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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

The Five Stages of the Soul: Charting Spiritual Passages that Shape Our Lives

Moody, Harry R., & Carroll, David L. (1997).
New York: Doubleday.

ISBN: 0-385-48225-6

Description: Hardcover, first edition, x + 374 pages.

Contents: Eight chapters divided into 3 parts: 1. The Call and the Search, 2. The Struggle, 3. Breakthrough and Return, chapter notes, index.

Excerpt(s): The Stages of the Soul are "spiritual" stages. By "spiritual" I mean that the experience of the Five Stages: (a) shifts our center of being away from the external world and toward the inner life of the soul, (b) encourages a sense of disengagement from the ordinary problems of daily living, (c) increases our commitment to virtuous behavior—kindness, generosity, unselfishness, love, (d) raises our normal state of consciousness to a higher "transpersonal" level that awakens new and extraordinary faculties within us, (e) creates a desire to give back to the world what we have gained spiritually and to devote ourselves in service to others.

Finally, in my research into human spiritual development I have come to identify five Stages of the Soul. Each one of these stages leads naturally to the next, and at the same time is a logical extension of the one that comes before. Taken as a group the Five Stages comprise the complete cycle of the spiritual quest.

The Five Stages of the Soul are:

  1. The Call
  2. The Search
  3. The Struggle
  4. The Breakthrough
  5. The Return

What follows is an overview of what we can expect to encounter in these five stages. (page 34)

In the spring of 1967 I was living in New York's East Village. ... By May of this year I had interviewed a wide range of LSD and mescaline users, and was preparing to write the concluding chapters of my thesis. Having plumbed the heights and depths of the subject, I still felt there was one major stone left unturned: me.

How, I wondered, could researchers write in an informed and knowledgeable way about a state of consciousness they had not experienced?

By now I had seriously studied the clinical and medical literature on LSD and was satisfied that, despite a measure of risk, there was no way to do meaningful research on psychedelics without personally experiencing its effects. And so, along with seekers like Aldous Huxley and Huston Smith, and 1960s celebrities like Cary Grant and Steve Allen, I sampled a tab of LSD firsthand.

During the initial hour of my session I had no clear impression of change. ... Where was the famed ego death I had heard so much about?

I mentioned this stubborn state of sobriety to the student who had administered the drug and who was participating in the session along with me. He smiled in a peculiar way and said simply, "Your mind is always in an egoless state. You just don't know it."

The moment I heard these words something inside me came "unhooked" and the entire universe seemed to collapse around me. The next instant I found my normal ego being swept away, and in a moment I was floating ecstatically in a timeless, endless world of light that, as William James had promised, was utterly beyond words.

A million other insights followed that day.

The essential point had now been made and understood: a Breakthrough is not the addition of something new to the mind, nor is it the subtraction of something old. It is simply a temporary parting of the veils that keep us form seeing what is always there—a glimpse into the depths of the soul that are normally barred from our view by angels with fiery swords.

I was appropriately humbled and deeply moved. I also felt a bit like a naughty cheater.

Soon after this experience I returned to Yale University, graduated, and never delved into psychedelics again. As Ram Dass himself later said, taking LSD is like receiving a telephone call. You listen, you get the message, then you hang up.

Was my psychedelic experience a legitimate Breakthrough experience?

An experience, yes. Certainly. But a legitimate spiritual Breakthrough? I don't think so.

My encounter with hallucinogens proved to me without a doubt that the higher states described by saints and mystics are authentic and that all of us are capable of experiencing such moments. We all truly carry the Kingdom of Heaven within us.

Then there's the dark side to this moon as well, and in my estimation it far outweighs the light ...

The qualities that give a spiritual Breakthrough its legitimacy, I realize today, looking back on my own psychedelic experience, are the Call and Search and Struggle that lead up to it and in a sense produce it. A true Breakthrough requires preparation over time. It must be forged in the fires of effort and patience and sincerity; it must be drawn from the very stuff of our life. To allow oneself to be plummeted into a state of higher consciousness without adequate preparation and foreknowledge is dangerous business, not just psychologically but spiritually as well. One can become lost in the spiritual world as easily as in the material. (pages 281-283)

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