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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 Psychology of Consciousness

Ornstein, Robert E. (1972).
San Francisco: W. H. Freeman..

ISBN:0-7167-0797-7 paperback
0-670-58198-4 hardcover
Description: Paperback, xiv + 247 pages.

Contents: Preface, 10 chapters, postscript, chapter notes, index.

Excerpt(s): There are many recent developments that have begun to extend the scope of psychology. Psychologists are people of their culture, and our particular culture is in the midst of profound change. ...

A second input comes from the widespread interest in consciousness-altering drugs, such as psychedelics. These drugs have experientially demonstrated to many, as they did to William James, that ordinary consciousness is not the only way in which consciousness can operate.

Perhaps much more importantly, many "esoteric" disciplines have become available and popular in the United States in recent years. They range from the merely bizarre and degenerate to the accumulated work of thousands of years of personal investigation into the problems of psychology. These more-developed traditions include Zen Buddhism, the Buddhism of Tibet, Sufism, and some aspects of Yoga. (page 8)

Certain drugs, such as marijuana, LSD, DMT, and the amphetamines, including MDA, may radically alter the "reducing valve" of the normal sensory systems. If the dosage is relatively mild, the great increase in the contents of consciousness may produce an effect similar to increasing the amount of information reaching the person. Smokers of marijuana, for instance, typically report that their experience of duration lengthens during the period of intoxication, and also report that they experienced "more" during that interval than normal.

But with stronger drugs, the effect sometimes overwhelms the linear mode of consciousness entirely, and induces a non-linear mode of experience. Very often this experience cannot be placed in linear coordinates, for it is outside this mode of operation, outside words, outside normal time. The best the verbal-logical mode can do to account for these experiences is to term them "timeless." These experiences, for many, represent the first significant break from a normal linear consciousness, normal reality, and normal time. For some, the break into a new area of experience is unsupported by the remainder of their lives and their training, and they may not be able to return to normal consciousness. The very discontinuity of these experiences is difficult for many to deal with. (page 88)

These "timeless" experiences are often produced by psychoactive drugs, which overwhelm the linear construction and allow "an infinite present" to exist. The receptivity and present-centeredness of these experiences are sought in meditation, which also attempts to undo deliberately the "normal" process of constructing consciousness. (page 89)

In this mode, all action occurs in an infinite present. There is no attribution of causality or construction of a sequence. All events occur simultaneously. Although the linear, analytic mode forms the basis for a complex technological society, other societies have developed around the present-centered mode. It is the conflict between these two modes of consciousness which has caused much cultural and personal misunderstanding. A westerner may wonder what the Zen monk is talking about when he speaks of "no time" existing. We wonder "why a person from India cannot seem to build a bridge 'on time.'" Yet this question is relevant only within our particular construction of reality, not in the nonlinear mode. (page 91)

A mirror metaphor is used in many traditions to describe the desired mode of consciousness. The Sufi poet Omar Khayyam says: "I am a mirror and who looks at me, whatever good or bad he speaks, he speaks of himself." The contemporary Zen master Suzuki Roshi says, "The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror, it grasps nothing, it refuses nothing, it receives but does not keep." Christ said in prayer, "A mirror I am to thee that perceives me." (page 135)

This mode of consciousness, though, is to some degree a part of the daily experience of each of us. Its full development can result from a life crisis, by accident, or sometimes "spontaneously." It may be occasioned by many methods other than meditationóby fasting, by ritual dance, by the ingestion of certain psychoactive drugs, all of which upset the normal lineal construction of consciousness. The work of the esoteric psychologies is toward extending normal linear consciousness to include such experience.

The "mystic" consciousness is described by many, in almost every esoteric tradition, from the ancient Hindu to the contemporary European. It is described in the Bible, in the Koran, in Whitman, in James' The Varieties of Religious Experience. It is the "mysterious darkness" of Augustine Poulain, a mode in which ordinary consciousness of a "multiplicity" of people and objects disappears, to be replaced by the awareness of "unity."

The consciousness of "unity," or "oneness" as it is sometimes called, is perhaps the most fully developed form of this mode of experience. In terms of the story of the blind men and the elephant, the mystic experience involves a shift in consciousness from the analytic, individual, piecemeal approach to knowledge, to a more receptive, holistic mode, one which can encompass the entire elephant as a whole. (pages 136-137)

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