On a farm outside Milwaukee, we gathered on a treeless hillside. The spring of 1973. A hillside just coming out the Northern deep freeze, grass blanched and pressed by the snow was starting to lean into real spring. You could smell soil again. Puffy luminous clouds marching along in the warm breeze waiting like an expectant audience, to be a witness to our drug adventure. Three were old hands, ready and willing to be tossed into the maelstrom, open to the adventure. I was glad of the company. Me…I was a trembling wreck, could I pass the test? Marijuana which I had learned to enjoy only after being rescued from a “freak out” once by hearing Otis Redding on the radio singing Try a Little Tenderness—which became my initiation into the synesthetic magic of the theatre in the mind. One only needed to stand fast to pass the firey winds of a lion-guarded gate. But pot was only intense for an hour or so and any freakout only lasted a few minutes, Acid? They said it could go on for 12 hours appended by the notorious Flashback. Did I want to “play Russian roulette with my mind”?
Well, I guess I did. I wanted in on the magical mystery tour. The editor of LOOK magazine had dropped acid and reported back, Aldous Huxley had as well and had written a book The Doors of Perception, Tom Wolfe got on Ken Kesey’s bus, for pity sake. I wanted to get with it. I was missing out. So here I was in the embrace of copacetic friends and it was a fine day in a lovely spring setting, and I was about to leave school to join the world. And besides, we had Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience, (co-edited by Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) and Ralph Metzner) his guidebook for the tripper based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. “Of course you’ll experience Ego-death, Get ready for that one,” a friend had said. We were set to journey into the wilderness land of the mind. The Tibetan instruction for the journey of the dead seemed essential as the nature of the acid experience was “Ego Death” As the drug took hold I found myself digging away the waste of last years sod to open a slit revealing the black soil of Wisconsin. I had come to love soil as avidity for gardening had taken hold of my life. I was a sculpture major but my required minor (most students took up some kind of history) found me at the AG school learning soil science, vegetable production, etc. in preparation for the “back to the land” fantasy many of my fellow counter-culture-ites entertained— I took a deep draw of the dark furrow I’d scratched and it was a whiff of smell like the skull cap of my newborn’s head. Mmmmm… I looked up as the drug was beginning, mind sweeping and what came washing ashore were great heaving waves of well being. Wave after wave. Laura who was our designated driver began reading the text: Oh, nobly born…the book began directly quoting the original Tibetan Book of the Dead, just as puffy cumulus clouds, with their blue undersides, were lining up to show just exactly how effortless it was to feel the space above the puffs and below here on the ground. Okay, I mean the Okay-est OK you’ll ever feel. That slit in the earth was not only OK in itself it was a wish-granting jewel able to bestow the blessing of OK.
Laura started in again, Oh, nobly born….it’s a joke, right? It was the funniest joke we’d ever heard. Laughing until our sides split, rolling down the hill kind of laughter. We had brought the book as a kind of talisman against a mental freakout, but with tears streaming…well, that was the last we heard from Professor Leary. To this day I still can’t think of the book without cracking up. We all want a guru to act as a kind of road grader to smooth the rocky path, but truth be told, if you don’t find your own truth on your own, it doesn’t seem worth all that much. It becomes an East/West dichotomy. The Eastern tradition values the Guru, She’ll show you the way. In the West, it was the knights of the round table, each one leaving, going out their own door to find the Grail.
Back to the Wisconsin hillside. The cumulus clouds, drenched and glowing in pearly light, formed and deformed. Everytime your gaze was averted, it was like a movie starting all over from the beginning. Clouds….then, look down… not clouds. Clouds, not clouds, clouds not clouds, like turning off and on a switch. A chill took hold as the sun dropped so we settled into the hay barn with a half-ruined roof. On the covered side, the hay had been stacked into a comfy amphitheater and we perched in as the roof, pocked with holes let light stream in rays showing up as parallel spills of substance. Light was not only visible, it was thick, ropey substance you could climb on like a jungle gym. Spinning pinwheels formed and unformed, Light show phantasmagoria. All that was a distraction and hardly the point. The point was: everything is OK. Like I said—the Okay-est OK you’ll ever feel.
My worry-bead question that I brought to Psychedelphia was the thought that maybe I was fooling myself to become an artist: Who do you think you are? Carrying a tiny wallet of bluster with a sackful of self-doubt. Am I on the right course? I was afraid, before this drug experience of what I thought of as truth serum would reveal my self-deception, Maybe I’d find out, even though I’d gone some distance, well along after six years of study, and maybe I was well along on the wrong path. But an hour into the trip I felt that sense of well-being that was flooding me, body and soul was exactly the same feeling I got when I was flowing with my work in the studio. Those feelings were coming faster (a lot faster) and a lot harder to keep track of (a lot) but the tone was the same. A feeling of rightness, knowing what goes with what, all you have to do is take the next step. I love this feeling. All my life I’ve been looking to keep this state of mind alive and well. Choosing things to do that enhance this state—art,—sculpture first of all, then child rearing, gardening, telling stories and making pictures of stories.
Journey to the East was on everyone’s mind—the Herman Hesse book and in general, checking out the storm front of Eastern Gurus blowing in. I’d seen Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on TV. (The Beatles Guru) In the fall of ’67 watching the Maharishi laughed his way through the interview with such believable joy and genuine love of life, I signed up. An hour of instruction on how to meditate and you were good for life. But so many gurus came with their swamie baskets plucking up the vulnerable like picking posies in a field. It all felt suspect giving yourself to a guru. Meditation was cool but becoming a devotee, yuk. Meditation was simply loading the bow. So many made the mistake of confusing the bow as an object of worship and not e energy of the arrow’s flight.
The descriptions you get all across the web of this dude’s AMAAAAZING trip and that dude’s “The colors man, the colors The colors man …that kind of report back to central. But if it was all just amazing colors