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By Lawrence Hagerty

[Presented at Mind States II held at The International House in Berkeley, California on May 27, 2001]

Now available in audio format, listen online or download

     When I learned that my presentation at this conference was to follow such a distinguished panel of elders, the first thought that came to mind was, “What can I add to the topic of psychedelic thinking that won’t have already been covered?” In fact, that question became even more pressing when it dawned on me that this presentation also comes near the end of a very mind-expanding weekend.

     The answer, of course, is that psychedelic thinking is like a multi-faceted jewel, reflecting the light of our individual consciousnesses as we hold it up for examination. Thus each of us brings a unique point of view to a subject that holds few, if any, absolutes. Like most of you, I have come to my view of psychedelic thinking after many years of conscious effort. I began my personal investigations of altered states of consciousness after first studying the teachings of those who blazed the early trails. Eventually, I got to know some modern-day psychonauts and learned from them as well. So what I am going to present today is a mosaic that has been assembled from a variety of sources, including my own work, but mostly the works of our elders, books I have read, and conversations with psychonauts like yourselves. The picture I will offer for your examination today is not the only picture that can be assembled from these pieces of information. It is merely the picture that most fascinates me at the moment. When this conference is over, I am sure we will all take these and other parts of the picture and reassemble them in other pleasing patterns as well. Now, here is my view of psychedelic thinking today.


     I believe it is fair to say that never before in human history has Dickens’ famous line been so true, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” No matter how you see the human condition, you most likely agree that these are at the very least some extremely interesting times. What makes everything so different today is the fact that we now find ourselves in that magical time that only occurs between major ages in human history. The Industrial Age, with its materialistic outlook, scientific progress, and wage slavery is about to recede into the background. The coming age, which is being touted as the Information Age, is already visible on the horizon. Thus we find ourselves poised either to step boldly into an unknowable future or to tumble down the slopes of Western science and pseudo-democracy into the wells of chaos.

     Under the category “best of times” we can point to the unprecedented doubling of human knowledge every ten years or so and the fact that so many of us seem to be waking up and seeing life on this planet from a more global perspective. Under the “worst of times” category the list is long. For example, our species has overpopulated this planet to the point where we have altered the balance of life in the biosphere. We are now experiencing the greatest mass extinction of species since a meteor or asteroid crashed into the Earth some 65 million years ago. This time we are the meteor.

     As you already know, the combined effects of overpopulation and the increase in human encroachment on plant and animal habitats, along with massive amounts of human-created pollution, are causing species to become extinct at a rate some believe to be as high as 100 per hour. Even using the lowest estimate of the species extinction rate, twenty species have become extinct since the Panel of Elders began their presentation a little over three hours ago. During the course of this conference, somewhere between 330 and 5,500 species will have become extinct, never again to be seen in living form on this planet.

     Now you may ask, “How does the extinction of a few thousand plants, animals, and insects impact me?” The answer lies in the fact that as life becomes less diverse on this planet, our biosphere becomes more rigid. Fewer opportunities for life to express itself causes a loss in flexibility when the time comes to recover from ecological accidents.

     Recently we have come to understand the theory of keystone species, which explains how the loss of a single species, if it is a keystone species, can cause the loss of an entire ecosystem. I shudder to think that one or more of the hundreds of species that have become extinct since we began this conference might be a keystone species. Until they are gone, we simply cannot know for sure which species are the keystones. Once they are gone, we will never fully understand their importance in the overall functioning of our biosphere.

     Last year I attended a conference that focused on one of the more important shamanic medicines, ayahuasca. One of the speakers at that conference, Constance Grauds, asked the most important question I have heard in a long time. It is a simple question, “Why haven’t we saved the rainforest by now?” There are, of course, many answers to that question. Ultimately, all of these answers circle around to the fact that most of the people who seem to be running things these days are trying to solve our ecological problems by using the same kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. What is required, if our species is to have any hope at all of long-term survival, is for us to step as far out of the box as we can to find new ways of thinking about these problems. We must expand our species-consciousness to include a long-term view with a global perspective. In short, our thinking must become psychedelic.

     As you know, the topic of psychedelic thinking is so broad we could spend an entire conference investigating it and still not scratch the surface of this beautiful jewel. What I am going to do, therefore, is to touch on a few high points in the following areas:

     Before I explain what I mean by psychedelic thinking, I should make it clear that I do not consider everyone who ingests a psychedelic substance to be a psychedelic thinker. Just like reading the Bible doesn’t make you a Christian, taking a psychedelic substance does not automatically turn you into a psychedelic thinker. To develop the powers of psychedelic thinking you must first do some work in the mind space I call “entheospace.” I define entheospace as that sense of place you have at those special moments when, during an exploration of your inner landscape, you discover an entire universe. If you are technically inclined, you can think of entheospace as an operating environment in which many forms of consciousness exist and interact.

     What I am not going to discuss today is how you get into entheospace. There are many ways. Some people use chemicals. Others use plants. Some people enter entheospace “on the natch” by means of deep meditation practices, and others are skilled enough to use trance dance or yoga to launch their minds into the alternate state of consciousness where psychedelic thinking can begin. Before long it will be common to enter entheospace using virtual reality devices. There simply is no right way to enter this realm. What is important, and what I will concentrate on today, is what you do after entering entheospace. It is important, however, that you continue to keep in mind the distinction between a psychedelic thinker and a psychedelic substance user. It requires discipline, intelligence, persistence, and an unwavering commitment to honesty for a psychedelic substance user to become a psychedelic thinker.

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