filtered in through the houseboat windows. The boat rocked gently. The room still smelled of old shoe. We lay down head-to-head. The boat rocked, we rocked. Then they opened the doors.
I had known her for a few days, but I had never noticed before how much Judy's face was like those at Mount Rushmore. "Rushmore," I said. "You look just like a mountain," I told her. "I am the old woman of the mountain," she said. I had never before known how wise she was. Wesley was silent. He told us later he could hear --- radio transmissions --- our thoughts leaking out of our heads, draining onto the floor, where they crept along to infiltrate his thoughts.
"Wow," I said. The boat rocked in the seas of eternity. I could hear the hinges of the universe soughing. Wesley transformed himself into Prince Hamlet. Every now and again he would get up (it took a long time, he was giant) and walk the floor. I worried about him being Hamlet, having to deal with that problem with his father who kept appearing at the window, standing on the water, shaking his gory locks at us.
I had a problem with the knotholes. The walls had been lined with knotty pine. The holes in the walls had the ability to speak with my voice. Every time I said something important, something important like "Wow," the knot holes would speak the very same word, using my voice, precisely. "How do they know?" I wondered. "They should knot know," I thought. "How does a knot not know?" I asked.
It's been forty-five years since I had a chance to experiment with vision, to know that this world we think of as real and solid is but made up. As Judy said, on that singular evening, "We all make up our minds."
Stanislav Grof made up his mind about the same time. He started experimenting with LSD several years before. He also experienced a wide variety of other drugs --- peyote, MDA, "magic mushrooms," ketamine, and toad juice. What? "Smoking dried secretions [of certain toads] induces within seconds a psychedelic state that can be very psychologically challenging," he writes. "The Church of the Toad was created to use liquids of Bufo alvarius in religious services," he tells us. Seriously.
Grof is convinced that all of us have passed many other lives on earth and, possibly, lives in other worlds. He is a believer in Carl Jung's collective unconsciousness, anomalous phenomena, and out-of-body and near-death experiences. He has sought the crystal skull and has traveled widely to investigate so-called "primitive" beliefs, relics and magic. He seems to have undertaken every possible journey one can take by conventional and unconventional means to study and understand "cosmic consciousness."
Recently, Grof has communicated with hundreds of people who have returned to partake in their own births, and in one case, he reports a session of "primal therapy" where the patient "relived his conception:"
To his surprise, Graham experienced in his session that being the sperm, he did not attack and penetrate the passive ovum, as it was at the time taught in medical schools, but that the ovum cooperated by sending out an extension of its cytoplasm and engulfing him.
Grof has visited Ayers Rock, the Cosmic Mountain, which pokes more than a thousand feet out of the red Australian desert. Grof (who had ingested "400 mcg of LSD" the night before) found himself with "the Great Mother Goddess in the form of a female kangaroo."
Suddenly I realized that I had become a tiny kangaroo fetus in her womb, undergoing the process of birth.
It's not all fireworks out there (or inside our locked-up brains.) Grof reports that some of his psychedelic journeys on ketamine --- used as an anesthetic by physicians --- were "absolutely trivial and outright boring." However during one, which he called his "IG Farben consciousness," he realized that petroleum was a "fat of biological origin that got mineralized; it meant that it had escaped the mandatory cycle of death and rebirth."
However the element of death was not eliminated in this process, it was only delayed. The destructive plutonic potential of death continues to exist in petroleum in a latent form as a monstrous time bomb awaiting its opportunity to be released into the world.
During a journey on ketamine, Grof became "every Jew who had died in the Nazi gas chambers, every sprayed ant and cockroach, every fly caught in the sticky goo of the flytraps, and every plant dying under the influence of the herbicides. And beyond all that lurked the highly possible ominous future of all life on the planet --- death by industrial pollution.
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This guy is a dynamo, and not half-cracked as some would want to believe. What makes his experiences so exciting is that he knows how to gather the words --- words of other worlds --- put them down on the page and make them ring true, or at least true for this reader. He is a worthy stylist of the unbelievable, which he mixes here with stories of his life: what it was like to grow up in Nazi and Communist controlled Czechoslovakia; how he escaped during Prague Spring (to not return for twenty years); how he was hired on in Baltimore at a government-sponsored institute to experiment with LSD; how, when she was in her seventies, he taught his mother breathing exercises --- and how she in turn, became an exponent of "holotropic breathwork," which she taught through the last years of her life.
It is a fascinating journey he takes us on, and it would be just too goofy if it weren't for the fact that Grof knows how to speak as if he, indeed, had through all these twists and turns of reality had somehow found, as the Chinese would have it, The Tao ... The Way.
Most of all, When the Impossible Happens is a book of hope. It so happens that the day I picked it up was a day in which I was ready to jump off the lanai. I woke up feeling peckish, my cat had just thrown up under my desk, I felt, as we all must feel, at times, useless, unwanted, unloved. In my own minor way, I was going through what Grof calls a "Spiritual Emergency." Grof's sense of hope (and sense of fun) helped get me through that day, my only regret was that there was no toad around to lick.
Each of the chapters in the book holds a surprise, making me realize --- again --- that the day-to-day set that you and I keep is limited and patterned. We protect ourselves from the new --- sometimes to the point of madness. The journeys that Judy and Wesley and I went on so many years ago told us of another world. According to Grof, there are others, dozens of others, for me, for all of us, to explore. If we so choose; if we so dare.--- Richard Saturday