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بخش 72

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  • زمان مطالعه 8 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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With the rediscovery of my body, I felt an inexplicable urge to lift my knees, and as soon as I raised them, I felt something squeeze out from between my legs, but easily and without struggle or pain. It was a boy: the infant me. That seemed exactly right: having died, I was now being reborn. Yet as soon as I looked closely at this new being, it morphed smoothly into Isaac, my son. And I thought, how fortunate—how astounding!—for a father to experience the perfect physical intimacy that heretofore only mothers have ever had with their babies. Whatever space had ever intervened between my son and me now closed, and I could feel the warm tears sliding down my cheeks.

Next came an overwhelming wave of gratitude. For what? For once again existing, yes, for the existence of Isaac and Judith too, but also for something even more fundamental: I felt for the first time gratitude for the very fact of being, that there is anything whatsoever. Rather than being necessarily the case, this now seemed quite the miracle, and something I resolved never again to take for granted. Everybody gives thanks for “being alive,” but who stops to offer thanks for the bare-bones gerund that comes before “alive”? I had just come from a place where being was no more and now vowed never to forget what a gift (and mystery) it is, that there is something rather than nothing.

I had entered a familiar and more congenial mental space, one in which I was still tripping but could put together thoughts and direct them here or there. (I make no claims as to their quality.) Before I drew the smoke into my lungs, Rocío had asked me, as she asks everyone who meets the toad, to search the experience for a “peace offering”—some idea or resolution I could bring back and put to good use in my life. Mine, I decided, had to do with this question of being and what I took to be its opposite term, “doing.” I meditated on this duality, which came to seem momentous, and concluded that I was too much occupied with the latter term in my life and not enough with the former.

True, one had to favor doing in order to get anything done, but wasn’t there also a great virtue and psychic benefit in simply being? In contemplation rather than action? I decided I needed to practice being with stillness, being with other people as I find them (imperfect), and being with my own unimproved self. To savor whatever is at this very moment, without trying to change it or even describe it. (Huxley struggled with the same aspiration during his mescaline journey: “If one always saw like this, one would never want to do anything else.”) Even now, borne along on this pleasant contemplative stream, I had to resist the urge to drag myself onto shore and tell Rocío about my big breakthrough. No! I had to remind myself: just be with it.

Judith and I had had a fight the previous night that, I realized, turned on this distinction, and on my impatience with being. She was complaining about something she doesn’t like about her life, and rather than simply commiserate, being with her and her dilemma, I immediately went to the checklist of practical things she might do to fix it. But this was not at all what she wanted or needed, and she got angry. Now I could see with perfect clarity why my attempt to be helpful had been so hurtful.

So that was my peace offering: to be more and do less. But as soon as I put it that way, I realized there was a problem—a big problem, in fact. For wasn’t the very act of resolving to favor being a form of doing? A betrayal of the whole idea? A true connoisseur of being would never dream of making resolutions! I had tied myself up in a philosophical knot, constructed a paradox or koan I was clearly not smart enough or sufficiently enlightened to untangle. And so what had begun as one of the most shattering experiences of my life ended half an hour later with a wan smile.

• • • EVEN NOW, many months later, I still don’t know exactly what to make of this last trip. Its violent narrative arc—that awful climax followed so swiftly by such a sweet denouement—upended the form of a story or journey. It lacked the beginning, middle, and end that all my previous trips had had and that we rely on to make sense of experience. That and its mind-bending velocity made it difficult to extract much information or knowledge from the journey, except for the (classic) psychedelic platitude about the importance of being. (A few days after my encounter with the toad, I happened on an old e-mail from James Fadiman that ended, uncannily, with these words, which you should picture arranged on the screen like a poem: “I hope whatever you’re doing, / you’re stopping now and then / and / not doing it at all.”)

The integration had been cursory, leaving me to puzzle out the toad’s teachings, such as they were, on my own. Had I had any sort of a spiritual or mystical experience? Or was what took place in my mind merely the epiphenomenon of these strange molecules? (Or was it both?) Olivia’s words echoed: “It’s an irrelevant question. This was something being revealed to me.” What, if anything, had been revealed to me?

Not sure exactly where to begin, I realized it might be useful to measure my experiences against those of the volunteers in the Hopkins and NYU studies. I decided to fill out one of the Mystical Experience Questionnaires (MEQs)* that the scientists had their subjects complete, hoping to learn if mine qualified.

The MEQ asked me to rank a list of thirty mental phenomena—thoughts, images, and sensations that psychologists and philosophers regard as typical of a mystical experience. (The questionnaire draws on the work of William James, W. T. Stace, and Walter Pahnke.) “Looking back on the entirety of your session, please rate the degree to which at any time . . . you experienced the following phenomena” using a six-point scale. (From zero, for “none at all,” to five, for extreme: “more than any other time in my life.”)

Some items were easy to rate: “Loss of your usual sense of time.” Check; five. “Experience of amazement.” Uh-huh. Another five. “Sense that the experience cannot be described adequately in words.” Yup. Five again. “Gain of insightful knowledge experienced at an intuitive level.” Hmmm. I guess the platitude about being would qualify. Maybe a three? But I was unsure what to do with this one: “Feeling that you experienced eternity or infinity.” The language implies something more positive than what I felt when time vanished and terror took hold; NA, I decided. The “experience of the fusion of your personal self into a larger whole” also seemed like an overly nice way to put the sensation of becoming one with a nuclear blast. It seemed less fusion than fission, but okay. I gave it a four.

And what to do with this one? “Certainty of encounter with ultimate reality (in the sense of being able to ‘know’ and ‘see’ what is really real at some point in your experience).” I might have emerged from the experience with certain convictions (the one about being and doing, say), but these hardly seemed like encounters with “ultimate reality,” whatever that is. Similarly, a few other items made me want to throw up my hands: “Feeling that you experienced something profoundly sacred and holy” (No) or “Experience of the insight ‘all is One’” (Yes, but not in a good way; in the midst of that all-consuming mind storm, there was nothing I missed more than differentiation and multiplicity). Struggling to assign ratings to a handful of such items, I felt the survey pulling me in the direction of a conclusion that was not at all consistent with what I felt.

But when I tallied my score, I was surprised: I had scored a sixty-one, one point over the threshold for a “complete” mystical experience. I had squeaked through. So that was a mystical experience? It didn’t feel at all like what I expected a mystical experience to be. I concluded that the MEQ was a poor net for capturing my encounter with the toad. The result was psychological bycatch, I decided, and should probably be tossed out.

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