[This review originally appeared on Erowid.org.]
S. Grob & Roger Walsh
If I were to teach a course about psychedelics, the first book I would have my students read is Higher Wisdom. Edited by Roger Walsh and Charles Grob, this gem of a book provides in-depth interviews with 14 psychedelic luminaries. Collectively, their published books, papers, lectures, and research reports would take up a significant amount of shelf space.
Fortunately, for those of us who don't have the time to read through such a treasure trove of information, Grob and Walsh have distilled the pure essence of the work of these elders into a series of remarkable interviews. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to be carried away by this book, because I thought I already knew a lot about almost everyone the editors interviewed. I was wrong. Before I knew it, I lost track of time and was transported back to the days when incredible breakthroughs were being made by these pioneers of consciousness exploration.
Although the interviews are arranged under the general categories of research, psychotherapy, culture & consciousness, and religious implications, I didn't read it front to back. Instead, I began by first reading the interviews of people I knew the best. As I read, I quickly became aware of what a valuable resource I was holding in my hands. Here in a single volume were the "headlines" and best stories of some people whose work will one day be seen as the bedrock of all future psychedelic studies.
Higher Wisdom works on several levels. Psychedelic researchers and explorers may find in it clues to puzzles they have yet to solve. Additionally, it is a work of history that pulls together the stories of a small group of people, largely unknown to most of the world, who were on the verge of breakthroughs in consciousness research that are unparallel yet today. In addition to the first person interviews, the editors, along with Gary Bravo, have written several short essays that pull these disparate stories together, placing the work of these eminent elders into a focused historical context. Another useful feature the editors included is to split the book's index into two parts, a Name Index and a Subject Index. While this may seem like a trivial matter, it is a nice touch that many will appreciate.
The split index makes it quite easy to see the interconnectivity between this small band of researchers, as well as illuminating the influence of a few pioneers who had died before these interviews took place. I like to think of them as ghosts who continue to look over the shoulders of these early explorers. Interestingly, some of the ghosts have more index entries than the subjects of the interviews, and they don't all come across in the most positive light, as these very candid conversations reveal.
As to the appropriateness of the title, Higher Wisdom, consider this thought from Myron Stolaroff: "Ultimately, true liberation in the Buddhist sense is reaching wholeness, where you are totally at peace and intimate with everything that exists. If you leave out even one person, you've left out part of yourself; you can't be really whole until you've absolutely accepted every living creature."
The emphasis in that quote
was added by me . . . and for me. It is something I am still struggling
to put into practice. My bet is that you will also find a great deal
of wisdom in this fine little book. I highly recommend it.