Drug-induced Enlightenment

Drug-induced Enlightenment

By Ned Wicker

I remember the 1960’s, those years when America transitioned from ‘Leave It To Beaver’ to Hippies, from being earthbound to walking on the moon. We banned prayer from public schools, escalated an unpopular war and developed a pocket calculator. America was stretching itself beyond the traditional and ushered in was an era of drugs, sex and rock’n’roll. One of the pop gurus of the time was Dr. Timothy Leary (1920-1996), whose search for enlightenment led him to hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD.

Wikepedia.com describes him as an ‘advocate of psychedelic drug research and use, and one of the first people whose remains have been sent into space. An icon of 1960s counterculture, Leary is most famous as a proponent of the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of LSD. He coined and popularized the catch phrase ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out.” America had endured World War II, followed closely by the Korean Conflict and, of course, the Vietnam War. We were living in the ‘Cold War’ period, and many of the youth of the 1960’s remember the emergency drills in school, when we were instructed to crawl under our desks and cover our heads in case of a nuclear attack. Young people were looking for meaning to all of the craziness. Psychedelic drugs were Leary’s answer to expanding and learning about the mind and psychology.

Leary believed that the use of these drugs, in the right dosage and in the right setting, would be beneficial in finding a better treatment for alcoholism even a way to treat and rehabilitate criminals. However, he did have a caveat.

“Acid is not for every brain – only the healthy, happy, wholesome, handsome, hopeful, humorous, high-velocity should seek these experiences,’ Leary explained. ‘This elitism is totally self-determined. Unless you are self-confident, self-directed, self-selected, please abstain.”

For the most part, America wasn’t concerned about any medical research, but young people did interpret Leary’s ideas as a green light to take recreational trips on LSD and other psychedelics. ‘Can I get off on this,’ was a common question of the day. Kids wanted to escape the realities of the world and a horrible Asian war. They searched for God, for meaning, for a new experience.Leary founded the League for Spiritual Discovery in 1966. This was a religion, based on the use of LSD. What Leary was really trying to do was prevent the inevitable declaration of LSD as an illegal drug. Leary thought that he could protect his use of the drug by calling it a religious practice, using freedom of religion as his primary reasoning. His organization was formed in September, but LSD was declared illegal in October. Leary would later encourage people to start their own religion.

I have an appreciation for Leary, mainly because of his academic brilliance and industrious drive. What he may not have been able to accept was his own limitations as a finite being. That search for what is beyond, for enlightenment, or the desire to escape the human condition, is something I believe we can only accomplish by being in relationship with God. From this existence, through death of the body, the finite becomes eternal, the limitations are removed and we bask in the pure light of the Almighty Creator. Perhaps Leary believed LSD gave him a glimpse of God’s glory.

That yearning, that search for something more is part of being human. The vast majority of people look for that fulfillment outside of a relationship with God. People look for meaning and purpose in their profession, their possessions and their standing in the community. People abuse drugs to escape, either not understanding or not wanting to consider the answer that God so freely wants to provide. Take this pill, make more money and you’ll be happy. When we turn away from God’s answers, we gravitate to non-productive, deadly human alternatives. In the search for enlightenment, we miss it. That is the tragedy of Timothy Leary.

Ned Wicker is Addictions Chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital Lawrence Center

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